10 Hidden Gems to Get Your Mexican Food Fix in Columbia SC
Tuesday, April 24, 2018 11:00 AM by Kelsey Carmichael
When it comes to Columbia’s Mexican food scene, there are more restaurants to try than there is time to try them all. You can’t go wrong with a classic trip to your local San Jose, Monterrey’s or Casa Linda. Traditional chips & salsa (and queso if you’re doing it right) will probably fill you up before you get your meal but, hey - it’s Mexican night and you’re going to eat that entrée with a side of rice & beans anyways - we don’t blame you because, same. While we can never forget about our staples, there are some hidden gems that have been making their way to the top of the list for locals. From a quick bite to takeout heaven to date night perfection, check out these 10 picks (among many) to get Mexican food in Columbia SC.
Tucked into a small shopping center on Beltline Blvd., you’ll find Moctezumas Taqueria. From the outside, it may look like there’s not much going on. Step inside and you’ll be joining a fiesta. Here they’re serving up authentic Mexican dishes with a menu that will have your mouth watering before your margarita comes to the table. Think – Huaraches, Flautas, Chiles Poblanos, and Mole. Not to mention their unique fajitas options like the Fajitas “A La Diabla.” There is one catch—once they run out of something, they’re out for the day. We recommend heading there for lunch to make sure you get some of their more popular menu items.
What started as a local taco truck has turned into one of Columbia’s most talked about Mexican restaurants, located near Fort Jackson. Handmade tortillas, fresh salsa, and a list of choices that looms large has everyone coming back for more. Choose from eight types of meat for your made-to-order taco, torta, burrito, quesadilla, tostada… shall we go on? If you’re not too full, cap off your meal with a traditional style churro or fried plantains.
Featuring small plates for sharing, The Vista’s newest restaurant, COA, is date night goals. The stylish, warm atmosphere will have you cozied up to the bar, unwinding from the day in no time. Sip on a uniquely crafted cocktail made with hand-squeezed fruit juices and fresh garnishes, or try something a little more eclectic like a margarita made with egg whites. Just don’t forget to take a photo before sipping. Add in tapas with elevated ingredients like seared tuna, pork belly, and grilled octopus and you have, what might be, the hippest little Mexican restaurant this side of the border.
No frills about it, Real Mexico serves up what it promises—fresh, simple, real Mexican dishes. You can find their food truck at local festivals or some Saturdays at Soda City Market, but if you want the real deal, we suggest heading to the restaurant. Locals and savvy travelers alike will drive out of their way for these generous portions that pack in the flavor. With a small space, you may have to wait for a table - Grab a Mexican beer and enjoy the sunshine at one of their picnic tables while you wait. Patrons promise the eats are worth the extra time. While you’re there, be on the lookout for the giant jar of pineapple infused tequila. Photo on your Instagram story or it didn’t happen.
Possibly one of Irmo’s best kept secrets, Don Tequilas has an upbeat atmosphere (hello Friday Salsa Nights), plus a food menu that fuses traditional favorites with unique offerings. It may sound like a Tequilas Bowl is a jumbo margarita (we’ll take one of those, too), but this dish satisfies all your Mexican cravings in one bite. It’s a bowl filled to the brim with rice, black beans, veggies, pico de gallo, avocado, and chicken, steak or shrimp, grilled just right. Or try seafood dishes like the Playa Del Carmen, featuring grilled fish, scallops and shrimp in a mango sauce.
Cantina 76 has become so popular that it’s getting ready to open its fifth location. Lucky for us, the original is on Devine Street, with another holding it down in the Main Street District. Here, you’re as likely to find a college student or young professional, as you are a family of four. Cantina 76 has a loyal following that will talk about the “Tres Hombres” sampler all day – referred to as “the trio” by locals. It features their house salsa, queso, and fresh guacamole. In addition to their list of specialty tacos, they offer weekly chef specials that use fresh, seasonal ingredients like a Spiced Cauliflower Taco or Surf & Turf Taco, and sides like fried okra or garlic green beans. Pro tip—they also have brunch tacos.
Born and bred in Texas, Sure Fire was crafted by its owners from a passion for Tex-Mex. They traveled the world to find unique and interesting flavors, like the Al Pastor Pork - marinated in fresh pineapple juice and spicy chorizo seasonings. They moved their passion from Texas to Columbia SC, smack in the middle of The Vista. Make a pit stop for lunch and build your own bowl with the likes of flame grilled steak or Mahi-Mahi. Or, start your night at their rustic-chic bar or outdoor patio, tucked away from the bustle of the city. The Surefire Margarita is low-key one of the best in town, but don’t try to get the recipe – it’s a secret, of course.
Located in Lexington, Brothers & Beer is a California-style Mexican restaurant featuring a salsa bar that can satisfy anyone in your tribe, equipped with everything from mild to spicy to bean-based salsa. Equal parts delicious and entertaining, here you can order up plates that are literally sizzling at your tableside. The Saltillo Sizzling Salad brings you a skillet of chicken, steak, or shrimp with a dynamite salad (think – cotija cheese, queso, fresh avocado, roasted pepitas & fresh pico de gallo) and tosses it all tableside in a house made vinaigrette. If you’re feeling a little daring, order up the Jose Cuervo Fajitas and watch as your dish is flamed at your table with Jose Cuervo Tequila.
This eclectic spot shakes up the traditional taco scene by pairing ingredients that cross cultures. Some of their features include the Shrimp & Grits taco, Banh Mi Tofu taco, Lamb Gyro taco, Black Bean & Cheese taco and Fried Green Tomato BLT taco – just to name a few. While the chalk board menu changes daily according to the fresh ingredients they have in house, the salsa trio will always be there for you. Trust us, you’re going to want to get a round of this snack for the table. Settle into the bustling atmosphere inside, or grab a picnic table outside where you can take in the bustle of the college & young professional scene in the Olympia Mills district.
When they ask you if you’d like some tableside guacamole, the answer is always yes. Take in some of the freshest guac at Chapala in Irmo and pair it with the bean dip for a proper start to your meal. While there’s a healthy dose of typical Mexican combinations, locals thrive for the more creative. Try the Volcan de Fuego – a cauldron-like dish with shrimp, chicken and steak in a traditional Mexican sauce. Or dig into the stuffed poblano peppers, another dish that often strikes up a buzz.
If you're looking for more delicious sips + bites in Columbia SC, check out our restaurants page where you can search by category to find exactly what you're craving!