Urbano awaits a rush of customers on Friday, April 28, 2023. Urbano is a "nuevo Mexican" restaurant located on Main Street in Bethlehem. (Benson Xue/B&W Staff)

Urbano: embracing the nontraditional


Walking down Main Street in North Bethlehem, patrons may take their pick of restaurants of varying price points and cuisine types, but one thing several of these dining establishments share is their owner: Juan Carlos Paredes.

Paredes and his wife, Cara, own six North Bethlehem restaurants, four of which are on Main Street.

Among Tapas on Main, Cachete Creperie + Bistro, The Flying Egg, Peculiar Wine Bar & Bites and recently acquired The MINT Gastropub, one of Paredes’ restaurants stands out: Urbano.

Paredes said when he moved to the United States from Colombia, he originally planned to pursue a master’s degree in film production after earning a bachelor’s in journalism and media.

This plan changed when he fell in love with the restaurant business.

Urbano features a variety of food options and happy hour specials on April 28, 2023. Urbano is a popular Mexican restaurant on the South side of Bethlehem among Lehigh students and Bethlehem residents. (Benson Xue/B&W Staff)

He said his 22-year-long career in the restaurant industry began with serving, bartending and managing before he worked his way up to being an owner. He worked in a variety of places, including New York, Connecticut and Miami, before settling in the Lehigh Valley.

When envisioning Urbano, Paredes said he aimed to explore a less traditional approach to Mexican cuisine, what some refer to as “nuevo Mexican” or “new Mexican cuisine.”

“We wanted to put together two different cultures, which is the Latin culture and the American culture, but mostly Bethlehem with the history of Bethlehem steel,” Paredes said.

Their goal was to blend cultures through adapting Mexican cuisine to the neighborhood. Paredes said this idea is reflected throughout the restaurant’s design, menu and logo.

He said he designs the restaurants with Cara Paredes’s input while she designs the menus.

In the warmer weather, Urbano offers outdoor seating on April 28, 2023. Urbano is a popular Mexican restaurant on the South side of Bethlehem among Lehigh students and Bethlehem residents. (Benson Xue/B&W Staff)

Urbano’s menu features classic Mexican dishes like rice bowls, quesadillas and tacos, but also includes fresh spins on traditional cuisine with appetizers and dishes like Mexican-style wings, ramen and pan-seared salmon.

Since its opening, Urbano has become a popular dining destination for members of the Bethlehem and Lehigh communities.

Ascher Loucks, ‘26, dined at Urbano with friends for a birthday celebration.

She said she enjoyed the environment and had a good time.

“I really liked the atmosphere,” Loucks said. “My food was good, too, and my friends and I had a really fun time.”

Scott Miller, a server and soon-to-be shift leader at Urbano, said the team has discussed how to get more Lehigh students in the restaurant.

He said over the five months he has worked there, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of Lehigh students walking through the doors.

Paredes estimated approximately 20% of Urbano customers are Lehigh students. He said a large portion of his employees across his other restaurants are Lehigh students.

Miller, who has worked in several restaurants in the past three years, said Urbano is a great place to work.

“I love the people here,” Miller said. “Just like a typical restaurant, there’s going to be problems, but everybody works together, so it’s pretty smooth.”

When asked how he keeps Urbano successful, Paredes said it comes down to trusting managers and workers to do their jobs.

He said he and Cara will step in to help if needed, but being an owner involves letting everyone put their creativity and personality into their work.

Paredes said the key to helping Urbano and his other restaurants thrive is teamwork, since working in the restaurant involves tackling problems each day.

“It’s a team effort with my wife,” Paredes said. “Everybody surrounding us helps us a lot to be successful.”

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