Bigger, better La Plaza Tapatia offers Columbus diners a wonderland of Mexican eats
Delicious, home-style hot dishes and excellent ceviches are affordably sold by the pound at this destination-worthy superstore
It’s hard to keep track of all the good Mexican eateries on the West Side. But it’s easy to pinpoint the area’s de facto hub of Mexican food and culture: La Plaza Tapatia, a marvelous one-stop-shopping facility that occupies a huge spot in the Hilltop.
La Plaza Tapatia has been a community fixture since 2004. But last March, the supermarket-slash-eatery made a game-changing move from its longtime location to a nearby, much bigger and better new space across the street from Hollywood Casino.
Although nominally still a supermarket, that designation falls short. Because, while stocked with traditional American and Mexican grocery-store items, and as large and as well-organized as a Kroger or Giant Eagle, Tapatia offers enticements rarely seen in other supermarkets.
Such as a butcher case that seems to stretch for blocks and is loaded with pre-sliced, pre-seasoned meats prepped for “just add heat,” restaurant-style fare such as carne asada, fajitas and pork al pastor.
The store also includes: a serious seafood selection that includes whole red snapper and tilapia; a cafe that features Crimson Cup coffee beans; a station for house-made ice creams offered in tropical fruit flavors; a veritable boutique of pottery, cooking wares and pinatas; a wondrous room called “candy land” overflowing with hard-to-find, inexpensive treats that are perfect for pinatas (like must-have paletas de cajeta, aka dulce de leche lollipops); a bakery with on-point Mexican breads and pastries (such as terrific churros); plus a fantastic variety of beverages anchored by an in-store bar.
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When the inevitable shopping-induced hunger pangs hit, Tapatia has you covered — and then some — with an impressive prepared-foods section of about 20 hot dishes offered in a buffet-style lineup, and a refrigerated case containing standout ceviches.
The destination-worthy ceviches include ($10.99 per pound): mixtos — a refreshing mixed salad that could be called “tabbouleh of the sea” with its citrusy diced cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, plus fresh-tasting octopus, shrimp and whitefish; tropical — an uncommon delight with thinly sliced good shrimp, mango, cilantro, citrus and cliche-defying notes of tamarind, soy and Worcestershire sauces; shrimp cocktail — an addictive rendition of the Mexican-style favorite with a tangy, bright and slightly spicy, ketchup-based sauce.
Except for some set-priced items — such as first-rate pupusas filled with soothing cheese contrasted by spicy pulled pork ($3) and well-made tamales with inspired fillings of spicy greens and queso blanco ($2.50) — the varying hot dishes are $8.99 a pound. That’s a bargain. As is Tapatia’s meal-deal: $6.99 a pound ($8 to $9 buys a large meal) for a main course partnered with good Mexican rice and pinto, black or refried beans.
Because the entrees — mostly flavorful, not-spicy stews rather than taqueria-style fare — are in steam-table troughs, proteins can vary in texture. That said, the majority of my bites were more tender than tough.
The uniformly delicious, ready-to-eat hot dishes I sampled were: costillas de puerco en salsa verde — hacked-up, lusty pork ribs enhanced by a zippy-yet-smooth tomatillo sauce and sauteed onions; albondigas — large yet pliable meatballs in a perky tomato-based, vegetable-packed broth; pollo asado — darkly seared, falling-off-the-bone chicken (legs and thighs); bistec ranchero — thinly sliced steak in a kicky sauce redolent of paprika and mild dried chiles; bistec a la Mexicana — essentially steak fajitas; and pozole so good that savvy customers purchase it in bulk.
Seating and beverage options galore await in the nearby bar. Tapatia’s tequila-spiked cocktails include obligatory margaritas ($9) but also vampiros ($9) and cantaritos ($12). If eating elsewhere — the food travels well — the cooler case offers myriad Mexican beers, plus sizable, canned beer cocktails (like Modelo’s chile-kissed “cheladas,” with tamarind or pineapple).
Adventurous imbibers can try a bona fide rarity: the fermented agave, tequila-preceding libation favored by the Aztecs and Maya centuries ago called pulque ($10 for the bottle simply branded “Mexico,” which was milky-yet-tart with banana and sherry notes).
La Plaza Tapatia
255 Georgesville Rd., Hilltop