By Christine Verges

Arizona Summer Wildcat

Until recently, I had never met anyone who could make a plate of potato salad as good as my mom's.

I was wandering down University Boulevard in between Euclid and Park Ave. when I happened upon Caf‚ Paraiso. It was late in the morning, so I went in to join the leftover crowd of coffee drinkers and newspaper combers.

After reading through the menu, I decided to become the beginning of the lunch crowd as well.

While I debated the different salads and sandwiches the caf‚ has to offer, the man behind the counter offered me a free taste of the daily special.

"I'd rather do it that way," he told me, "so you'll know right off the bat whether or not you'll like it."

The chilled herbal tortellini was delicious. Marinated and mixed with fresh vegetables, it was quite enough for a meal but light enough for a hot summer day. I opted, however, for the veggie sandwich and a side of potato salad in the interest of sampling all that I could during my visit.

As I waited for him to build my lunch, I helped myself to a cup of coffee, choosing the house blend over two flavored blends.

When he placed my order in front of me, my initial reaction was surprise. The potato salad, homemade with red potatoes, was white Ä not yellow Ä and it was delicious. I am confident that even those who are as skeptical about potato salad as I am will be delighted with Caf‚ Paraiso's flavored creation.

My veggie sandwich was stuffed so full, the toothpick could barely extend from one slice of rye to the next. The lettuce was fresh and leafy; the cucumbers and tomatoes were sliced thick.

The mustard was the type likely to be found in my parents' refrigerator, the kind I would go without as a kid eating a hot dog, but eventually developed a taste for as an adult.

The sprouts were plentiful and the cheese slices were perfect Ä they stuck out from the sides of the sandwich and they were still cold.

The variety of sandwiches on the menu range from half-size to whole, all of which are built to specification and cheerfully altered from the original. I, for example, traded my onions for another slice of cheese.

For $2.95 - $4.95, one might order a ham, turkey or roast beef sandwich on their choice of sourdough, grain, rye or a croissant. House specialty sandwiches include chicken salad, tuna, club, BLT or veggie, all served with a complimentary side of salad.

For the lighter eater, a small or large speciality salad will run $3.25 - $5.95. House specialties include a garden salad (choice of blue cheese, honey mustard, ranch, raspberry vinaigrette or sesame Oriental dressing), tuna or chicken salad, Chinese chicken salad or a Caesar salad.

Coffee refills are 25 cents, on your honor. With each refill, I added a different sprinkle of flavor until I had tasted each of the vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and raspberry placed nearby. For those who prefer espresso or flavored syrup, Caf‚ Paraiso has a full coffee bar behind the counter.

In addition, there are flavored herbal teas and bottled refreshments in the same case as the tempting deserts. Those looking to snack on something between a meal and a dessert will find monster cookies and low-fat, healthy muffins baked with raspberry, pear, apple and pumpkin inside.

I ate everything on my plate, down to the last fresh watermelon rind, and I stuck around for a while just to take in the atmosphere.

The dark green of the walls carries over as an accent color to the rest of the caf‚, complementing the hardwood floors and antique wooden chairs. Background music ranges from jazz to classical, making the entire room as warm and inviting as the fireplace in the corner.

A bookshelf offers reading material for guests and the walls are tastefully decorated with artwork from local artists. Patrons were reading, meeting, eating and studying in the non-smoking environment. I borrowed a magazine from the man at the next table and fixed another cup of coffee.

Caf‚ Paraiso has 12 tables inside, many of which offer a view, and more than 25 seats outside, in addition to the two tables on the front porch. It is located in the old Geronimo Hotel at 820 E. University Blvd., and is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Read Next Article