When Oralis Radilla’s family moved to Owensboro from Cancun 20 years ago, her father asked someone where he could get a taco.
“They told him Taco Bell,” she said, shaking her head.
These days, with around a dozen locally-owned Mexican restaurants in town, nobody says that.
Many of them will likely say Don Mario’s Mexican Restaurant, 122A W. Second St.
That’s the restaurant Radilla opened downtown two years ago and named for her father.
In 2017, the family created El Mezcal Mexican Restaurant at 2100 W. Second St.
“After awhile, Dad said, ‘I need help,’ ” Radilla said. “I went to Brescia to study business, and I helped at the restaurant.”
People called El Mezcal “the best kept little secret in Owensboro.”
And in late 2019, Radilla, who had taken over the family business, decided to move downtown where there was more traffic.
“We want to be part of the new downtown culture and its family-friendly atmosphere,” she said then.
“We opened it February 2020,” Radilla said. “We got one month in and then the pandemic hit, and we had to close for three months.
“It was a rough year. We had poured all of our money into this place. Our inventory would go bad in less than three months. So, we used it to feed ourselves and our workers.”
In May, when restaurants were allowed to reopen with limited seating, “We didn’t have the funds to reopen,” Radilla said. “But our suppliers worked with us and helped us reopen.”
Then, she said, “When we reopened, the whole community came out to support us. It felt so good.”
One thing the pandemic did do was increase the use of sidewalk seating downtown.
“We can seat about 50 inside and 55 outside,” Radilla said. “The outdoor seating really helps.”
She prides herself on providing “true authentic Mexican food to Owensboro.”
Street tacos are the best-selling item on the menu.
Burritos are No. 2 and tortas are No. 3.
With the downtown location, Don Mario’s gets a lot of out-of-town business from conventions and sports tournaments, Radilla said.
“I’ve had people from Colorado, Michigan, Florida, Texas and New York,” she said. “They all say this is one of the best places they’ve eaten. And many of them come from places that have authentic Mexican food.”
Don Mario’s has a staff of 10.
“Spring and fall are the busiest times,” Radilla said. “Winter is good too. We have outdoor heaters.”
Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
So why would someone move from Cancun to Owensboro?
“There was more competition there,” Radilla said. “And there was more street violence.”