Taco Tontos

A Cleveland-area group of restaurants that are primarily small taco shop bars, Taco Tontos is a popular place with the natives here, specifically because it has huge portions and some great dips to top them. This spot has a very likable concept for how approachable it is and how easy it is to bring a group of friends and have an enjoyable meal. The place isn’t half bad, but make sure you know what the dishes are that you don’t want to miss here.

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Barrio

The skeleton-themed Barrio is a really cool idea that has sprung up in Cleveland and its suburbs. This Tex Mex joint specializes in over-the-top huge tacos and big margaritas. Definitely popular with the younger crowd craving Cleveland’s nightlife, the concept spread from Lakewood to downtown, Progressive Field and elsewhere with its loved build-your-own taco menu as well as brunch and casual atmosphere that emphasizes good tequila and beer. Owner Sean Fairbairn and Executive Chef Pete Joyce have a good thing going with this idea.

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Roost American

A new restaurant opened in Kettering as the brainchild of Chef Dana Downs of Roost Modern Italian fame, Park City Grill is more of a classy comfort food establishment than its Oregon District sister. This spot offers a lunch menu of quality takes on Midwestern comfort foods, and a dinner menu heavier on the surf and turf. The menu is approachable yet extremely well thought out, and while you might find many familiar items here, you’ll also find a few things you won’t get the chance to try in many other Dayton restaurants. This fun concept is definitely worth a try.

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Flying Saucer

It’s a chain of enormous beer hall-style restaurants with a big play on providing the chance to try hundreds of craft beers, and each location of Flying Saucer, which is in many major cities around the country, is all about the beer. With each spot sporting 50 to 75 taps at once, this is a spot where you go to try local beer, and many varieties of it. But between the long tables, the many decorative plates, pool tables and dart boards, the spots to offer some bar cuisine to match. The place is an attraction to be sure, but the food isn’t going to bring you back.

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Carmel’s Southwest Grill

A Tex-Mex focused bar near the border of Dayton proper and its upscale Dayton neighborhood of Oakwood, Carmel’s Bar & Grill is a neighborhood bar a little off the beaten path in one of the city’s neighborhoods and it’s a place that seems to bring out a very local crowd. With an expansive patio and a menu that is part pub grub and part southwest specialties. The spot has a lot of menu items that people love, and a lot of reasons that its locals love to come back.

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Bakersfield

A hot, rising chain of taco bars with locations in several cities, Bakersfield is a trendy bar that finds itself in the hippest part of town. Bakersfield OTR in Cincinnati, is a centerpiece of Over-The-Rhine’s active nightlife scene. The taco bar has plenty to offer with its particular brand of cuisine, whether you want familiar toppings or some of the more exotic stuff rarely found elsewhere in Cincinnati, you’ll find it here. You’re almost certain to have a significant wait to dine at Bakersfield, but the food, I think is worth a try.

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Chuy’s Tex-Mex

A fun-loving, quirky concept out of Austin, Texas, the fast growing Chuy’s Tex Mex chain sort of explodes at you all at once as soon as you walk in. The mass of colors, hundreds of hand-painted fish on the ceilings, a shrine to Elvis, all of it greets you as you find your way to the bar or to a table. The flavors that greet you there are equally bold and loud. All told, I’m a huge fan of this concept and what it has to offer.

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Lily’s Bistro

It’s a very recent addition to downtown Dayton, but seems to have been highly anticipated nonetheless. Restaurateur Emily Mendenhall opened Lily’s Bistro in the former Boulevard Haus building just about a year ago. Another of the popular restaurants in Dayton’s Oregon District, Lily’s Bistro has been a late dining destination that recently expanded into the realm of lunch. It’s a light bistro concept to compete with the higher-end dining and bars that surround it. The concept does experimental American cuisine with unusual sandwiches and plenty of quality food among the options.

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Crazy Mango Bar & Bistro (CLOSED)

Crazy Mango is a really neat concept. Founded by Julie and Bob Silva, the Dayton Restaurateurs who formerly ran Bahn Mai Thai Cafe in Washington Township, this restaurant opened just a few weeks ago at The Greene in Beavercreek, serving west Dayton. The bar serves sort of an Americana of a few different kinds of cuisine, including a few memories from their former business, but the uniting thing is that it takes a lot of the classic bar foods and classes them up big time. The experience and finesse of this restaurant’s experienced founders really shines through in the food you’ll try.

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El Rancho Grande

A chain that has expanded into over a dozen locations around Dayton and Cincinnati, El Rancho Grande brings a good, inexpensive option to the table. The simplicity of the dishes adds a great deal of appeal. The food is cheap, easy to recognize, and very tasty. El Rancho Grande enjoys a dressed-down environment and it’s clear business is steady here, especially during lunch. This is not surprising.

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