With more than 30 years of culinary experience, David Grillo decided it was time to open his own restaurant. Grillo, the executive chef and owner of Boca Grande Burritos, built his new company off what he has seen during his time as a chef in Columbia.
“For the past 12 years, I opened and helped create the Cantina 76 company,” Grillo said. “That’s all my menu, all my recipes.”
Grillo’s Columbia roots run even deeper. He learned to cook in the '80s with his dad. As a father-and-son duo, they would cater food for the late Gamecock super fan R. J. Moore’s “grease pit parties.”
“[Moore] would host all of the after parties for the Gamecocks — the members of the Gamecock Club, the coaches, the football players — and R.J. would serve food to all of them. We'd have about 150 people at his gas station,” Grillo said.
Now, Grillo translates his experiences into his own restaurant. By building on his foundation at Cantina 76, Grillo felt comfortable taking the next step in his life by continuing his work in Mexican food.
“[Cantina 76] kept winning the best burrito award [from the Free Times newspaper],” Grillo said. “We don't have a burrito on the menu, which told me that no one knew where to direct that award to.”
Christian Ryan, a second-year biochemistry student at USC, recently dined at Boca Grande Burritos. He ordered a crispy chicken burrito, which he described as a burrito pressed and griddled like a quesadilla.
“I was thinking, obviously if you get a burrito, your favorite part's got to be the chicken, but no. The rice was so good — really good rice,” Ryan said.
The menu features signature and build-your-own burritos, bowls and salads. Everything except the cheese, tortillas and chips are made in-house.
“My menu here is like, if Frank Martin had his dream team,” Grillo said. “He would have guys that could play any position, and very well at any position. And so, my inventory here, to me, is super flexible. I've got about 40 ingredients and I can twist and pull them — I mean, I do onions 20 different ways.”
This flexibility allows Grillo to adapt to the changing needs of the customer with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free menu options, along with the changing needs of COVID-19 policies.
Grillo said he plans to do small plate dinners on Friday and Saturday nights and "bougie it up" when COVID-19 cases drop.
Adam Cabot, owner, operator and general manager of Boca Grande, said he noticed the community has already begun to accept the new burrito restaurant.
“We were quick to gain regulars and people that frequent us,” Cabot said. "So, that kind of spoke a lot to what we were doing.”
According to Cabot, a winning combination of food and great service seems to be the key, and at Boca Grande, customers can expect to be treated like family.
“[Boca Grande] is really cool in that sense that you know it's something we built, that we were able to build and share as a co-family venture,” Cabot said.
The experience customers get is at least partially influenced by Grillo’s love of heavy metal music. Customers will notice the image of the skull on the door as they enter Boca Grande — an image that is important to Grillo.
“I absolutely love death metal, and I love skulls. I’ve got them tattooed all over me. And the thing that's cool about a skull, to me, and why I put the skull up there, is it doesn't define race, religion, gender, nothing. A skull is human,” Grillo said.
Boca Grande's mission is straightforward: Eat good food and be happy.
“That's how Boca Grande is. It doesn't matter who you are. You come in here and you sit down and eat, and you enjoy yourself. And when you're done, you go about your merry way,” Grillo said.
Boca Grande is closed on Sundays, to the chagrin of some customers.
“You know, when people say, 'You should open Sundays,' I'm like, 'No, I'll give you the keys, and you open Sunday,’” Grillo said. “I'm spending Sundays with my family.”
Boca Grande Burritos is located at 4525 Forest Drive Suite 2-A in Columbia. It is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday.