Muy Bien Margs At Las Margaritas

You can tell a lot about a Mexican restaurant from its queso dip and salsa. Often lacking in spice and substance, the classic cheese dip and piquant sauces that start a Mexican feast set expectations for the food to come. From the first bite of spicy salsa to the last scrape of creamy queso, diners at Las Margaritas know they’re in for something special.

Las Margaritas Mexican Bar and Grill opened last October at 10 W. Southampton Drive. It wasn’t owner Francisco Esquivel’s first attempt at a Mexican eatery. In 1997, the original Las Margaritas opened its doors in Poplar Bluff. Esquivel’s savory fare was so popular at his first restaurant that he opened a second Mexican spot nearby: Mayas. Many fans of Esquivel’s authentic offerings live in Columbia, says David Lopez, the restaurant’s general manager.

“Francisco first heard about this Columbia location from Midwest Bank, which has done all of our banking at the restaurants and has a space right next door,” Lopez says. “We decided to have a restaurant here because there are a lot of students from Poplar Bluff here, and we liked the space.”

The restaurant is located in Garry Lewis’ Corporate Lake development, which sits adjacent to a manmade lake. The space features a large patio, making the restaurant an ideal spot for sunny happy hours.

Las Margaritas’ signature beverage, a lime margarita, is a satisfying balance of sweet, tangy and tart. In addition to the classic version, the restaurant concocts a variety of flavored margaritas, including mango, strawberry, peach and raspberry. Margaritas come in three sizes — 12-ounce regular, 24-ounce jumbo and 32-ounce monster. On Thursdays, diners can enjoy $1 regular, lime margaritas all day long, Lopez says.

Las Margaritas’ culinary philosophy is to serve freshly prepared food and beverages every time. Owner Esquivel maintains a strict standard for quality ingredients. From its authentic Arroz Con Pollo to its succulent Carne Asada, Lopez says that every item on the menu is expertly prepared with the finest ingredients.

“My favorite thing on the menu is the Tacos Al Pastor,” Lopez says. “It’s pork marinated with chile ancho salsa and a slice of grilled pineapple with three corn tortillas.”

Las Margaritas offers a range of authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex favorites. The succulent Chile Colorado is a refreshing and satisfying alternative for steak lovers, while Camarones a la Diabla is a bold dish featuring tiger shrimp served in the restaurant’s signature spicy ranchero sauce. Las Margaritas’ gigantic Burrito Gonzalez is designed with a big appetite in mind, stuffed with sirloin steak or chicken, onions, bell peppers and beans. For less adventurous palates, the standard soft taco exceeds expectations, and the restaurant’s burritos are hearty and flavorful.

Diners also like what the chefs do with two twists on an American classic. The decadent Francisco Burger is topped with chorizo, red bell peppers, pepper jack cheese and ranch avocado dressing; the respectable Vegetable Burger made from beans offers a hearty choice for vegetarians. Lunchtime fare offers signature Las Margaritas dishes in smaller portions.

The restaurant’s extensive menu also includes several desserts. For a decadent end a Mexican feast, indulge in Xango, a creamy cheesecake wrapped in a pastry tortilla that is fried and served with ice cream.

The spacious dining room features handcrafted chairs from Mexico and vibrantly painted tables created by a Poplar Bluff artist. A large mural brings life to the indoor space; patio dining is also available.

“People keep coming back because we have great Mexican food and most of all a great atmosphere,” Lopez says. “That’s really all you need.”