The most frequent question that I am asked when it comes to food has to be inquiries centered around my favorite restaurants in town.
I have many on this list, but one that I have never wavered on is El Meson in West Carrollton.
When it comes to restaurants that have consistently delicious food, exemplary customer service and a setting that strikes the right tone for the meal, El Meson is a dining destination that hits the mark.
This dining gem is turning 39 next weekend and is celebrating with some very cool events on July 14-15.
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In honor of its last year in its 30s, here are 39 things to know and love about El Meson.
1) The restaurant opened to the public on July 15, 1978.
2) The restaurant was started by Herman and Gloria Castro. It is now owned and operated by their kids and spouses — Bill, Marie, Scott and Chef Mark Abbott.
3) The location was a small failing pizza business in 1978 called Pizza Queen. The Castro family decided to go a different direction and El Meson was born.
4) The Castros had never eaten pizza until they purchased the Pizza Queen.
5) The family hails from the country of Colombia in South America.
6) The owners credit former Dayton Daily News food critic Ann Heller with discovering them and putting them on the local dining map.
7) There have been five major additions over the years, and every year the restaurant’s owners reinvest in remodels and upgrades.
8) The restaurant can seat a whopping 450 people in five different dining rooms.
9) It’s one of the best places to dine on a patio in town (in my opinion) with 15 tables in the solarium and 10 tables in the front patio of the restaurant, which was part of the last addition.
10) It’s an 8 mile drive from downtown Dayton that takes about 12 minutes if you head south on I-75.
11) There is no charge to rent private rooms for social events.
12) The Castro family’s motto is, “Si, se puede” — “Yes, we can.”
13) El Meson is named after a type of restaurant in Spain that serves a complete dinning menu.
14) They do a lot of catering. “All of our business has increased and our off premise reflects that. Since we offer private rooms for events, our in-house catering has doubled since last year. One example is we are hosting many life celebration parties in the loss of a loved one. Many families want to do an upbeat memorial to remember a family member now deceased,” said Bill Castro, general manager and co-owner of the restaurant.
15) The restaurant doesn’t just do dinner. They have increasingly done more and more special events, averaging 25-30 a year.
16) Their signature events include a low country boil and their Cinco de Mayo celebrations.
17) Paws on the patio happens on the second Tuesday of every month through September, with the next one happening July 11 from 5-9 p.m. Dog owners can bring their dogs out to the patio to enjoy tapas, dinner and drinks.
>> PHOTOS: El Meson’s Barcelona Tapas
18) El Meson’s house brand tequila is Doebel and is specially bottled for the restaurant. They carry up to 20 different brands of tequila at any given time.
19) They don’t do a happy hour, but instead focus on special spirit tastings and other special events where they offer reduced prices rather then the same $1 or $2 off on a set drink list.
20) The most popular items on the menu are the Chilean salmon stack ($29), Manchego cheese puffs ($10 for 12, $7 for five) and chicken tortilla soup (small $7, large $10).
21) For Bill Castro, soups are a go to on busy days who adds, “Arroz YaYa is a trip to my soul.”
22) El Meson has six food trucks. Learn more about where to find them during the week by visiting www.elmeson.net/our-food-trucks
23) If you are going with friends, pitchers of drinks are a good option. Pitchers of the restaurant’s award-winning margaritas and mojitos sell for $32. Pitchers of sangria are $28. Most pitchers serve about five glasses.
24) The menus used to be influenced by different countries, but recently they have introduced a menu of “New and Noteables,” which allow them to be seasonal and creative with the specialty menu items they offer.
25) El Meson is open for lunch. Located within a short drive from downtown, many businesses choose to entertain guests there.
26) The owners take customers and friends on annual Wine and Food Culinary Trips for two weeks to destinations like South America, Spain and Italy each year.
27) Their next trip will be to Ecuador in January 2018. Amazons, Quito and the Galapagos Islands will be later in 2018. The restaurant does trips twice a year.
28) They make all of their soups, bread and desserts in-house.
29) They were a non-smoking restaurant before it was banned
30) Gloria and Mari Castro shop for the restaurant’s gift area called YaYa Street. There is jewelry, leather bags, home decor, painted pottery and other gift items for sale ranging in price from $5 to several hundred dollars.
31) The restaurant has played host to Spanish classes from around the Miami Valley for decades. Sessions are centered around developing a respect and knowledge of Hispanic culture and covers a wide range of topics including: foods, nuances in language and more. The price per student is just $13, which includes a three-course meal of authentic Hispanic cuisine from around the globe. Classes can be offered during school field trips or in the evenings and Spanish speaking is encouraged. Call Pedro Suarez for more information at 937-859-8229.
32) Bill Castro says the most unique ingredients they use are saffron in the cooking and firewater bitters in the restaurant’s award winning cocktail Tamiami Mami.
33) The restaurant is always looking for good help if you are looking for a job.
34) What do they believe separates El Meson from other restaurants? “Our passion for change,” says Castro.
35) They recently won the title of best tapa and cocktail pairing at the Battle of the Bartenders event earlier this year.
36) They have more than 6,000 Facebook friends.
37) Friday, July 14, will be El Meson’s 39th Anniversary Street Party from 4-11 p.m. Live music from Nothing But Treble starts at 5 p.m. and Velvet Crush takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. Margaritas, mojitos, and sangria will be served up for $6 each and El Meson’s food trucks will be serving up a variety of favorites and specials. Purchase $5 tickets in advance to the party to avoid the line at the door. V.I.P. patio seats are also available. Visit El Meson’s website at www.elmeson.net for more details.
38) On Saturday, July 15, the restaurant will be hosting Bourbon, Tequila and Paella with special guest Joe Head from 6-10 p.m. Where you can enjoy your choice of five bourbon or tequila samples accompanied with the restaurant’s signature paella. Special guest Joe Head from the Century Bar will be curating and discussing both tequila and bourbon all under the big tent. The restaurant’s Bourbon and Tequila tastings consistently sell out early, so get tickets now if you are interested. Cost is $45 per person with additional tastes for $5.
39) Did I mention it’s at the top of my list of best restaurants in Dayton? That’s a fact.