One of the beautiful things about Dayton is its location.
Situated within 500 miles of nearly 50 percent of the county’s population, it’s an easy day trip to Cincinnati, Newport, Ky., Columbus, Indianapolis and lots of other cool towns, large and small, peppered around the 100 or so mile radius circling our city. Location is everything, and when it comes to finding good food, that’s especially true.
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Sure, not all of the restaurants an hour a way are worth the drive, but there are a handful that are the best of the best and demand a visit.
The food being cooked up by Chef José Salazar in Cincinnati is the kind that fits into this category.
A 2001 graduate of the New York Restaurant School, Salazar boasts an impressive resume, having worked for famous chefs including Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Thomas Keller and Geoffrey Zakarian. He came to Cincinnati as the executive chef at the Cincinnati Hotel’s Palace Restaurant at the Cincinnatian Hotel, earning recognition from Food & Wine Magazine in 2011 as “The People’s Best New Chef: Great Lakes.”
In 2013 he branched out on his own, opening his first restaurant, Salazar in Over-the-Rhine. Not long after, in late 2015 he opened Mita’s in downtown Cincinnati and nabbed a 2015 “James Beard Awards Best Chef: Great Lakes” nomination.
This is a local chef who’s on the fast track to establishing not just a regional name for himself, but a national one. Mita’s, named after Salazar’s Columbian grandmother, is at the corner of Fifth and Race streets at the 84.51 building in downtown Cincinnati. It is a special destination.
The food is as beautiful as the dramatic, transformative setting of the dining room, which seats 130 surrounded by massive walls of windows offering street views. Decorated in warm woods and soft lighting with Spanish tile accents, it is a refreshing setting oozing with ambiance while celebrating both contemporary and traditional food and drink of Spanish and Latin America.
To say that I have fallen hard for this restaurant would be an understatement.
The menu is packed with stand-out dishes.
Ceviche de Camarones ($15), a light, refreshing ceviche on the menu made with shrimp, grapefruit, fresno chilies, citrus, radish and garnished with cilantro dances circles around the fried plantain chips it is served alongside.
The empanadas de res con pique ($9) are not-to-miss short rib empanadas served alongside an addicting cilantro-chili pepper sauce that you will want to use on just about everything you are served.
Coles de bruselas asadas ($9) is a crispy roasted brussel sprout dish that will have brussel sprout haters rethinking their stance. Our waiter on one of our visits said these were the only brussel sprouts he has ever liked. It wasn’t hard to see why.
Pozole Verde Con Mariscos ($36) is only for people who adore cilantro. This seafood and hominy stew packed with shrimp, squid, lobster, fish and avocado is a revelation of flavor.
Caña de Cordero ($31) is a beautiful bone-in tender braised lamb shank served over corn masa and winter squash and dressed with sweet drop peppers and salsa mole.
If time is of no concern, you may want to opt for the paella valenciana ($63), which serves two with a take-home box or four with several small plates. It’s a lovely traditional paella bursting with clams, chicken chorizo, gulf shrimp, mussels and octopus.
For less adventurous diners there’s a hamburger ($18) dressed with mahon cheese, pickles, lettuce, confit tomato and crispy serrano ham and served on a potato bun with french fries.
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Thirsty? You can’t go wrong with a classic Spanish red, and there are plenty on the menu. Salazar himself recommends Atteca from Calatayud, Spain ($15 per glass, $60 for a bottle).
I recommend starting with one of Mita’s wonderful cocktails.
The restaurant has a list of classic cocktails including a caipirinha made with the traditional Brazilian sugar cane spirit cachaça ($12), a margarita ($11) or a white or red sangria ($11 per glass, $39 for a pitcher).
House specialty cocktails are an eclectic, wonderful surprise, most especially the Nonino Niño ($12) made with rye whiskey, amaro nonino, amantillado sherry, orange bitters and the El Flamenco ($11) made with hibiscus tequila, ginger and citrus.
SAVE ROOM FOR DESSERT
If you actually have room for dessert after all of this, there are several great options. A rich cream cheese custard flan ($9), an apple-ricotta tart ($9) and a chili-spiced chocolate cake ($9) all have interesting flavors that will keep your sweet tooth guessing.
Mita’s is a fresh destination if you are looking to up your dining game and a great way to warm up with some exotic flavors at the tail end of winter.