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Don Pablo's Mexican Restaurant, 7201 Two Notch Road (Columbia Mall outparcel): late 90s   7 comments

Posted at 11:31 am in historic,restaurants

Don Pablo's seemed to be an up-and-coming Mexican restaurant chain in the Southeast during the 90s. They had this location at Columbia Mall, a location in Charleston on Rivers Avenue, one in Augusta off of the Bobby Jones expressway and several in the Atlanta and Charlotte areas.

I have always enjoyed "chain" Mexican restaurants more than "authentic" ones, but Columbia has always seemed to have a problem attracting and keeping them. We had Garcia's (on O'Niel Court, I think) but only very briefly, and never had a Chi-Chi's, Chevy's, Rio Bravo, or On The Border, and my favorite Cucos lasted only a few years. El Chico (which I do like) seems to be the only national player with staying power, but at the time, I didn't see any reason Don Pablo's couldn't be a second.

They had a very comfortable interior, with plenty of booths, and I enjoyed several of their menu items quite a bit. In particular, the cheese & onion enchiladas were very tasty and were covered with a nice brown sauce and the chile rellenos were really good as well. The standard salsa was a bit bland (though better than the completely kickless tomato gunk at "authentic" places), but they had a "macho" salsa which was a bit embarassing to order, but which was a bit more interesting. My father liked the place too, and we often ate there with my sister on weekends when I was in town (I was living in Aiken and working in Augusta at the time).

Unfortunately, the place came to exhibit several of the Signs Your Favorite Restaurant is About to Close including cutting back their hours. I mentally put Don Pablo's on the critical list, and sure enough I came by one evening, and the place was dark and empty.

I was disappointed, but there was still the Augusta location and the Charleston one which I could visit when I went down to see The Have Nots. I recall I was in the Augusta location on Election Night of 2000. On my way out (probably about 11:00), I passed by a TV in the bar and recall thinking very clearly something like "Man, this is going to be a squeaker!" -- little did I know..

Shortly after that, the Augusta location closed, while I was eating in the Charleston location, I noticed the Augusta manager making his way around the dining room, checking on the customers. He recognized me, and said he had always wanted to live in Charleston, and he considered himself lucky because the spot opened up just before the word came down that the ax was falling in Augusta. I guess his luck ran out soon after that as the Charleston location closed. (It's a "Wild Wing" now).

I don't go up to Charlotte very often, but I did find a Don Pablo's up there once, by chance but it was gone too the next time I stopped by.

I just spent three weeks working in the DC area (restaurants up there are very iffy on ice tea!) and found a DP still in operation at the Ptomac Yards mall on Jefferson Davis Highway. After several years with no experience of the place, it was a mixed bag. I think I went there three times, and once it was average, once it was very greasy, and once it was as good as I remembered. Looking around on the web, it seems that they had a corporate "near death" experience and have been bought by a new parent company at this point (which also seems to have "Hops", which still exists up there). We'll see how it works out.

In the meantime, the old Columbia Mall location now hosts The Charleston Crabhouse, and I wish them well, though I tend not to darken the door of seafood places.

UPDATE 17 July 2012 -- Below are some neon pix of the Don Pablo's logo from the streetside and front door signs at the Greenville Don Pablo's across from Haywood Mall. I've been there twice in the last month, and it was pretty good (as were the ones in Orlando and Atlanta that I've visted over the past year):

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I should probably also mention here that the Charleston Crab House has closed.

Written by ted on March 31st, 2008

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7 Responses to 'Don Pablo's Mexican Restaurant, 7201 Two Notch Road (Columbia Mall outparcel): late 90s'

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  1. You need to make a post about Hops, both the locations on Two Notch and Fernandina have subsequently been turned into Hooters. I waited tables there for two years (on Fernandina) until the day it closed and I have no idea as to why it closed.

    Lisa

    2 Apr 08 at 12:02 pm

  2. The Don Pablo's on Decker had very decent food, but their prices always seemed to be higher than the "authentic" Mexican places that are all over Decker/Two-Notch/Park Lane.

    Their staff were always rather slow to serve, which really didn't work all that well for the business lunchtime crowd.

    As far as the Hops stores in Columbia, their popularity wasn't that great, and they continually had to run specials to keep attracting customers. Their beers were decent, but they didn't follow any traditional styles, and therefore the homebrewers and fans of microbrewed beers never 'cicked' with their beers.

    J.P.

    2 Apr 08 at 1:29 pm

  3. What happened to Don Pablo's and Hops seems to be a bit convoluted, but apparently the owner, Avado Brands went bankrupt in Feb 2004. I'm guessing that's when the Columbia Hops stores closed. The article has the new CEO talking a good game about turning things around, but apparently they ended up having to sell a number of still existing Hops and Don Pablos to Rita Restaurant Corp earlier this year.

    ted

    2 Apr 08 at 4:46 pm

  4. I remember a Chi Chi's in Capital Centre, in the very early 1990's. I have a Polaroid that they took of me in a sombrero on my birthday. Glad I got the picture, because that's all I remember about the night.

    I agree with J.P. regarding Hops. Very good food, but the beer never was anything special. No seasonals, just cut and dry. The A-1 was about as flavorful as it got.

    I remember Tomato Rumbas in that (Harbison) location, that was good. The ape inside on the wall ended up at the Par 3 on Broad River Road.

    Jonathan

    7 Apr 08 at 10:10 am

  5. That was a "Cucos" in Capitol Centre. I plan to make a post about it at some point. I never got around to trying the beer at Hops, or the house-brewed root-beer either though that sounded pretty neat. And I really liked those croisants.

    ted

    7 Apr 08 at 10:15 am

  6. Went to a Don Pablo's just last night in Delaware. Thrivin' on Cinco de Mayo!

    J.P.

    6 May 08 at 3:13 pm

  7. There is still a Cuco's in Montgomery Alabama. In fact, they just opened a new location on Chantilly Parkway. Also, I think they either moved to downtown Montgomery or they are still at their location on the Eastern Bypass off I-85.

    James Greek

    20 Jun 09 at 6:56 pm

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