Best of Columbia: SMEs Edition

You may have heard rumblings about a certain “Best of Columbia” contest that is underway. If not, go vote for your favorite restaurants, musicians and – ahem – bloggers soon. I beg you, for it cannot be said that there is any justice in a world where Lonnie Ray’s is tied with Bandana BBQ and is getting lapped by Buckingham’s and Lutz’ for “Best barbecue restaurant.” Evil is afoot, and only right-thinking food lovers stand in the way. Hop to it.

In the meantime, I’m going to make a few choices of my own. No voting save my own dining experiences over the year. The categories will be slapdash and entirely made up by yours truly (and are subject to change). They may include:

  • Best Restaurant You’re Not Going To
  • Best Chinese Restaurant In An Unfortunate Location
  • Dish of the Year
  • Best Cheap Eats
  • Restaurant of the Year

Maybe a few others I haven’t thought of. Feel free to send ideas. In the meantime, the…

Best Restaurant You’re Not Going To

Las Margaritas
10 Southampton Drive
Columbia, MO
(573) 442-7500

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I laughed when I saw their first television commercial, which pronounced “molcajete” as “molca-hetty.” I fretted that the revolving door that is their chosen space overlooking (scenic!?) Corporate Lake would chew up another victim. I thought that maybe we would be getting another paint-by-the-numbers El Maguey/El Jimador clone. But it’s Las Margaritas that is having the last laugh.

The first indication that they were interested in playing ball was the presence of cochinita pibil on the menu. This Yucatecan specialty of banana leaf-wrapped pork, slow-cooked in achiote paste and served with corn tortillas is unaccountably obscure in the United States. Las Margaritas does it right. So too the pozole (pictured above), a winter warmer of a soup with tender pulled pork and hominy in a rich, oily broth. A squeeze of lime and a little hot sauce is all it needs – and those are available alongside. Pastor tacos, chile rellenos and molcajete all warrant a visit as well. Service is fast and courteous and if portion size or standard Tex-Mex is your thing, they bring that too.

Las Margaritas may not be the best Mexican restaurant in town – though it’s in the discussion – but it’s definitely the best one you haven’t given a fair shake.

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4 Responses to “Best of Columbia: SMEs Edition”

  1. Christine Says:

    I think plenty of people are finding out that Las Margaritas is a great Mexican restaurant, if not the best, in Columbia. I predict that it will be the one success in that heretofore unlucky location.

    Molcajete…the pronunciation is pretty close. Other than the last two syllables being pronounced “hetty” instead of “hee-tay” or “hay-tay”, it’s a pretty close approximation and could have been butchered much more badly.

    The best cochinita pibil I’ve ever had was at Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill in Chicago, but since that’s too far away to be available on a regular basis, I agree that Las Margaritas is a great version. Salud!

  2. Tim Kridel Says:

    Las Margaritas has excellent food and service, to the point that after just two lunches, it’s now my wife’s and my favorite local Mexican restaurant. We rank it right up there with Su Casa in downtown Chicago.

    Hopefully it can break the jinx on restaurants at that location.

  3. Ted Farnen Says:

    I have to agree with the others Scott. A lot of people ARE going to Las Margaritas — including me. I drive by there almost every day and the parking lot is always full during dinner hours.

  4. Tim Kridel Says:

    We went Saturday for lunch. Despite the weather, it still was pretty busy. We brought some friends and hope they’ll become regulars like us.

    Try the chorizo appetizer.

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