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Go around the world without leaving 28031

El Paraiso restaurant serves Salvadoran, Cuban and South American food as well as interesting wines

El Paraiso restaurant serves Salvadoran, Cuban and South American food as well as interesting wines

By Dave Vieser. Sampling worldwide cuisines is easier than it used to be in Cornelius. From Japan to Ireland to Cuba, there’s something sure to please the adventuresome diner. It’s a far cry from the days when the old Ham and Eggs restaurant—it’s mentioned in Chuck McShane’s “A History of Lake Norman: Fish Camps to Ferraris”—was about all there was at Exit 28.

As internationalism has increased, so has ethnic dining. Sakura on West Catawba is new and features Japanese cuisine; The Harp & Crown touts English and Irish fare. El Paraiso and Zapata’s are both local mainstays, both more than 10 years old.

You can take a dining room chair tour of the world without leaving Cornelius or spending an arm and a leg.

Acropolis offers the taste of the Mediterranean Sea a stone’s throw from Exit 28. Their list of specialties is endless, including Greek lasagna and one of the best chicken salads—veteran party hosts serve it on little sandwiches for parties. The facility also has a right-sized meeting room, a favorite for service clubs.

20659 Catawba Ave.


El Paraiso in the old Chair Factory is a Latin American gem, serving homemade Salvadoran, Cuban and South American food as well as interesting wines. Owners Jose, Carmen and Elizabeth Cruz, who opened the restaurant in 2005, and can whip up a special house-made Sangria. Dinner favorites include a Cuban sandwich, stuffed with slow cooked pork, ham and Swiss cheese, and a chimichurri ribeye served with grilled potatoes, zucchini and tortillas.

20700 N. Main St.


Harp and Crown Pub and Kitchen has opened in the space previously occupied by Pelican’s Patio. Owned and operated by Christina and Christopher Phillips, who formerly ran Restaurant X in Davidson, it’s a fun mix of Irish and British food and drink. There are nearly a dozen interesting beers on tap, not to mention Irish Spring Rolls and Dublin Salmon Cakes on a menu. Harp and Crown is the combination of two great thoughts: “There is no sincerer love than the love of food” and “many people die of thirst but the Irish are born with one.”

19930 W. Catawba Ave.


Osaka on Kenton Drive offers a combination of Chinese and Japanese cuisines. There is a vast difference in these cooking styles, but regular diners say Osaka is proficient in both. Chinese dishes are generally of the Szechuan style; their General Tso’s Chicken is a best-seller.  Portions are generous; eat in or take out. The Japanese favorites include all types of sushi.

17115 Kenton Drive


Pho Nam Vietnamese Restaurant owner John Tang came to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1977 and has been cooking family favorites ever since. Eventually, his cousins, who already lived on the East Coast, urged him to move east, to North Carolina. He did so in 2006 and opened up Pho Nam in Cornelius. Nestled in the middle of a strip mall on West Catawba Avenue, the restaurant offers an interesting mix of appetizers, soup and entrees, starting at $9.95. Their beef noodle soup is a best-seller.

18059 West Catawba Ave.


Sakura is going on one year at West Catawba and Knox Road. With a sleek interior and 100 hand-carved chairs, the restaurant has high-quality sushi in an all-you-can-eat format, $12.95 for lunch and $19.95 for dinner, as well as menu items like the super tasty Hibachi Steak. Try your meal with sake, or imported beer or wines. Sakura owner Andy Chen also has something called the Bento Box, giving you the choice of an appetizer, a sushi roll, an entrée and a rice dish.

19905 W. Catawba Ave., Ste 109


Sangam Indian Cuisine is a well-known casual family style Cornelius restaurant owned by the Kumar Family. Their menu features both vegetarian and meat dishes, along with selections that are gluten-free, low-fat, and vegan. Outdoor seating is available and its one of the few dog-friendly restaurants in the area. Favorites include Chicken Tikka Masala, Tandoori Chicken Tikka and Dal Tadka. Entrees start at $12.95.

20910 Torrence Chapel Road


There are other Mexican restaurants but Zapatas has been a Cornelius tradition since 1999. This casual family style Mexican restaurant on West Catawba Avenue is a popular after-church brunch spot. Specialties include chicken and shrimp quesadillas, guacamole and special margaritas. Entrees start at $11.

19905 W Catawba Ave


Next month: Our spin on pizza