It was a little after 3 p.m. and several diners sat enjoying a late lunch at El Meson's Hamilton Place Mall location.
"Do you want to know where everybody is?" the location's owner, Raul Ruiz Sr., asked me. "They're all at the bar!" he exclaimed, pointing toward the other end of the restaurant.
Recently, El Meson expanded its happy hour from 3-8 p.m. Sunday- Thursday. The same great deals are still featured:$2 pints and two-for-one margaritas. "You want something to drink? A water? A margarita?" Raul Sr. asked, smiling.
I already knew all about El Meson's famous margaritas: mango, peach, raspberry, strawberry, regular and gold. I also knew the Ruiz family is particularly proud of their mixed drinks. "And hey, it's almost patio season!" said Tony Ruiz, who, along with his brother Raul Jr., had appeared beside their father. "You know what that means, right? Mojitos!"
"And frozen sangrias," added Raul Jr.
The crew of El Meson has a lot to look forward to with the warmer months ahead. The large patio, for one. But also Cinco de Mayo. It may be a couple months off still, but according to Tony, "It's the biggest party of the year." El Meson's Cinco de Mayo celebration takes place in the restaurant's parking lot. It features live music and food and drink specials.
"Rain or shine," said Raul Jr. "Last year it rained. And hey, we were chasing down chairs and tents, but we never stopped partying."
I could believe it. The Ruiz family is the type of people who want to be happy. They like what they do and they like each other. Raul Jr. leaned his elbow on Tony's shoulder. Tony wrapped his arm around his young son Tony Jr.'s neck. Raul Sr. reappeared with a platter of food, sat it on the table and patted his grandson's cheeks.
"This is our upcoming chef," he bragged. "On my birthday, guess who made me breakfast?" He patted Tony Jr.'s cheeks again. I wanted to be part of the Ruiz family too. But I supposed I'd just have to settle for the complimentary salsa.
El Meson has a new menu that boasts 10 different salsas including jalapeno, fresca, avocado, chunky tomatilla and, my personal favorite, sweet and spicy mango. The salsas - any number of them - are free. It's actually quite the consolation prize.
The new menu also offers a variety of lighter dishes, like the El Jefe seafood platter with tilapia, grilled shrimp, poblano rice and a fresh little salad made with shredded lettuce, cucumbers, onions and sprinkled with dry Mexican cheese. Of course there is also notsolight fare, like taco dorados - deep-fried tacos topped with tomatillo sauce, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. Tender, juicy and crispy.
There is a lot to choose from at El Meson. So go with your heart. It's all about wanting to be happy.