Cantina Laredo

A concept that hails from Dallas, Texas, Cantina Laredo has since expanded to a few key cities all over the country, typically finding its way into upscale shopping centers, airports and commercial centers. An open concept busy with decorative earthen pots, hanging lights and a massive bar that serves up refreshing drinks of all kinds. The menu is ‘Modern Mexican,’ a version of Tex-Mex that is cleaned up a bit and served with higher-notch ingredients. The locations often end up being large-size very busy establishments, but they don’t make for a bad place for a happy hour.

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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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Corner Kitchen

The newest addition to the Oregon District, and the creation of husband and wife team Natalie and Jack Skilliter, Corner Kitchen opened in a long-vacant space at the corner of one of Dayton’s most loved nightlife spots as a place where people can go to get something upscale but down-to-earth. The deliberate craft of its owners is apparent in the restaurant; each dish looks pretty simple from the outside but gets more complex as you dive in; and in the end the food here really delivers something that downtown Dayton has been craving.

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Don Pablo’s

Founded out of Texas in the mid-1980s, Don Pablos had expanded rapidly into the Midwest before a 2007 bankruptcy slashed the chain’s locations. Now, Don Pablo’s is back with a new menu and a new concept to make each location something of a party. The interior of each restaurant has a wide open, colorful and friendly concept and the menu an expansive bunch of Tex-Mex dishes focusing on great meat dishes and simple flavors. The chain has spots in many cities still, and it’s a overall a good experience.

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La Loma Mexican Restaurant

Hendersonville has seen great change, as have many of the suburbs of Nashville, but the change here has been especially striking. The expanding city has brought in new chains and concepts focused on bringing the new and hip to the places where many new houses and developments are springing up. In that context, the tiny hole in the wall along main street known as La Loma has survived even as new competitors have arisen. The spot sticks to its guns with a local fan base that favors large groups, but the end result didn’t impress.

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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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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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Las Piramides Mexican Restaurant

Dayton is home to a ton of locally owned little Tex Mex food chains, and Las Piramides Mexican Restaurant with two locations north and south of the city is one of them. The spot serves up your prototypical Mexican food fare in a large interior sit down environment. The popularity is clear with the locals, because these spots have been open for years and they keep their guests coming back, especially during the lunch hour. Las Piramides has some great specialties, and while the menu doesn’t do a huge amount of innovating it’s still a pretty safe choice for food.

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The Famous Neons Unplugged

The Famous Neons Unplugged; Cincinnatians simply call it “Neons” and it’s an Over-the-Rhine bar that has contributed to the city’s vibrant downtown scene. You know the spot for its massive patio, with outside bars and jenga block towers, as well as the comfortable second story, where pool tables and couches make for a more intimate scene. There’s a ton going on at this place. So much so that you might not even notice there’s a food menu. There is one. And it’s great.

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