There has never been a better time to eat Latin American food in Colombia
In western Colombia, a multitude of super food trucks and restaurants serving cuisines from the diverse cultural conglomerate dot the cityscape. A recent online search found 14 Mexican and Latin American restaurants, and that number jumped to 18 when expanding settings to the nearby town of Cayce.
This list includes the recently opened Tex Mex, but does not include the even newer Taqueria el Primo, so the total total is at least 19.
Recent visits to the two newcomers have been met with strong dishes well worth their affordability, from solid tacos to surprising hot dogs.
The ubiquity of the kitchen in the relatively cozy zone makes sense when you look at its demographics. West Columbia has a Hispanic population of almost 10 percent. Across the river, Columbia’s percentage is just over half of it, though its Latin cuisine offerings aren’t to be outdone, especially if one heads to the International district. Boulevard.
Indeed, there has been a growth throughout the region for Latin cuisine in recent times.
Close to the University of South Carolina campus, Bruno’s Taqueria has opened; in the northeast there is the upscale Peruvian tapas restaurant Ratio; in Forest Acres, Boca Grande Burritos opened with great fanfare; and elsewhere, such as the growing Fusion Cocina Latina, which has also gained a solid reputation.
Restaurants in the city have also recently jumped on trends like birria tacos, a delicious dish sautéed in a consommé and served with the same broth for a dip.
Here’s a breakdown of West Columbia’s two new additions, to help you understand how they fit into the crowded landscape and what they might offer to enjoy with all the favorites you might already have.
Tex Mex Columbia – 1215 Augusta Rd., Suite H; Texmexcolumbia.com
Owner Araceli Valenzuela and her husband Fernando opened Tex Mex Columbia in October, with the idea of bringing people together through their fare.
“We like all kinds of people and we are open to all kinds of cultures,” said Valenzuela. “That’s why this idea of Tex Mex is a fusion of people, food and flavor.”
The couple have an eclectic menu, with a plethora of Mexican fare, American fare, and unique hot dogs, like a chorizo hot dog. They also have regular promotions and have a handy image wall of items available to help customers who may not be familiar with some of the offers.
Both times I ate there, I tried a special which included a marinated pork chop, rice and refried beans; and the aforementioned chorizo hot dog, to which I added coleslaw for a quintessential Palmetto State twist. The pork chop was well done, not overcooked and had a nice salty flavor.
The chorizo hot dog was a highlight for a standalone lunch. The chorizo-potato mix is rich in flavor and pairs well with the lively hot dog. Lightly sautéed onions added a nice semi-sweet accent to the dish, which had surprising depth, despite its mundane nature.
Valenzuela said they do well with American customers, but there have been misconceptions about their food due to the name, with some believing they only serve Tex-Mex style cuisine, rather than Mexican. .
They opened in the midst of COVID-19 and it was a difficult first year, she admitted. The family invested in the business before the pandemic and ended up with operating the business. However, things have improved and she considered it to be a solid first year in business given the circumstances.
“I think we are doing well because this is our first venture,” she said. “We have a lot of expertise because we have been working in the restaurant business for 25 years. He’s a good chef and I love people so it’s good.
Taqueria El Primo arrives as the brick and mortar sister of the longtime Augusta Road food truck in West Columbia (the yellow and white truck that displays in the Beer & Tobacco Oulet parking lot). The new storefront opens in the old Five Points Catering location on Sunset Boulevard, with this signage still on the building.
I’ve been to the food truck before and found a particularly strong cabeza sincronizada, a quesadilla-like dish that includes beans inside the flour tortilla.
In the new window, opened about three months ago, by a restaurant worker, I tried the chorizo and cabeza tacos.
The cabeza was a good interpretation of meat, with the flavor of oily beef and a bit like oxtail. It melted in my mouth, but lacked the crunchy-crunch that I’m looking for a contrast in texture. The chorizo was the highlight of my trip, with an extremely flavorful and intense smoke that paired particularly well with the cilantro sprinkled inside the taco and the tangy verde sauce served on the side.
Taqueria El Primo has a host of other offerings, with burritos, tostadas, huaraches, and tortas. It’s a varied menu that should meet most preferences.