With another Cinco de Mayo in the books, we thought it was time to write about one of the Beaufort area’s top Mexican restaurants—well, actually two of them, since La Nopalera has two tasty locations (dare we say dos?).
While we often choose to fix a Mexican meal and maybe a Michelada or three on Cinco de Mayo, we rarely eat out on a day when many Mexican restaurants are packed with those looking to eat, drink, and be very merry for the holiday that commemorates the anniversary of Mexico’s victory over the Second French Empire at the 1862 Battle of Puebla. Generally celebrated more in America than Mexico as a commemoration of Mexican-American history and culture, we typically choose the other 364 other days a year to eat at great area Mexican restaurants like La Nopalera.
We’re a bit biased when it comes to La Nopalera, in that our great neighbors
across the street know the owner and his family quite well and one of our neighbors’ daughters even rooms with the owner’s daughters at USC in Columbia. Plus, it helps that their bustling Ribaut Road location is less than two miles from our houses. Heck, La Nopalera’s other hopping location on Ladys Island (Sams Point Road) is just four miles door-to-door, when we often combine lunch with stops at Publix, Old Timey Meats, Grayco, or Bill’s Liquors.
Biases aside, we love heading to both locations for a huge number of tasty menu possibilities, great vibes, and consistently friendly and helpful service (especially when it comes to “translating” a few unfamiliar ordering options). That “number” reference means that their glossy two-sided menu features a whopping choice of more than 125 different food orders possibilities (yeap, we counted), including appetizers, dips, soups, salads, fajitas, quesadillas, enchiladas, tacos, burritos, steaks, chicken, seafood, pork, vegetarian, mixed plates and combinations, plus more than a dozen tasty sides. Whew!
Both La Nopalera restaurants are owned and operated by Abraham Cruz. He opened their Ribaut Road location in August of 1998, making it a quarter century and counting come late-summer, which is really saying something in the restaurant biz. Abraham opened their Lady’s Island hotspot in September, 2016. With a hands-on approach that leads to great staff in the kitchens and out on the floors of the restaurants, La Nopalera fans like us can always count on a great experience at both of his restaurants.
That said, the Ribaut Road location is a bit more rustic (in a good way), while the Lady’s Island La Nopalera is more modern and also features a nice patio out back. Generally speaking, we tend to head to our neighborhood location on Ribaut for dinner, saving the Sams Point Road option for lunch (or even late-morning brunch).
The menus are exactly the same at both restaurants and it would be
impossible to address even a medium-sized helping of the tasty choices. Instead, we’ll just list a few of our faves, as well as those of our neighbors, their daughters, and even Abraham’s Gamecock daughter: queso and queso with chorizo; their quesadilla apps; chicken tortilla soup; the fajita and shrimp taco salads; nachos (they have 11 options!); Nopalera Fajitas (steak, chicken, shrimp, and chorizo); Shrimp Fajita Quesadilla; Enchiladas Parmesanas (with a unique creamy parmesan mushroom sauce featured elsewhere on the menu); more than a dozen different tacos possibilities on corn or flour tortillas (ask about the grilled cactus tacos); Burritos del Mar, with grilled tilapia and shrimp); Veggie Chimichanga; more than 30 varied mixed plates and combination dinners; and so much more. Whew!
When asked, Abraham reports that their fajita nachos, chimichangas, California burritos, any of sizzling fajitas, and margaritas (natch) remain some of the most popular choices at both restaurants. He says his favorites include their tasty street tacos and the Molcajete (see below). And, with cactus appearing on the menu several times, it only seems appropriate that Abraham reports that ‘nopalera’ means ‘prickly pear,’ which is featured at the top of the menu.
We’re a bit embarrassed to report we’re not guacamole fans, but everyone says their fresh guac made tableside is excellent. There’s also aforementioned Molcajete on the menu, which is a large hot stone bowl filled with steak, chicken, shrimp, and salsa, topped with cactus, scallion, Oaxaca cheese, and fresh jalapenos. We plan to try it next time we’re there with our neighbors or other friends.
The menu also features a separate “Lunch” offering with great pricing, which
is available from 11am to 3pm Monday through Saturday. There are several combos, including the Speedy Gonzales, with a taco, enchilada, and a choice of rice and beans, as well as many egg-based dishes that are perfect for a late brunch (did someone say Huevos Rancheros?). We also understand our esteemed Lowcountry Weekly editor is a big fan of Lunch #3, which is two tiny taco salads (crispy fried tortillas topped with beef, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, and guac), plus a cheese quesadilla.
Any time of day, the portions are typically huge, and we love heading home with La Nopalera leftovers. That said, the dessert list is short, but very sweet. The choices include Sopapillas, Churros, Flan, and Fried Ice Cream.
Both restaurants feature full-service bars, including a great draft beer selection (with 16- and 32-ounce pours, plus pitchers). They even make a
mean Michelada for fans of the concoction (like us), as well several other ‘bebidas’ (think Tequila Mules, Palomas, Mojitos, and more). Our neighbors also love La Nopalera’s “original” margaritas on the rocks or frozen, which are available in various sizes, including pitchers. There are also special hand-crafted margaritas employing various tequilas, fruits, and more, as well as an extensive tequila list. Abraham says daily specials on margaritas and draft beers are very popular with regulars.
As mentioned, the service is friendly and efficient, and the food comes out quickly and piping hot. If there’s a short wait for a table (like, say, on Cinco de Mayo), an oh-so-bueno cold beverage and a basket of chips and house made salsa isn’t a hardship. And, it’s worth the wait when it comes to saying, “Si!” to two of the area’s best Mexican restaurants.
La Nopalera Beaufort
1220 Ribaut Road
Beaufort, SC 29902
Open for Lunch & Dinner Daily
La Nopalera Ladys Island
5 Sams Point Road
Beaufort, SC 29907
Open for Lunch & Dinner Daily