Tio's Mexican Cafe - 921 Sumter Street

Posted by The LunchMen Thursday, April 8, 2010

Its spring time in Columbia, which means the Lunchmen are naturally taking longer, leisurely lunches again to enjoy the sunshine before our mid-days return to those sweltering, "famously hot" times when good air conditioning becomes the only requirement for a successful lunch. On days like these, why not go sit across from the Horseshoe and enjoy some Mexican fare? Not being able to come up with a good reason, we did just that.

Tio's moved from its location Main Street a couple of years ago to a much larger, appealing location around the block. The Sumter Street location has a bar, ample seating, and a lot of window space. The bar seems to be rocking some very decent happy hour prices - something we will investigate further come softball season. They've also got a dedicated parking lot guarded by a man in a chair who will only let down the rope he is holding if you are going to Tio's. Don't trifle with this man.

Rabbit, The Publican and I grabbed a table in the front of the restaurant to enjoy being on campus - it lets Rabbit and The Publican bask in the memories of their glory days. Lunch service at Tio's is notoriously slow, and today was no exception. We had multiple waitresses trying, rather unsuccessfully, to figure out our order and bring it to the table. In another setting, this might have bothered me, but not today. With the festive colors, fiesta decor, and sunlight spilling into the restaurant, I was able to slip into island time for a little while, decompress, and chuckle at the bumps in Tio's execution.

The food at Tio's is not going to blow you away, so don't go expecting to be wowed. After all, their website advertises the "best margarita in town," not the best Mexican food. However, there are some things about Tio's that have helped the restaurant develop a cult following. First, they have some pretty delicious salsa, and they offer a wide array of hot sauces for those of you that are inclined to be bold, or even reckless, with the heat. Second, the Mexican Pizza is a classic college hang-over tool. Third, and perhaps most significant, is the Wet Burrito. The name might not be too appetizing and it is not the prettiest of foods (see pic), but it is a tasty, filling creation that I have religiously ordered on every trip to Tio's since 2005. Try it out with some hot sauce and be prepare to write off the afternoon.

Tio's is not a bad lunch call if you are around campus and can't find parking for some of the other venues. If you go in expecting decent, standard Mexican fare at a relaxed pace, you won't be disappointed.

- Tank

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Rabbit, Tank, and The Publican are three dudes just trying to get through the work week here in Columbia. Rabbit is a Columbia native, Tank is from Charleston, and The Publican hails from Greenville. Rabbit's favorite lunch spot is the No Name Deli on Elmwood, where you may find him putting down a grilled chicken salad and a side of vinegar pasta. The Publican usually wants to find food to cure his all-too-common hangovers. Tank claims no favorite lunch spot - he lives for the thrill of the hunt.


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