(This article was first published in the May issue of VIP Magazine and is re-published here with their permission, and my thanks.)
Story by Gray Bostick / Original photography by Judy Quick Sharon
It’s said that one can’t judge a book by its cover. And the same principle can be applied to restaurants: You can’t judge a meal by looking at signs, landscaping, a building or decor. The best gauge of good eats is word of mouth awareness – and a parking lot full of cars.
That said, the word is out: La Victoria Tienda Mexicana y Taqueria of Hartsville is THE spot in the Pee Dee for authentic Mexican cuisine and dry goods. And judging by La Victoria’s well-worn parking lot, the “word” being put out is spot-on: Aqui está…This is IT. Or, to be short, Eat. Here. And many are, with more learning of this blessing from South of the Border daily.
A family-owned and operated business, La Victoria is the pride of Maria Jimenez, and a true labor of love. In fact, the business is built upon such a solid foundation and simple mission that it even predates an actual brick-and-mortar building. And at a time when many restaurants try to be something they aren’t, La Victoria knows exactly what role they play: good eats, good service, good people, and good prices.
“My mother has always loved to cook for others,” explains Sindy Ramos, “Mama” Maria’s daughter. “For quite a few years she would make tacos and other items at home and sell them, even delivering them to people at work or home, but mostly on weekends. Her dishes were very popular.”
So popular, in fact, that Maria soon began to seek ways by which she could make her meals available with less hassle, such as having to drive as far as Monroe, NC weekly just to obtain the authentic ingredients needed to create truly genuine Mexican dishes.
Finding a suitable building available and seeking to live the American Dream, the Jimenez family took the leap and opened a small store in 2001, custom-targeted at providing other members of the local Hispanic community an easier means of obtaining genuine Mexican ingredients and items.
By fortuitous chance, the structure housing the Jimenez’s tienda, or general store, which offers dry goods, special entree ingredients, beverages, treats, and sundries, all direct from Mexico, also had an unused area in the rear that caught Maria’s eye as a good spot from which she could sell her kitchen delights, allowing fans of her food to come to her at a central location when they wanted, rather than waiting until items were available. And within a few months, the La Victoria taqueria/restaurante was up and running.
“Things were a little slow at first,” Sindy relates, “but we had some really good and loyal customers, especially from Sonoco, who were regulars, and they’d bring in friends, who would then bring in their friends. We don’t do any advertising, but people started hearing about us and how delicious our dishes are, and the restaurant business started to pick up.”
So much so that, a couple years back, it was decided that an expansion was in order and an additional dining area was constructed that more than doubled seating capacity. Yet, given the high-quality and authenticity of La Victoria’s food, even with the expansion it still pays to get there early to ensure you’ll get a seat. An understandable concern given the La Victoria menu, which covers the full scope of typical Mexican dishes, yet offers atypical, for this area, preparation of those entrees.
This ain’t Taco Bell, folks. The staff at La Victoria, which includes many members of the Jimenez family, takes extreme pride in their offerings, right down to hand-made corn tortillas for tacos and hand-crafted flour tortillas for quesadillas, as well as gorditas, tostados, sopes, fajitas and tortas (sandwiches), all available in beef, pork, sausage, chicken or seafood, along with a full spectrum of toppings. Vegetarian dishes are also available, as are lunch and dinner plate specials, such as the Coker College platillo. And La Victoria takes service a step further for their diners, delivering a selection of chopped onions, limes, cilantro, and two types of salsa to each table to enjoy along with fresh nacho appetizers. One might also be advised to break from the routine, to go full-on Mexicali, and pass on the traditional Southern beverage choice of sweet tea and, instead, opt for a glass of Jamaica, a very refreshing and nutritious drink made from hibiscus flower petals
But La Victoria plays a role perhaps even more important than simply satisfying hungry amigos or making available authentic Mexican ingredients or merchandise via the store, that being serving as a place where the Hispanic community, especially newcomers to the area, can find a true taste of home, along with the companionship of fellow Mexicans as they acclimate to their new surroundings. Conversely, La Victoria also uniquely serves the non-Mexican population of the Pee Dee, acting as host for educational field trips by local students seeking to apply foreign language skills and absorb authentic Mexican culture, in both cuisine and character.
“We’re always excited and happy to host these students who are looking to expand their horizons,” Sindy informs. “We’re very proud of our Mexican heritage and we’re happy to be able to contribute to their educational experiences and expose them to authentic Mexican dishes.”
The sign is aged, as is the building; the decor is simple, the floor-plan plain, and seating is basic. But few folks come to La Victoria for the visual appeal; good food has an ambiance all it’s own. And it’s bringing folks back, over and over.
Long story, short: a true taste of Mexico lies right here in our backyard, folks. So make a plan to soon celebrate the end of your week with a Mexican meal like you’ve probably never seen, much less tasted, and make your way over to Hartsville and La Victoria for the Real Deal – siesta not included.
The La Victoria restaurante is located at 1511 S. 5th Street in Hartsville, and is open Thursday thru Sunday, 10:00 am – 9:00 pm, while the general store is open daily from 10:00 am – 9:00 pm, except on Tuesday, when hours are 1:00 pm – 9:00 pm. They may be contacted at 843-857-0910.