The Random Restaurant Tour (XV)

We’ve got a taco war brewing in downtown Columbus.  Condado opened a few years ago and has become a fixture on the east side of High Street, right next to the Columbus Commons.  Now Tio’s Tacos and Tequila has opened on the west side of High Street, just down the block.

Last week the lunch bunch paid our first visit to Tio’s and came away favorably impressed. Tio has a totally different vibe than Condado.  For one thing, it’s much quieter.  Condado goes for more of a bustling street taco approach; Tio opts for more of a traditional restaurant feel.  Consistent with that, there’s an actual menu of taco options, rather than the Condado build-your-own taco checklist.  That’s not to say one approach is better than another — they’re just different.

As for the tacos?  They’re very good.  So good, in fact, that JV and the Bus-Riding Conservative staked out the aggressive position that Tio’s tacos are better than Condado’s.  The Unkempt Guy and I, being less impulsive and more thoughtful by nature, weren’t quite willing to go so far after only one visit, but we admitted the tacos were excellent.  At the recommendation of our server we all got a spread of three, which turned out to be just right for a moderate lunch.  My favorite was the taco on the right, above, which substituted a folded slice of jicama for the taco and was filled with crunchy shrimp and covered with chipotle sauce.

Who will win the downtown Columbus taco wars?  I think the real winner will be the downtown lunch crowd, which now has a choice when they feel the call of the taco.

Advertisements

Condado Downtown

IMG_1238The food fare in downtown Columbus has improved tremendously over the past 10 years, and it keeps getting better.  The latest welcome entrant is Condado, which already has a solid core of fans who’ve frequented its location near the OSU campus.  Yesterday, when the Jersey Girl, the Origamist, the Bus-Riding Conservative and I decided to check it out for lunch, the place was jammed, and I’m guessing that at least some of the patrons weren’t Condado newbies like we were.

Condado is all about tacos.  (And, according to its impressive beverage menu, it’s all about tequila, too, but this was lunch, after all, so checking out the tequila and Mexican beer choices will just have to wait for another day.)  There are some standard taco choices, but you also have the option of building your own taco by filling out a checklist, like you would at a sushi bar.  The checklist allows you to choose a tortilla (hard corn, soft flour, or more exotic combinations), a protein, toppings, cheeses, salsa, and sauces that range in the heat index all the way up to ghost pepper, which carries an “INFERNO WARNING” attached.  After some careful deliberation, you make your choices and then hang out in the happily raucous Condado atmosphere until your waitperson brings your tacos out.

When you go to a taco place, you always wonder how big the tacos will be.  I was hungry and got two of them, and it was plenty of food.  One of the tacos filled a “ju-ju” shell (flour exterior, corn interior, with queso and chorizo) with roasted pollo, pickled red onions, chihuahua cheese, salsa verde, and condado secret taco sauce, which got three flames on the heat meter.  It was lip-smacking superb, with just the right heat level.  The other option combined braised beef brisket, cilantro and onion, queso fresco, salsa rioja, and cilantro lime aioli in a flour tortilla.  It was good, too, but the number of sauces in the soft taco made it messy to eat.  I don’t mind licking my fingers, so I really didn’t care, but in the future I’m going to either cut down on the salsa/sauce combos or stick to the tortillas that include a hard interior shell.  I’m happy to report that the BRC, ever an adventurous soul, tried the ghost pepper sauce and lived to tell the tale with only mild discomfort, thanks to the timely intervention of some heat-killing guacamole.

Condado offers both interior seating and exterior seating on a small patio filled with picnic tables.  When we were there, both seating areas were bustling.  We all agreed that Condado would be a prime place to come after work for a few Mexican beers or a slug of that tequila, some chips and freshly made salsa, and maybe a taco for the road.

I’m glad to see a new downtown Columbus restaurant get off to a flying start — especially this restaurant, which is on the ground floor of one of the Highpoint buildings next to Columbus Commons.  The High Street retail space in those buildings has been slow to fill up, and the downtown lunch crowd has been waiting patiently.  If Condado proves to be as successful as our initial visit suggests, that may encourage other restauranteurs to come join the party.  Those of us who work and live in and around the downtown area would be happy to have them.