Francisco "Pancho" Rutiaga and his son, Francisco Rutiaga, handle the lunch rush

Francisco “Pancho” Rutiaga, left, and son Francisco Rutiaga handle the lunch rush in February 2019 at Taqueria Don Pancho at its original location inside Loop Liquor & Convenience Store in Columbia. Taqueria Don Pancho is set to open Friday in its own space on Peachtree Drive.

Taqueria Don Pancho announced Tuesday on Facebook that it will open its new location at 3907 Peachtree Drive on Friday.

“We are sorry for the long wait but we are excited to see all of your smiles here soon,” the post said.

Francisco Rutiaga, who runs the restaurant with his father, Pancho Rutiaga, expects a large turnout this weekend and wants “everything to be perfect.”

At its new location, customers can expect specials on the weekends, Rutiaga said. The menu has expanded to include seafood, a greater selection of sauces and some other authentic dishes.

“We added new dishes, some stuff you won’t see in Columbia, Missouri,” Rutiaga said. “We can teach people what it is, and they can taste it, so they won’t miss out on Mexican food.”

As far as beverages go, customers will be able to order aguas frescas, which Rutiaga described as flavored Mexican drinks. Rutiaga said the restaurant will eventually serve adult beverages, including mixed drinks and margaritas.

The restaurant used to be located inside Loop Liquor & Convenience Store on Business Loop 70 East, where it stayed for six months until closing at the end of May to look for a bigger space. Though it was open only a short time, it quickly became a local favorite — its Facebook page has over 2,000 likes.

“A lot of people are showing us love,” Rutiaga said. “They’ve asked questions like, ‘Hey, when are you guys going to open? I haven’t had really good Mexican food since you closed.’”

Speaking of love, Rutiaga said that’s the motivation behind Don Pancho.

“We want to keep that same momentum going,” he said. “We don’t do this just to do it. We do this because we love what we do.”

Taqueria Don Pancho will be open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays and will be closed Mondays. It will be open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays.

— Kaitlyn Hoevelmann

Traditional Cuban restaurant set to open downtown

Katy Ugalde calls opening her Cuban restaurant a lifelong dream. Now, 22 years after leaving Cuba as a political refugee, she’ll realize that dream next week.

Sagua La Grande Cuban Café is tentatively set to open Thursday at 114 S. Ninth St., where the now-closed restaurant J-Petal & Poke was previously located.

The restaurant will offer traditional Cuban cuisine and is named for Sagua La Grande, Cuba, the city where Ugalde was born.

Ugalde said she arrived in the U.S. in 1997 and lived in Dallas, where she learned English by working in restaurants, until moving to Columbia in 2010.

“It’s 100% my recipe, my food,” said Ugalde, who will co-own the restaurant with Greg Butler. “People can taste something new in Columbia.”

Sagua La Grande will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays, according to the restaurant’s website.

— Ethan Brown

Surah Korean Cuisine & Sushi combines food of three countries

Surah Korean Cuisine & Sushi opened Aug. 1 at 3510 Interstate 70 Drive SE.

Jay Yoon, owner of Surah, is no stranger to the restaurant business. He’s had restaurant experience dating back to 1990 in many places, including Springfield, Missouri; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Harrison, Arkansas. He’s been in the business in Missouri for more than 20 years.

Yoon said his previous restaurants have focused on either Chinese or Japanese food, and this is his first time merging them together.

“The unique thing about this restaurant is that we combined three types of food,” said Jia Kim, a close friend of Yoon’s who has helped him with the restaurant. “One is Korean food, another is Japanese kitchen food and a third is sushi.”

Japanese kitchen food includes hot Japanese food, which Kim differentiates from sushi. Many of the Korean dishes are heavily influenced by Chinese food, Yoon said, so the menu actually includes food from three countries — Japan, Korea and China. Popular Korean dishes on the menu are the bibimbap (rice served with vegetables and spicy sauce), stir fry and spicy seafood noodles.

Kim said the restaurant’s Korean food is the most popular right now, and one reason behind this is there’s more competition in Columbia for sushi than for Korean food.

Surah’s address is the former location of ABC Chinese Cuisine, which closed in February. Since then, the restaurant’s interior has been redone to create a Korea-like atmosphere, with traditional Korean paintings on the walls.

The word “Surah” in Korean means “king’s dinner” or meal, Yoon said.

“It’s kind of a dual meaning,” Kim said. “First, on the customer side, we are treating customers like kings. And on the other side, we offer good quality food as we would give to kings.”

— Kaitlyn Hoevelmann

Supervising editors are Pete Bland and Hannah Hoffmeister.

  • Business reporter, fall 2019 Studying business and economics journalism Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

  • Business reporter, fall 2019. Studying investigative journalism. Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5720.

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