Columbia, Missouri’s newest taqueria is a dream realized for Pancho Rutiaga. Pancho, a restaurant industry vet, and his son, Francisco, opened Taqueria Don Pancho in December; they always wanted to run a restaurant together, but didn’t have the opportunity until they met Daniel Abraham, owner of Loop Liquor & Convenience Store.

After befriending Pancho, Abraham offered space in the front of his liquor store for a small eatery. It’s best to stop by Taqueria Don Pancho early: Although open for lunch and dinner, the taqueria has become so popular that it often sells out long before suppertime.

How did you develop the menu for Taqueria Don Pancho? It’s like the Olympics – you show off your country. We want to show what Mexico has to offer. It’s about the meat, spices, sauces, tacos. People ask us if we put lettuce and cheese on our tacos; no, this is traditional [Mexican cuisine]. You can taste the freshness. –Francisco Rutiaga

One of your best-sellers is discada. How do you make it? Discada is traditionally made with beef, pork, chorizo, ham, sausage, bacon – all that together with Mexican spices. You can make it into anything. It’s like meat-lover’s choice – that’s how I describe it to people. It’s a traditional dish from Durango [the Mexican state where my family is from]. –F.R.

What else does the restaurant offer? We did catering yesterday, and we catered ceviche. We’re doing this menu here, but what I can do better is seafood. –Pancho Rutiaga We did shrimp ceviche and a Mexican dish called tinga, which is chipotle [peppers] and shredded chicken. We’ve been working in restaurants for so long, we can do a lot more [for catering] than what we have on the menu; we sit down and decide a menu that fits the event. –F.R.

What has been the most rewarding part of the work so far? I know my customers are working hard at their job, and then they come [here] to eat good food. When the customer comes in tired, with problems or whatever, I want to provide good service and a nice, happy face. When you come in here, you forget your problems for a little bit. I’m working hard for my customers. –P.R.

Taqueria Don Pancho, 26 Business Loop 70 E. (inside Loop Liquor & Convenience Store), Columbia, Missouri,

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