La Tiendita restaurant serves Colombian food in Mesa | Phoenix New Times

Enjoy Colombian cuisine at this restaurant and mini-mart in Mesa

The mom-and-pop restaurant sells empanadas, arepas and other tastes of Colombia.
Co-owners of La Tiendita, German and Marcela Pardo, opened their restaurant 16 years ago.
Co-owners of La Tiendita, German and Marcela Pardo, opened their restaurant 16 years ago. Mike Madriaga
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La Tiendita in Mesa gets busy during this time of year, as Colombian Independence Day approaches on July 20.

The circa-2010 business's name translates to "small store" in Spanish and it's both a Colombian mini-mart and a sit-down restaurant.

Upon entering the 2,300-square-foot two-in-one, customers are welcomed with a collection of souvenirs including flags, soccer jerseys, T-shirts, keychains, postcards, grocery items and snacks reminiscent of Colombia, 4,700 miles southeast of metro Phoenix.

The entrance to the Colombian restaurant is to the store's left. It offers a vast menu of entrees, appetizers, desserts and drinks.

"I started the restaurant with my husband 16 years ago," says Marcela Pardo, La Tiendita's co-owner. "We are proud because we have seen progress in the state since 2002, when we arrived here. We have seen a lot of changes, and we see more Colombians here, and that makes us happy."

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The Bistec A La Criolla is steak topped with salsa, sauteed tomatoes and onions. It is served with sweet plantains, rice and salad.
Mike Madriaga
Now, the couple has 17 employees on their team, including some from the homeland. Pardo's husband, German, hails from Bogota, while Marcela is from Villavicencio. Together, the couple brought a variety of recipes to metro Phoenix. Marcela is proud of the Bistec A La Criolla.

"It's steak topped with the salsa we prepare in our restaurant. It's topped with sauteed tomatoes and onions and is served with sweet plantain, our house rice and salad. It's delicious," she says.

Seafood offerings are inspired by Colombia's shorelines in the South Pacific Ocean as well as the Mediterranean. The Cazuela De Mariscos is a creamy seafood soup with shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels and calamari. It comes with a side of coconut rice and green plantains also known as tostones, which are crispy, savory, deep-fried circular treats.

Then there's the go-to Bandeja Paisa, which is Marcela and German's pride and joy.

"This is the most typical plate in Colombia," she says, "and it's the one most selected at our restaurant."

The $16.50 mega platter includes a hefty slice of chicharron or fried pork belly, seasoned red beans, rice, ground beef, chorizo, plantains, an arepa, avocado and a fried egg.

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The Bandeja Paisa includes a hefty slice of chicharrón, seasoned red beans, rice, ground beef, chorizo, plantains, an arepa, avocado and a fried egg.
Mike Madriaga
Other popular options include cheese, corn or egg-topped arepas and empanadas made according to family tradition.

"They are our best recipes because they came from my grandmother," she explains. "My grandmother gave them to my mother and my mother to her daughters, so we are so proud to bring them here and share them with our customers."

"Empanada" comes from the Spanish word "empanar," which means "to cover in bread" or "to enclose in dough." The Pardos pack the fried treats with beef or chicken.

"We're happy that our customers take them home and share them with their families," Marcela says.

"You can eat our arepas hot in the restaurant, or you can buy them in our market and heat them up at home," Marcelas says, walking towards a refrigerator display. Customers can find the couple's Mi Reina Empanadas at their store and at locations of Lee Lee International Supermarket.

The main dining area, packed with more Colombian decor, wood dining tables and a full bar, can be accessed from the mini-mart. Here, patrons can grab a bottle of Colombian beer such as Aguila, Costeña or Poker. Or try a refajo — a mix of champagne, cola, and beer made by Cola & Pola.

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La Tiendita market, restaurant and bar serves customers in Mesa.
Mike Madriaga
Soccer is watched regularly on a handful of LCD screens — and when Colombia's national team plays, it's a fiesta in the dining area. On a recent Friday, Colombia's team crushed Costa Rica advancing to the Copa America quarterfinals.

In 2016, after team Colombia beat the U.S. soccer team in front of 29,041 fans for third place at Copa America in Glendale, the team continued the celebration at La Tiendita.

"We were so happy because they took photos with us and signed autographs for everyone here," Marcela says.

Some players and coaching staff ate empanadas, others picked arepas and a few devoured the Bandeja Paisa platter. The rest celebrated their sweet victory with some dessert, including the Bocadillo Con Queso, a guava paste cheesecake and Brevas Con Queso, figs with rich caramel spread and cheese.

"We were so happy," Marcela says. "We have a great memory, as everything went so well."

La Tiendita

456 W. Main St., Mesa

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