If you’re craving an authentic Mexican meal, look no further than El Soñador Mexican on the Parkway. Tucked in among other prominent businesses, it’s easy to miss — but visit this hidden gem once and you won’t hesitate to return.
The mere fact that El Soñador Mexican is still around is worth applauding. The original restaurant tragically burned down during the forest fires of 2016. Thankfully, it’s back — and regulars claim it’s better than ever. Its new downtown location is undeniably convenient, but longtime fans of the restaurant are loyal enough that they’d happily drive quite a distance to eat there. The new space is certainly worth checking out; it’s colorful and cheery, with plenty of table, booth, and bar seating available.
From fajitas to enchiladas, El Soñador serves every classic meal you could possibly expect from a Mexican restaurant, as well as several adventurous recipes. Portions are generous, especially given the low prices. The restaurant also offers a decent children’s menu, complete with expected Mexican fare (such as tacos, enchiladas, and quesadillas) as well as a few alternate items for picky eaters (including chicken tenders and cheeseburgers).
A variety of beverage options are available. Many visitors opt for soda, but iced tea and coffee can be ordered for the same price. Several draft and bottled beer options are also provided, including Dos Equis, Pacifico, Blue Moon, and Negra. You might not find your favorite local brew here, but with prices so reasonable, you won’t hesitate to order a second from the short list of options available. Sadly, margaritas are not served here.
The service is a huge part of the appeal at El Soñador Mexican; employees are invariably pleasant. They understand that the menu is large and are therefore happy to help you choose the perfect meal for your palate. Despite the convenient location, wait times are reasonable.
A few of our favorite menu items include:
Chicken Strawberry Salad
This might not be exactly what you’d expect to order at a Mexican restaurant, but it’s delicious nonetheless. It features spring mix lettuce, mandarin oranges, sliced strawberries, raisins, pecans, cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. All this is topped with a marinated grilled chicken breast.
Black Bean Spinach Quesadilla
Whether you’re a vegetarian or simply looking to incorporate healthy ingredients into your meal, you’ll enjoy the black bean spinach quesadillas at El Soñador. This large grilled tortilla is stuffed with black beans, spinach, and cheese. It is served with lettuce, rice, guacamole, and crema. It’s one of the restaurant’s most budget-friendly meals, yet also one of the most satisfying.
Try a unique take on fajitas, complete with grilled pineapple and ham. This entree comes with your choice of grilled chicken or steak. The fajitas are also cooked with onions, mushrooms, and cheese. They’re served alongside lettuce, beans, rice, pico de gallo, and crema. While several of the restaurant’s fajitas are available for two, the Hawaiian fajitas are designed for just one person. Still, portions are large enough that you might be able to split with a friend, especially if you order chips and guacamole on the side.
Camerones a la Diabla
Be forewarned: the El Soñador Mexican menu refers to this seafood dish as ‘very spicy.’ If you need further warning, the entree’s name translates directly to ‘devil’s shrimp.’ It features fresh shrimp with onions in the restaurant’s signature diabla sauce. The shrimp and onions are served with lettuce, cactus salad, rice, avocado, and tortillas.
-Parking downtown can sometimes be a hassle in Gatlinburg, but El Soñador Mexican offers ample parking space right across the street (paid).
-While eating on site is part of the charm, El Soñador also offers a to-go menu worth checking out.