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Bandeja Paisa, the restaurant's most popular dish, provides a good sampling of Colombian food. Photo by Rachel Weatherly
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In Colombia, if you run into a close friend, you might say, "Quiubo pues?" — meaning "What's up?" At Illusions Night Club and Colombian Restaurant, which opened in April along a strip of Midlothian Turnpike populated by budget motels and a variety of ethnic eateries, what's up is an off-the-beaten-path adventure. Initially named Quiubo Pues Colombian Restaurant and the Q Club, both are owned by Gabriel Valenzuela, known as DJ Gabriel on local Spanish radio station WVNZ/Selecta 1320.
The restaurant and club are located at the Richmond Inn and Suites, but run independently of the motel, says restaurant manager Wilson Puerta. He and his wife of 25 years, Mayerly Aguirre, who runs the kitchen and does much of the cooking, were born in Colombia. Puerta says that Valenzuela, who is from Cuba, was a fan of Aguirre's cooking when she worked at another local restaurant, El Fogon, and suggested that the couple join with him in opening a Colombian place. Although it isn't the first Richmond-area restaurant to serve Colombian food, many customers are unfamiliar with the cuisine, Puerta says. Some are surprised to discover that it doesn't have the chile-pepper heat of Mexican fare, he adds. The restaurant's friendly, bilingual servers have gotten used to answering questions and giving recommendations. Easily alternating between Spanish and English, server Andrea Osorio recommends the passion fruit drink, a frosty treat, to a customer contemplating the menu's variety of tropical juices.
Sandra Martin, a Chesterfield County resident from Cartagena, Colombia, who has visited the restaurant (and likes to cook), says the food is more like what you would find in Colombia's interior than along the coast. She says that the most representative dish is Bandeja Paisa, which includes grilled steak, a fried egg, rice, black beans, avocado, sweet plantain, corn cake and smoked sausage.
Among the traditional appetizers and side dishes are empanadas, cornmeal pastries filled with potatoes, onions and beef; yuca root that's cut into slices and fried; and patacones, which are flattened, grilled plantains. And savvy visitors know to save room for one of Aguirre's desserts, either a rich flan coated in caramel sauce or her ultra-moist, not-too-sweet tres leches cake.
Illusions Night Club and Colombian Restaurant
6346 Midlothian Turnpike, 447-0752
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner (but closes at 7 p.m. Sunday).
Prices: Entrées $8 to $16