COLUMBUS, Ohio – Andy Dehus, co-owner of Columbus Food Adventures, is leading a group of hungry and inquisitive epicureans around town in search of ethnic eats.
As he pulls his van into the parking lot of Panaderia Guadalupana, a Mexican bakery on the north side of town, he describes the upcoming experience with all the excitement of a storm chaser following a tornado as it swells in size.
“If you haven’t had a fresh churro, you haven’t had a good one,” Dehus says.
The enthusiasm over authentic ethnic food in Ohio’s capital is spreading rapidly, and the growing interest is well-founded. In a state where immigrants account for roughly 4% of the 11.7 million population, Columbus’ foreign-born population is nearly triple that, accounting for more than 11% of the city’s roughly 896,000 residents, according to DataUSA.
Immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America have brought a whole new flavor to the city. Visitors can get a taste at the North Market, the city’s public market near the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
But to really discover what new immigrants are cooking up in Columbus, visits to the city’s north and west sides are in order. It’s there that many excellent mom-and-pop ethnic restaurants, often located in former fast-food restaurants and strip malls, are attracting a lot of attention.
“The wonderful thing about Columbus is the city is small enough and accessible enough to easily take advantage of where the ethnic restaurants are located,” said Bethia Woolf, Dehus’ wife and co-owner of the tour company. “We don’t have as much as New York City, but it’s easier to get to different parts of the city where you find them.”
Within the I-270 ring road, diners can experience northern and western Chinese, Nepalese, Afghan, Somali, Yemeni, Mexican, northern and southern Indian cuisine, even an Indian restaurant that specializes in egg dishes.
Columbus Food Adventures boasts 17 different nationalities on their three culinary tours.
“You can have authentic, travel-like experiences in Columbus,” Woolf says.