Ismael and Silvia Villegas have been snipping off sprigs of cilantro and squeezing limes onto tacos inside Casa Linda Mexican Restaurant's kitchens since 1993. Beneath decorations such as papel picado and piñatas, staples such as chicken in mole sauce and tacos al pastor join specialties such as the Pollo Loco, a chicken breast topped with cream sauce and a medley of squash and other vegetables. The restaurant also shakes and blends specialty cocktails such as açaí cosmos and superfruit margaritas.
Eric Leon, owner and founder, has been wrapping enchiladas and simmering the spices of traditional Mexican cuisine since he was 12 years old. Now, he helms a team of chefs as they bury crispy chimichangas beneath mounds of melted cheese, serve heaps of shrimp and bell peppers in a still-sizzling skillet, and marinate chunks of chicken in a dark, chocolaty mole sauce. Authentic dishes such as these have earned San Jose Mexican Restaurant its spot as Columbia?s Best Mexican Restaurant according to Columbia Metropolitan readers. The eatery?s popularity also stems from the lively environs: the glow of TVs and video games flicker off brick walls, and occasional live music encourages syncopated chewing.
At Mucho Margaritas, the sounds of lively conversation and sizzling fajitas drown out the whirring of blenders as bartenders craft the restaurant’s eponymous drink. The chefs match the bartenders’ creativity with a menu of traditional Mexican dishes enhanced with the occasional modern twist. The sincronizada, for example, sandwiches ham and cheese between a pair of tortillas smothered in beans and avocado. Regional specialties invoke flavors that span Mexico, from the beef, chicken, and shrimp fajitas Jalisco to piñatas bursting with Mexico City–style flan. On warmer days, guests can cool off with a chilled margarita on the outdoor patio.
The two sisters and a brother who run Tios Mexican Cafe and Cantina serve up Tex-Mex specialties such as barbecued tacos, mexican pizzas, and wet burritos smothered with mild enchilada sauce and cheese. They also cater to vegetarians with options such as the burrito-in-a-bowl, which is made with lard-free refried Beans and Daiya vegan cheese. Food isn’t the only reason to visit, though: the spot also houses a game room and a full bar with cocktails, beer, and 25 types of tequila.
Cabo Fresh Taco stuffs its customers with a menu that features local ingredients and Americanized versions of south-of-the-border classics. The Eric's fish taco ($3.95) glazes tempura fried grouper or grilled mahi from local vendors with a homemade cilantro lime aioli, topping the creation with a crown of pico de gallo and Cabo slaw.
El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant brings the colors, smells, and flavors of a Mexican street festival into its dining room via a kitchen that churns out classic south-of-the-border dishes each day. Beneath orange walls flanked by mural scenes of rolling farmland, diners feast on menu selections that range from traditional carne asada with rice and beans to distinctive cheese steak burritos stuffed with sliced beef, grilled onions, and nacho cheese. To balance each zesty flavor, a full bar slings salt-rimmed margaritas, imported beers, and creative cocktails all day long. Meanwhile, karaoke engages ears every other Friday, while free Wi-Fi encourages mid-meal searches for the best way to throw a burrito in a perfect spiral.