Atmospheric & Inexpensive Mexican Resto in Gunnison

El Paraiso recalls the sounds and flavors of Mexico.

026 Here’s a weird story. My husband and I spent a couple of nights at the super-comfy Inn at Tomichi Village on the east end of Gunnison. We ate in the inn’s Blue Mesa Grill the first night. The next morning, as we were driving to Crested Butte — just before the right turn onto Highway 135 —  I said, “Look there’s a Mexican restaurant.” My husband, always on the hunt for south-of-the-border fare, saw it too — there on the left side of US 50. When we returned from skiing, we somehow missed it. That evening, we looked for it again, and it wasn’t there. When I later told a local friend about the vanished restaurant, she said, “There used to be one there.” Had we driven through a few yards of The Twilight Zone?

Cheerful interior of what might have once been a steak or BBQ place, considering the horseshoes on the ends of the booths.
Cheerful interior of what might have once been a steak or BBQ place, considering the horseshoes on the ends of the booths.

One way or another, we were in the mood for Mexican. I was almost deterred by the words “Family Mexican Restaurant” on El Paraiso’s sign, because “family restaurant” usually mens bland, flavor-deprived food. But we decided to give it a try. Happily, it turns out. Located just off the main drag, it looked like a former house. Inside, it is tricked out with serapes and other Mexicana. Cheerful Mexican music is piped into the dining room, and the welcome was hearty. We slipped into a booth, started munching on complimentary chips and salsa as we waited for our margaritas (a happy hour steal at $5, because we ordered before 6). The food was really good, the portions really generous and the prices really reasonable.

Huge flaming margaritas. The ends of fresh limes must have been filled with a bit of alcohol and set afire. With salt on the rim of the glass, a fresh lime wedge, this has to be the best-presented $5 marg ever. And it tasted good too.
Huge flaming margaritas. With a bit of alcohol in the ends of fresh cut limes set afire, salt on the rim of the glass and a fresh lime wedge, this has to be the best-presented $5 marg ever. And it tasted good too.

Time to eat. The crisp chips and the Guadalajara-style salsa are a really good start to a Mexican meal, especially with a tasty margarita.

Chips and salsa.
Chips and salsa.
Cheese dip, as the menu lists chile con queso.
Cheese dip, as the menu lists chile con queso.
Mushroom quesadillas.
Mushroom quesadilla with generous spoonsful of guac and sour cream, plus garnishes.
Chicken Azteca.
Chicken Azteca.

There is also a sister Paraiso Restaurant in Buena Vista, which urbanspoon.com does know about. They haven’t yet discovered the one in Gunnison that is at 112 South Main Street; 970-641-4957.