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.
With its open windows, nearby beach breezes, and airy wooden interior, Acme Cantina sets a laid-back atmosphere and island feel to reel in fresh surf-and-turf cuisine. Silently object to a shipmate's politically correct sea shanties by scoping out the varied menu, which includes savory dishes such as the shrimp n' grits ($12.99) and the mahi-mahi burrito ($8.25). Feel free to harvest the greens of the spiced-up cantina salad ($7.75 with chicken) or treat hitchhiking water-polo teams to a 30-piece wing order ($16.99) in a variety of flavors like buffalo, honey mustard, island jerk. Burgers, wraps, desserts, and breakfasts abound, as do a variety of tasty cocktails to sip as you take in televised athletic combat.
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.
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.
Dessert refuses to be an afterthought at Ye Ole Fashioned Ice Cream & Sandwich Cafe. More than 30 ice-cream flavors—repeatedly lauded by the Charleston City Paper and Moultrie News—pile atop cones or blend into milk shakes, and classic banana splits make mouths water with their pecans and cherries. The café’s scoops of amaretto cherry or java chunk are generous, living up to the vision of Rod Lapin, who opened the first Ye Ole Fashioned in 1972 with the idea of making customers’ jaws drop at the size of his portions.
Today, at more than half a dozen locations, including one helmed by his daughter Becki and her husband, that hasn’t changed. Ten strips of bacon layer the café’s signature BLTs; chili-laden, all-beef hot dogs weigh down their buns; and the plates are required to start lifting weights regularly before they’re allowed to carry double-decker sandwiches or burgers.