Plaza Tapatia, a Columbus destination for Mexican food and drink

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It’s hard to keep track of all the great Mexican restaurants on the West Side. But it’s easy to identify the area’s de facto center of Mexican cuisine and culture: La Plaza Tapatia, a marvelous one-stop shopping center that takes up a huge amount of space on the hillside.

Plaza Tapatia has been part of the community since 2004. But last March, the supermarket/restaurant changed the game from its longtime location to a new, much bigger and better space nearby, across from the Hollywood Casino Columbus.

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Although theoretically still a supermarket, this designation is insufficient. Although stocked with traditional American and Mexican groceries, and as big and organized as a Kroger or a giant eagle, Tapatia offers attractions rarely seen in other supermarkets.

Like a butcher’s crate that appears to stretch over blocks and is loaded with pre-sliced, pre-seasoned meats prepared for “just add heat” restaurant-style dishes such as carne asada, fajitas and pork al pastor.

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There’s also: a serious seafood selection that includes whole red snapper and tilapia; a cafe that offers Crimson Cup coffee beans; a homemade ice cream station with flavors of tropical fruits; a real pottery shop, kitchen utensils and pinatas; a wondrous room called “candy land” brimming with hard-to-find, inexpensive treats that are perfect for pinatas (like the must-have paletas de cajeta, aka dulce de leche lollipops); a bakery with on-point Mexican breads and pastries (like terrific churros); as well as a fantastic variety of drinks anchored by an in-store bar.

Ready meals also available at Tapatia

When the inevitable shopping-induced hunger pangs hit, Tapatia has you covered—and more—with an impressive prepared food section of around 20 buffet-style hot dishes and a refrigerated case containing exceptional ceviches.

Destination-worthy ceviches include ($10.99 per pound): mixtos – a refreshing mixed salad that could be called “sea tabbouleh” with its citrus diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions as well as octopus, fresh-tasting shrimp and whitefish; tropical – an uncommon delight with good thinly sliced ​​prawns, mango, cilantro, citrus and cliché-defying notes of tamarind, soy and Worcestershire sauces; shrimp cocktail – an addictive take on the Mexican-style favorite with a tangy, bright and slightly spicy ketchup-based sauce.

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Except for some prix fixe items – such as top-notch pupusas filled with soothing cheese contrasted by spicy pulled pork ($3) and well-done tamales with inspired toppings of spicy greens and queso blanco ( $2.50) – assorted hot dishes are $8.99 a pound. It’s a bargain, as is Tapatia’s meal: $6.99 a pound ($8 to $9 buys a big meal) for a main course paired with good Mexican rice and pinto, black or refried beans.

Because main dishes — mostly savory, unspicy stews rather than taqueria-style dishes — are in steamer pans, their proteins can vary in texture. That said, the majority of my bites were more soft than hard.

The uniformly delicious, ready-to-eat hot dishes I sampled were: costillas de puerco en salsa verde – vigorously cut pork ribs topped with a runny tomatillo sauce and sautéed onions; albondigas – chunky but soft meatballs in a tomato-based vegetable broth; pollo asado – darkly seared chicken falling off the bone (legs and thighs); bistec ranchero – thinly sliced ​​steak in a tangy sauce reminiscent of paprika and dried sweet peppers; bistec a la Mexicana – basically, steak fajitas; and pozole so good that discerning customers buy it in bulk.

Dinner also available at the Tapatia bar

Plenty of seating and drink options await you at the nearby bar. Tapatia’s tequila-based cocktails include obligatory margaritas ($9), but also vampiros ($9) and cantaritos ($12). If you eat elsewhere – the food travels well – the cooler case offers a myriad of Mexican beers as well as plenty of canned beer cocktails (like Modelo’s “cheladas” with tamarind or pineapple).

Adventurous drinkers can try a bona fide rarity: fermented agave, the libation preceding the tequila favored by the Aztecs and Mayans centuries ago, called pulque ($10 for the bottle simply branded “Mexico,” which was milky but tangy with hints of banana and sherry).

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Plaza Tapatia

Or: 255 Georgesville Road, west side

Contact: 614-276-0333, www.laplazatapatia.com

Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

Price scale: $6.99 to $10.99 per pound

Vibe: Well organized and versatile Mexican style supermarket with a large patio, bar, cafe, bakery, ice cream shop, candy store and a large prepared food section supervised by generally friendly waiters.

Children’s menu: Nope

Reservations: Nope

Accessible: yes

Liquor license: full bar

Quick click: Delicious homemade Mexican hot dishes and excellent ceviches are sold at an affordable price by the pound in a destination-worthy “supermarket”.

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