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.
Caliente's bill of fare is laced with fresh, locally sourced ingredients that lend healthy lowcountry flair to traditional Mexican favorites. Treat your table to a heaping plate of nachos to start, freshly fried white-corn tortilla chips crowned with black beans, shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, and your choice of cheddar, jack, or pepper-jack cheese ($6). Encourage demure dinner companions to speak up by leaving the choice of sour-cream topping (plain, citrus, or chipotle) in their hopeful, trembling hands. Savory soup ($3+) and salad ($6+) options accommodate lighter appetites, and a smorgasbord of made-to-order tacos ($6–$9), burritos ($7–$10), enchiladas ($7–$8), fajitas ($14), chimichangas ($11), and stuffed chile rellenos ($11) helps to hush even the most boisterous belly operas. Puffy tacos are a house specialty, featuring fried and bubbly tortillas that are custom-stuffed with the customer's choice of black-bean ($6), pulled-chicken ($8) or pulled-pork ($9), citrus-chicken-breast ($9), ground-beef ($8), or beef-brisket ($9) filling.
The English-style eatery boasts an attentive staff feting familial units and fans of comfort cuisine with a menu full of delectable sandwiches, burgers, salads, and more at three distinct and lively establishments. Devour a quintessential across-the-pond dish in portable form with the fish 'n' chips sandwich ($10.95) or shake hands with The Stranger ($6.99), which is actually just a Reuben you haven't met yet, packed with oven-roasted turkey breast, sauerkraut, melted swiss, and thousand-island dressing. The Sir Loin VIII ($9.49) dons a regal coat of sautéed onions across his 8-ounce center-cut meaty torso as he arrives on an open-faced chariot of texas toast. Herbivores hankering for historically delicious grub will delight in the Trojan Horse ($6.99)—a wrap designed to conceal an army of grilled seasonal vegetables and cheeses in a honey-garlic sauce—and adults in need of belly baby-sitting can dig into the D&D Daycare ($13.95), a medley of savory samples including boneless chicken bites, mini corn dogs, and mini cheeseburgers designed to elicit oversized grins of appreciation.
El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant's neon-green and bright-red sign is merely an appetizer for the feast of colors within. Red- and orange-striped booths, sky-blue chairs, textured sunflower walls, and tabletops painted with smiling suns, blossoming tulips, and fruit dominate the space. This festive atmosphere sets an ideal scene for enjoying carne asada, chicken enchiladas, tacos filled with pork and beans, and churros. El Tapatio—whose name refers to a Guadalajara native—also mixes up delicious margaritas, which were dubbed the Best Margaritas by Delaware Today in 2008.
Boasting 30 years of restaurateur experience, the gastronomic jedis at Sexy Taco construct intricately delicious, housemade edible meat envelopes filled with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Famished patrons can pop into Sexy Taco's taqueria or line up at the mobile food truck to peruse the menu for a range of handheld flavor devices. Fill empty stomach space otherwise occupied by freeloading SpaghettiOs with a steak taco ($2.50) or a roasted-chicken taco ($2.25), both covered in pico de gallo and mexican rice, a fish taco, hand breaded with Panko bread crumbs and drizzled with mango coleslaw and habanera cream sauce ($2.50), a veggie taco, crammed with marinated portobello mushrooms, mexican cheese, fire-roasted zucchini, and red peppers ($2.25), and a short-rib taco, packed with taste-bud-sizzling jalapeño coleslaw ($2.50). Exotic taco fillings and a commitment to sassy service make dining experiences so hot you won't even notice a shirtless Fabio sitting at the next table.
The chefs cook chipotle parmesan au gratin grouper in their mesquite oven, sizzling it at the precise temperature that will preserve its juiciness—its appetite-rousing aromas filling the adobe-walled restaurant. They then nab the fish from the oven and place it on a plate alongside mexican rice and southwestern-style vegetables, resulting in the restaurant’s signature grouper dish.
For more than 20 years, patrons have been filling their bellies at Santa Fe Cafe knowing that their menu of southwestern dishes has been prepared with the same level of precision and care. As diners nibble, they can snuggle up next to an oak-fire chiminea and listen to live ranchero guitar tunes. On the open-air rooftop cantina, groups can belly up to the curved bar shaded by a wooden canopy, or pull up to a table and admire the stars and the bumper stickers on the backs of UFOs, which read "My other UFO is a bike."