Downtown Owensboro will soon be home to another new business. Don Mario’s, a Mexican restaurant with a strong focus on authenticity, is currently remodeling the space at 122A West Second Street.
The space has been vacant since the closure of Bee Bops, and property owner Larry Conder said he believes Don Mario’s success will come from its willingness to set itself apart from other Mexican restaurants across Owensboro.
“I told her, you don’t want people to say, ‘Oh, it’s just another Mexican restaurant.’ It has to be an experience where people want to go downtown to a restaurant,” he said.
Don Mario’s founder and manager Oralis Raddila has run El Mezcal Mexican Restaurant at 2100 West Second Street for years. The establishment has earned a reputation for its authentic street tacos and Mexican cuisine, as well as its “after church” meals served on Sundays that both the hispanic and American communities have come to know and love.
“We serve more traditional food that you can find in Mexico, and we wanted to bring that with us,” Raddila said. “The [hispanic community] really enjoys the food, but we’ve noticed a lot of American folks like to explore a little more, and a lot of them enjoy seafood.”
Two different soups — Menudo and a “Seven Seas Stew” — are popular menu items that Raddila will continue to serve on weekends at Don Mario’s. The well-known street tacos require a great deal of effort to make from scratch, Raddila said.
“Every recipe takes time — you have to literally love on it,” she said. “We served them at the Taste of Owensboro and everyone got really excited. They were fascinated by the tortillas cooking on the griddle.”
When people at the event began asking Radilla where her restaurant was located, she heard a lot of ‘Oh, you’re kind of hidden’ comments, which inspired her to relocate to a more populated area of downtown.
Conder said everything on the menu — from the consistency of the guacamole to the type of tortilla chips served — needs to have its own unique style that separates Don Mario’s from the rest, even suggesting the idea for a five-pound burrito that people wouldn’t find anywhere else.
Raddila has plans for a late January opening once interior renovations are complete. Conder acknowledged that a winter opening might be more difficult for the new restaurant, but said he encouraged Raddila to be ready to go when those doors open.
“It’s creating a little more diversity, more dining options for people downtown,” Conder said. “You have to make it different to survive in a market like that. First impressions go a long way, and they’ll need to hit it out of the park in the first six months.”