Smile Politely

An interview with Mauricio Contreras, owner of El Oasis and La Mixteca

Nestled behind a Walgreens on Cunningham Avenue in Urbana, El Oasis and La Mixteca are not often seen by busy residents of Champaign-Urbana driving through town. That is why I decided to interview Mauricio Contreras, the owner of both, so the people of C-U could learn more about the interesting food and ice cream served at El Oasis and La Mixteca.

I learned about what makes the ice cream of El Oasis different than most ice cream shops and how popular the Mexican dish Birrikeka is at La Mixteca.

The entrance of El Oasis with a glass door set near a front of glass windows. Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Smile Politely: Can you introduce yourself to Smile Politely’s readership?

Mauricio Contreras: My name is Mauricio Contreras, and I’m the owner of El Oasis and La Mixteca Mexican restaurants. I’ve been working with La Mixteca for two years and for El Oasis for six years.

SP: Can you tell us something about El Oasis and La Mixteca?

Contreras: El Oasis is a Mexican ice cream shop, and we have different types of ice cream like Mexican flavors you wouldn’t normally see elsewhere. We use more fruit with less sugar and without chemicals. Fruit, water, and brown sugar for the fruit ice creams are the main ingredients. Sometimes we use corn syrup but mostly brown sugar. We also sell Mexican snacks like corn on the cob. Snacks are different depending on the time of year. Mango, watermelons, whatever is fresh. Mexican chili powder and lime are things we add to our foods a lot. These are things popular in Mexico City.

The entrance of La Mixteca with a glass door set near a front of glass windows. Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

La Mixteca has only been here a few years, but we are growing up really well even with the pandemic. Many regular customers. We are trying to make the most authentic food, so it is a little hard to explain our food to customers since it is different from other restaurants in the area. We still have Tex-Mex, but not that much. Mexican food does not need to be spicy, but pretty much all our food and hot sauces are made from scratch other than rice and beans. Our food takes a little longer because we do not pre-cook.

Tlacoya al pastor on a rectangular plate at La Mixteca. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

Photo by Jessica Hammie.

SP: Does La Mixteca have weekly specials that you recommend?

Contreras: On weekends, we have different types of food like barbacoa and spicy beef belly dishes. That’s a traditional time to eat those foods in Mexico City. Check Facebook for specials because we post a lot of specials for the day with pictures, so people know what the food looks like.

SP: What meal is popular with families at La Mixteca?

Contreras: Birrikeka is really popular with families right now. Birrikeka is made with tortillas with cilantro, rice, beans, beef, cheese, and avocado on the side. We serve as many as 80 to 100 dishes of that each day.

SP: Where do you get the ingredients for the treats at El Oasis?

Contreras: We have a good supplier from Chicago who brings things to us. It is easy to find good quality that way. It is not easy to find coconuts, guava, and other ingredients around Champaign-Urbana.

SP: How are the popsicles and ice cream made at El Oasis?

Contreras: Basically, all the ice cream and popsicles we make don’t use a lot of ingredients. We basically blend the fruit, sugar, and sometimes corn syrup in a machine. Like making homemade ice cream, but in a commercial machine.

SP: What sweet treats at El Oasis do you recommend?

Contreras: Chamoyada. The mango, lime, dry pepper flakes makes a great flavor. Lime and mango go well together.

Chamoyada, a dessert with mango, lime, and dry red pepper flakes in a plastic cup. Photo by El Oasis.

Chamoyada. Photo by El Oasis.

SP: What inspires you to create amazing new desserts such as the deluxe milkshakes?

Contreras: Well, we try to make something different, so we give another option for people who like particular flavors of ice cream. We make new ways to eat favorite flavors of ice cream like the Forrero Rocher deluxe milkshake.

A deluxe Oreo milkshake with an Oreo, chocolate pirouette, and a chocolate ice cream treat sticking out of a tall, plastic cup filled with Oreo ice cream. Photo by El Oasis.

Photo by El Oasis.

SP: What are your most popular flavors of ice creams?

Contreras: The most popular water based are mango, guava, watermelon, and lime. Milk-based are strawberries and cream, avocado, corn, Ferrero Rocher, corn, and gansito. Kids always like bubblegum, Superman, and Oreo flavors.

SP: What new treats at El Oasis would you encourage people to try?

Contreras: On the weekends, we will soon start serving Mexican hot chocolate and tamales.

SP: Is anything at El Oasis seasonal that you recommend people try?

Contreras: Prickle pear ice cream is an example of something we don’t have year-round. We only use fresh fruits, so when fruit is out of season, we don’t serve it.

SP: Where can people see what is on the menu at El Oasis and La Mixteca?

Contreras: Follow us on Facebook for El Oasis and La Mixteca where you can see pictures of our menu and specials.

Chicken enchiladas verde on a white plate with rice at La Mixteca. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

Photo by Jessica Hammie.

SP: How has the pandemic affected El Oasis and La Mixteca?

Contreras: It has been a difficult year for El Oasis because of the pandemic. El Oasis has been hit really hard because we serve mostly ice cream. Unlike the restaurant, where people can take food and drive it home twenty minutes if they need to, El Oasis ice cream can melt. People are more afraid to come into stores and pickup food than carryout. People don’t order ice cream to go. 

Last month and this month, we’ve been doing really well at La Mixteca as people are going out more. We follow all health guidelines like cleaning tables as people leave and everybody wears masks. People cannot enter without masks.

A sopa sits on a white plate at La Mixteca with a wedge of lime next to it. Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

SP: How can people best support El Oasis and La Mixteca during the pandemic and in the future?

Contreras: We always are so grateful for support from people. We have a lot of regular customers who still come and support us and worry about how we are doing. They support us because they like our stores. Regular customers are helpful.

SP: Is there anything you’d like to say to the people of Champaign-Urbana?

Contreras: Thank you for supporting local businesses and to the people who’ve tried our restaurant and ice cream shop. Thank you for supporting us. I’m not talking only for myself, but also for small businesses downtown. Supporting local businesses is important because it is not easy for us now. We’ve been doing really well at La Mixteca, and we say thank you to the whole community. We invite you to try our restaurant and ice cream shop.

La Mixteca
510 N Cunningham Ave
Su-Th 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sa 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

El Oasis
510 N Cunningham Ave
M-F noon to 9 p.m.
Sa+Su noon to 8 p.m.

Top image byJessica Hammie.

Related Articles