By Avital Aboody
If you’ve eaten on Imperial Avenue before, you’ve probably enjoyed some great tacos or perhaps pupusas. But you might not know about the newest gem on the corridor: “Antojitos Colombianos,” the first and only Colombian restaurant in San Diego. The doors at 2851 Imperial Avenue opened for business in January 2012, and this home-grown restaurant has been happily providing customers with a truly authentic Colombian experience ever since.
The owner of “Antojitos Colombianos,” Javier Rodriguez, is from Cali, Colombia. He moved to San Diego 28 years ago to study business at San Diego City College, and then decided to build his life here. Javier capitalized on his previous experience in hotel management, as well as his love for food, and spent the next twenty years managing various restaurants. In 2005 he got together with a couple of Italian friends and opened his first business, a continental restaurant in La Jolla.
Although that restaurant didn’t last long, Javier’s entrepreneurial spirit stayed strong. When his father passed away, Javier returned to Colombia where he got the support and motivation he needed to take his next big risk. He ran into a friend from his church who said “Something good is coming your way. Don’t worry about money. You will succeed.”
With that promising prediction, he set out to create the first Colombian restaurant in San Diego. Nothing, not even the lack of capital, would stop him. To get some start-up money, he put all his jewelry in the pawn shop and borrowed money from a friend. He drove up to LA to buy some equipment on credit from a fellow Colombian whose restaurant was closing. Eventually he had collected enough money to get the doors open; then came the challenge of getting the people to walk through them.
Since this is the first Colombian restaurant in San Diego, Javier knew that he would have some work to do to expose people to unfamiliar dishes and flavors. Motivated by the belief that every person in San Diego should experience the taste of a classic Colombian empanada, he gives every new customer a free empanada. And if you are in need of a little pick me up, he’ll even pour you a “tinto” (shot of Colombian coffee).
But the empanada and coffee is just your ticket in the door. Once he’s got your mouth watering, Javier will introduce you to the most famous dish in Medellín, the Bandeja Paisa. This massive platter of white rice, beans, fried egg, fried plantain, arepa (corn cake), avocado wedges, carne asada, Colombian chorizo, and fried pork rind is Javier’s top seller, which is why he affectionately calls it the Bendita (Holy) Paisa. If that’s not your style you can choose from the variety of traditional dishes on the menu, nibble on some zero trans-fat buñuelos (fried cheese fritters), or just trust the incredible staff to surprise you with something new and delicious.
Word is spreading quickly about this hot new restaurant. The Colombian diaspora community packs the place on soccer game days and the sailors from the nearby Navy base come nearly every day for lunch. When you are at “Antojitos Colombianos” you feel like you have been transported to Colombia. Silvio will greet you with a huge smile and take you on a virtual tour.
He’ll point out all the pictures and cultural symbols adorning the walls and tell you about all the highlights of his beloved country. And you can taste the love that Mercedes, Ana, and Vanessa bake into the breads and stir into the soups. Stop by for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and you’ll embark on a journey that you won’t soon forget!
All images by Avital Aboody