When travelling through the corridor (and beyond), you can devour authentic Mexican cuisine at every stop. It may take you a few attempts to cross these all off your list, but the toothsome tacos at these restaurants will make it worth your while.
207 Main St, Columbus Junction
It doesn’t get much better than this family run establishment. Originally from Los Angeles, Carmen Castellano and husband Salvador Ortega moved their successful food cart operation to Iowa and opened a brick-and-mortar location in Columbus Junction. Their casual, unfussy dining room is an ideal atmosphere in which to devour their street tacos by the plateful, come back to life with a bowl of housemade menudo or posole or fill up on freshly made tortas.
Many family members can be found serving customers, running the register, or cooking in the kitchen and always welcome questions and conversation with their customers. On a recent trip to the restaurant, after chatting for a few minutes with a couple of ladies in the kitchen, we were introduced to Carmen’s ‘dry salsa,’ which was simple in its presentation, but proved at once to be a dynamite addition to just about anything on the menu. Made from dried garlic, peppers and seeds, it’s easy to understand why it’s sold in bulk quantities near the register. Reserve Antojitos Carmen for days when you’re willing to put in a little time on the road. You will be handsomely rewarded.
El Super Burrito
3300 Johnson Ave NW, Cedar Rapids
Don’t be fooled! That little gray house is actually El Super Burrito! And it packs quite a punch with delicious traditional and street Mexican cuisine. Situated between a Flowerama and a laundromat, this restaurant provides fast, quality food to the community. With an extensive menu, ranging from tortas and tacos to tamales and gorditas, any sudden craving can be satisfied.
Hunger pangs beware, for with their vegetarian options, meat-lovers aren’t the only ones under El Super Burrito’s protection. You can drop by to pick up food for home, or spend some time in the spacious orange and green dining area. Even your sweet tooth can be saved, or rather indulged, by the cases of sugared rolls and cookies filled up by Lupita’s Bakery. Watch out for the lunch rush, though, even the most powerful heroes have their kryptonite.
4719 J St SW, Cedar Rapids
When you find yourself lost in the industrial zone of Cedar Rapids, keep a close eye on any warehouses you pass by; one of them holds a secret within its metal-clad walls. Though opened as a test facility for American Baking Systems, the Bakery does far more than assess equipment. They specialize in “all natural, no preservative” breads and pastries at affordable prices.
Noticing a growing, unfulfilled demand for tortillas and Mexican breads and pastries, the Bakery chose to provide Cedar Rapidians not only with traditional baked goods, but also handmade tortillas and beautiful, ridged conchas. If you’re in the mood for something even more satisfying, peruse the limited café menu and order as many street tacos as you can stomach. You can carry them over to the eating area for an easy lunch, or take your tacos to go and head home for a feast.
240 E Main St, Solon
Whether you’re in the mood for takeout, delivery or a fun dinner out on the town, El Sol offers multiple ways to enjoy quality, Mexican cuisine. Located in Solon, just outside of Iowa City, El Sol brings a taste south of the border to the heart of the Midwest. Sequestered in a cozy brick building, it makes the most of its downtown location by blending the best of colorful, local establishment and familiar family restaurant.
Along with its delicious food, ranging from such options as the steak fajitas to their vegetarian burrito, El Sol also offers a number of other pleasant surprises. They have a full bar, great for a night out with friends, and every so often they boast live music. If you’ve ever wanted to hear a mariachi band while you sit down to dinner, El Sol is a far less expensive option than a ticket to Mexico City.
601 Hollywood Blvd, Iowa City
If you’re not actively searching for it, you might easily drive right past this little bodega. On a main thoroughfare of Iowa City, tucked between a farm supply store and a VFW Post, El Paso is home to some of Iowa City’s best authentic burritos and tacos. After ordering, stake your claim to any available table in the small dining area between the food window and the check cashing window.
The no-nonsense kitchen staff will set to making your order right away, and, when it’s ready, you should hurry back and tuck right right in. Until your food is ready, though, wander the short bodega aisles. Grab a tallboy of Tecate or, if your stomach can handle it, a 22 oz. Michelada. Rest easy, knowing there’s always a full selection of Jarritos and glass bottles of Mexican Coke if you’re off the sauce. When you can’t spare the few minutes it takes to sit down and inhale your plate, your order can easily be taken to go, but is best enjoyed outdoors in the sunshine.