by Kevin Wynn
225 Main Street
Columbus Junction, IA 52738
Phone (319) 728-8182
|Monday||10 a.m. to 8 p.m.|
|Wednesday – Saturday||10 a.m. to 8 p.m.|
|Sunday||10 a.m. to 5 p.m.|
|Grocery Store||7 days/week|
GPS coordinates – N41º 16.760′ W091º 21.627′
The narrow main street of this little town reverberated with sound as they rode in off the plains. Mostly in two’s and three’s but occasionally alone, the riders brought with them a hunger and thirst that needed immediate attention. I watched from across the street as they parked their two wheeled steeds at the curb. They’d cast a squinty eye up and down the street in the mid-afternoon sun, and disappear into the bar and grill. What fools they were. Settling for mere burgers and fries, when they were within steps of real, homemade food. If only they knew what they were missing.
I suppose you could chalk it up to ignorance, or a “ride American, buy American” mindset, but I didn’t see the point in riding some great distance and then settling for just an average hamburger. Then again, maybe they didn’t come that far. The bikes were too clean, the riding gear too “stylish” to have been worn for very many miles. They didn’t ride here to eat, just to hang with their bro’s and be seen.
I had just spent the past hour packing my neck with truly outstanding Mexican food. And I was packing my saddlebags with leftovers for later that night, due to the portions served. When you spend all day in the saddle, you’d like to end the ride with something memorable. La Reyna Restaurant in Columbus Junction, Iowa is definitely one to remember.
Having only recently graduated from Taco Bell as my experience with Mexican food, I’ve been slowly expanding my knowledge. I’ve sampled two Mexican restaurants in my Northeast Minneapolis neighborhood recently, and this kinda weird guy I know keeps bringing me burritos from his favorite place in Chicago. The local Minneapolis places are really good, the stuff from Chicago just so-so.
It had seemed unlikely that I’d find a real jewel of Mexican home-style cooking in Iowa, but since I needed to be in Davenport that night anyway, it was worth a try. I walked into a family restaurant/grocery store, with the whole family working and playing there. Carlos Legaspi and his middle son, Daniel, were up front at the cash register and in the “supermercado”. Carmen and their eldest son, Alex, were in the kitchen, which is open to the restaurant. Their youngest child, Karena, maybe 4 years old, played at one of the tables. My waitress, Maria Luisa, had been a family friend as long as she could remember. There was laughing and smiling, festive music playing; not so much different from being in my mother’s kitchen on a holiday, (well, except my mother is Norwegian, and the music would likely be Barbra Streisand). A very welcoming atmosphere!
Perusing the menu while munching on fresh tortilla chips and some outstanding salsa, I watched a couple of the other tables receive their orders and realized I was about to get some rather large portions of food. The Fajitas Combo seemed especially popular among the all-Caucasian clientele. (Ah yes, something recognizable from our usual suburban chain restaurant menus). It did look better than any I’d had before, but was such a large platter I decided to try something smaller for more variety. I ordered a Combinacion Con Tostada-Molida (which I think means Tostada Combo-Beef. ($6.99). I ended up with my own platter of too much food for one person. Boy was it good, with rice and beans and fresh tortillas, I’m sure I looked the rube, but I sure enjoyed it.
Then arrived my Camarones Ala Diabla (Shrimp, Hot & Spicy. $9.50). I love spicy food, but I proceeded with caution, as sometimes our Midwestern opinion of “spicy” is somewhat overwhelmed by authentic recipes. I was pleased to taste an excellent, flavorful, sweat-inducing dish without annihilating my taste buds for the rest of the weekend. More rice and beans and tortillas helped calm things down.
Finally, I ordered a Burrito Grande Pollo (Large Chicken Burrito. $5.99) to go. I didn’t open it while I was there but planned to take it with me for a late dinner. That night, after I’d settled into my motel and found a beer, the burrito warmed up nicely in the microwave and made for another belly stretching feast. Far superior to any other burrito I’ve had.
Columbus Junction is about 340 miles away by the quickest route, but I recommend wandering your way along the two lane country roads of eastern Iowa, which will save some miles, but take a little longer. Take US 218 south of Iowa City to IA 92, then go west to Columbus Junction. Then do as I did and take in a ballgame in Davenport where the Twins class A farm team, the River Bandits, plays in a beautiful little park next to the river.
I’d eaten so much that afternoon and evening that I wasn’t hungry again until late the next day and I vowed to check out some the other local Mexican places near my home. But I’m looking forward to my next chance to visit La Reyna.
Eat well. Ride well.