Already missing the warmth of summer, I recently took a trip to El Oasis. While well known for their ice cream, their warmer fare is a well-kept secret. Walking into their small location just east of Carle hospital in Urbana on Cunningham and University, I began inspecting their menu to decide what I would order. Since they recently removed a few options from the warm side of their menu, I had fewer options to choose from. Nonetheless, I still needed some help, as I am not familiar with traditional Mexican foods, especially snack items. Thankfully, the owner graciously answered my litany of questions, even when I repeated the same questions later after forgetting what he’d told me. In the end, I decided to order a Milaneza torta ($6.89), duros preparados ($5.50), esquite ($2.99 for a large) and some of their homemade vanilla cake ($3.49). As an aside, take note that El Oasis is run by a small staff, so large groups will have a bit of a wait if ordering anything that takes preparation time (i.e. not ice cream or prepackaged snacks).
After a brief wait, all my food arrived at once. Deciding to start with the cold, veggie heavy dish, I took a bite of the duros preparados. This “snack” was served on a puffy wheat base. Fried and crispy, this was my edible plate. On top of this “plate” were cucumbers, onions, sour cream, lettuce, a crumbled Mexican cheese, hot sauce, avocados, and pickled pork skin. While the pork skins were a surprise for me, do not let them scare you off. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought they were a slightly chewy vegetable. Due to the texture, the pork skin turned out to be my favorite part of the dish, beating out the smooth avocado, spicy hot sauce, and the cool sour cream. I recommend the duros preparados for anyone wanting a substantial, refreshing snack that will defy your expectations.
My appetite primed, I moved onto my main course, the Milaneza torta. A sandwich containing thinly sliced breaded steak, jalapeños, sour cream, tomatoes, lettuce, a Mexican cheese, and avocados, this torta was more packed than I expected. Thankfully, every component worked well together. The jalapeños weren’t overwhelmed by the sour cream; I could taste the steak over the breading and the crisp vegetables weren’t lost under the soft bun. The steak was a little tough to bite through, but I appreciated that texture, as it balanced out the juicy greens. While I’m not certain the Milaneza torta would be my favorite torta if I had also tried the ham and turkey tortas, I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and ordered something I normally wouldn’t.
Knowing that it would stay warm for quite some time, I finally took a bite of the esquite. Consisting of juicy corn kernels covered in a Mexican cheese, chili powder and mayonnaise, I wasn’t sure what to expect. To my surprise, I encountered something I can only describe as a comfort food. Although not containing any butter, the high-quality corn and other ingredients give off the impression of corn sitting in a thick, buttery sauce. With just a hint of heat from the chili powder and salt from both the seasoning and the cheese, I didn’t get bored eating this snack in a cup, although I was starting to get a bit full at this point. Take my advice and eat the Esquite before the rest of your meal, otherwise it may be a bit difficult to finish due to its richness.
Ready for my sweet treat, I ended my stay at El Oasis with their homemade vanilla cake. Covered in a whipped not-too-sweet frosting and topped with a cherry, El Oasis does not serve a boring piece of cake. Since it was kept moist by a drizzle of chocolate sauce and a sweet syrup, I enjoyed this cake more than most. Although not as stellar as their dairy or dairy-free ice cream offerings, this item is a good choice if you’re looking for a bit more texture in a dessert.
Having finally tried both the warm and the cold portions of El Oasis’ menu, I can now say I’ve seen just about all they have to offer. While I wholeheartedly prefer their ice cream to anything else, I also recommend ordering other items at El Oasis. Oh, and remember, if you are ever confused about something on the menu, just ask. The staff are glad to answer any questions you have for them.
510 N. Cunningham Ave #14
12 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily
Photos by Matthew Macomber