Food review: Spicy Cup Cafe serves up top-rate Mexican dishes, pastries

G.A. Benton
Special to The Columbus Dispatch
A variety of baked goods from Spicy Cup Cafe

When you read the words “Spicy Cup Cafe,” what sort of businesses spring to mind? Unless you’re already familiar with the place, I’d wager that “bakery” and “short-order Mexican eatery” don't make the top of your list. 

But Spicy Cup Cafe should be on the top of your list if you’re looking for a scratch-cooking spot offering bargains on lovely Mexican-style pastries — such as the best churros in Columbus — as well as first-rate tamales and excellent breakfast sandwiches assembled with wonderful house-baked rolls.

I should alert you to a potential catch: When visiting this roomy and modern “ain’t faking it” Mexican-style operation on the North Side — called Panaderia Guadalupana when it opened in 2011 — your counter server might speak limited English.

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This happened to me once. I speak some Spanish, but if you don’t, you can still manage pretty well.

Some tips: Peruse the online menu before visiting; the brunch-minded and somewhat variable, made-to-order savory items are generally sold through the afternoon, and whichever ones are available when you arrive will be posted on a chalkboard near the counter where these items are ordered; pastries are paid for at the counter, but are self-selected by customers, who place the tempting objects of their desire onto a fetch-your-own tray located by the display cases containing the treats; relax, because most everything is really good and quite inexpensive.

One menu mainstay is the breakfast sandwiches, listed as “tortas” on the chalkboard. Made with yeasty house bolillo bread — think puffy-yet-firm, baguette-like rolls — they’re hefty but inhalable sandwiches packed with scrambled eggs, cheese and more. 

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The jamon torta ($4) adds abundant deli ham plus a little mayo and zippy salsa to that basic formula. It’s pretty great, but my favorite sandwich was the irresistibly over-the-top “mix” torta ($5) — essentially the jamon torta plus loads of flavor-bomb chorizo augmented with “salchicha” (garlicky hot dog segments).  

Spicy Cup’s quesadillas ($3.50), unlike most versions in town, are made with good Mexican cheese and oversized corn tortillas rather than commonplace, and usually far less flavorful, flour tortillas. The tinga quesadilla (with zesty and tomatoey stewed chicken) was especially fine, but you can’t go wrong with the chorizo quesadilla.

You can’t go wrong with any of the flawless tamales, either. The supple and delectable masa tubes are only $1.75, so you might as well try one of each: chicken with spicy salsa verde; chicken with red salsa; pickled jalapeno and cheese. 

Danishes, anyone?

If chilaquiles ($10) are offered, and you’re hungry, get them. You’ll be enjoying a marvelous mass of crinkly just-fried tortilla chips swamped in tangy-spicy salsa verde strewn with chicken and topped with fresh-mozzarella-like cheese and fried eggs.            

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Spicy Cup’s variety of beautiful pastries is replenished throughout the day rather than produced in bulk. So they’ll be super-fresh, but timing will play a role in availability. All of Spicy Cup’s bakery goods are worth buying (even its curiously heavy $1.50 American-style doughnuts), but if you see churros ($1.50), buy extra.

They’re lengthy cinnamon-scented sticks of ridged and delightfully crisp-yet-chewy fried dough lightly dusted with sugar and filled with a custardy cream that's either caramel or vanilla flavored. Both varieties are outrageously delicious.

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I also loved the enormous and great-looking turnovers ($1.50): glossy, golden-brown wedges of flaky, multilayered pastry with tropical fruit-paste-like fillings. My nod goes to the tangy guava turnover, but the pineapple hand-pie was terrific, too.

Tropical notes from pineapple, coconut cream and toasted coconut elevated the Danish pastries ($1.50) I sampled, as well. Try them with Spicy Cup’s champurrado ($2) —  light Mexican-style hot chocolate fortified with masa. Try a slab of excellent tres leches cake ($4.75), too. Oh, and try not to eat all of the churros on the drive home.   

At a glance

Where: Spicy Cup Cafe

Location: 1977 E. Dublin-Granville Road, North Side

Contact: 614-547-7117,