The first thing to do when you sit down at a sturdy wood table at El Paraiso Mexican Restaurant is order an agua fresca. These icy fruit drinks are made to order; the grinding blender drowns out the Mexican t.v. and music, and soon you’re sipping the most refreshing beverage. My favorite is the melon or watermelon, depending on what they have in the kitchen. Mango is sweeter. I haven’t tried the tamarindo.
El Paraiso is my favorite Mexican restaurant in Bridgeport. It’s on Madison Avenue, near Capitol. The white gates covering some of the windows make it look closed, but inside, especially on weekends, El Paraiso is bustling and welcoming, the room filled with families with children. The waitresses smile. Speaking Spanish is an advantage, but by no means necessary.
The enchiladas are a must order. The key is the sauces. They’re homemade and their flavors are bright and fresh. Enchiladas Verde with chicken has a generous portion of green sauce, which bathes the tortilla, mixes with the melted cheese and shredded lettuce, onions, radish and avocado in a way that makes me very happy. Add to that the grilled flavor of the chicken coming through the layers.
The refried beans that come with the enchiladas are creamy comfort food with Spanish rice. This is a heaping plate of food. I often take half of it home. My clean-plate-club dining companion has, on occasion, brought home a doggie bag too. He favors the Enchiladas Rojas with carnitas. The red sauce has a deep, smoky chile flavor, and the cubes of pork have been browned on the griddle. Enchiladas de Mole is darker, richer, sweet and smoky.
Chiles rellenos are served in a lighter tomato sauce cooked with onion and jalapeno. It’s mildly spicy. Inside the meaty poblano pepper is soft white cheese.
I would highly recommend any of the the Sopas (above), a thick homemade corn tortilla (reminiscent of an open faced Venezuelan arepa) layered with shredded meat, lettuce, crema and avocado.
I love seeing what other people are ordering. Seafood soup, sopa de mariscos, a big bowl of steaming broth filled with clams and mussels in their shells, rings of squid, and shrimp. Shrimp cocktail, large shrimp perched on the edge of a goblet filled with a lively cocktail sauce spiked with diced red onion and cilantro. Grilled steak topped with peppers and onions. The menu here is extensive.
On weekends, El Paraiso makes pozole. Pozole is pork and hominy stew served with condiments -- chopped onions, Mexican oregano, lime, and red or green sauce – that you add yourself. It’s fun to doctor it up. The rich broth is filled with tender pieces of pork shoulder and soft kernels of white hominy. It comes with two full-sized tostados. The crisp, deep-fried tortillas are smeared with refried beans, topped with shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, radish, sliced avocado and crema.
My friend picks up the tostado and bites. I like to break off pieces and drop them into my soup as I go. It adds crunch and creaminess, a contrast to softer texture of the shredded lettuce and avocado. Some people break off pieces of tosada and dip them into the bowl to fish out pieces of pork and hominy. No matter what the technique you use, it’s a great food experience.
El Paraiso also offers great value. Big plates of delicious homemade food in the $10 to $15.50 range. No wonder it’s so popular.
El Paraiso Mexican Restaurant is at 1026 Madison Avenue, Bridgeport. Monday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. They deliver. For information, call (203) 382-9679 / (203) 382-9680. No website.