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Natalie the Nomad: El Sombrero (Dayton Area)

Natalie the Nomad: El Sombrero (Dayton Area)
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You just never know where Natalie will end up each month!

Upon returning home over the Christmas holiday, I told my family that I had to do two things – visit “my” hairdresser, and have dinner at El Sombrero. As a family, we have been going to this restaurant for over 15 years, and have become close friends with the owner, Ruben Peyalo. My parents even volunteer at his Thanksgiving Event, in which he provides a free meal to families around town; Ruben is known for his sponsorship of charities throughout the local area.

At first glance, the décor at El Sombrero might not seem like anything special, until you start looking closely at knick knacks posted on the mural painted walls. A slew of awards, newspaper clippings, religious icons and ‘everything Mexico’ are tastefully put up. The walls themselves are gorgeous, depicting ancient events; hand painted by an artist whose talent you might not fully appreciate if you’re knee deep in queso.

Enchilada Suiza

Honestly, the ONE thing I come here for is the salsa, everything else is an added bonus. El Sombrero takes their quality seriously, so just know that what you order from the menu is handmade and authentic. The salsa itself is a perfect blend of onions, garlic, cilantro swimming in a sea of light tomato sauce and peppers hits your taste buds with such force that you can’t help but down two baskets of chips before you realize it. El Sombrero also sells their salsa by the jar from their restaurant – very dangerous, but smart, in my opinion. When I was living in Ohio, I had a jar of their salsa constantly in my fridge, and found myself replenishing my stock about every two weeks. Out of all the vices out there, salsa is not too bad to get hooked on. Another ‘must have’ here (in the winter) is their hot chocolate. Creamy and the perfect blend of chocolate and milk, this drink will warm you the instant you come in from the cold. As an added bonus, you get homemade whipped cream – which I always manage to scoop up before it melts into the chocolate.

Though I know the majority of the menu by heart, I still had a hard time deciding what to get. When I hit up favorite restaurants, I tend to order the same thing; but for some reason I always switch it up here. Maybe its because I know everything is quality, or maybe its because I eventually want to cover every single thing they have to offer. Mexican classics are all over the menu, but I eventually chose the “Enchilada Suiza” with a side of rice and black beans. Even though the filling was already chock full of green tomatillo sauce and cheese, they somehow managed to stuff spinach and mushrooms in there as well (other options included cheese/onion, chicken, ground beef or picadillo). I was seriously impressed by this dish. Though the ingredients seem simple, El Sombrero always manages to do something extra with their dishes to make them stand out – the problem is that I can’t pinpoint it.

My husband ordered “The Mexican Flag” which did not surprise me in the least. He spent a fair amount of time in South Texas, so him approving of this dish, let alone this restaurant, was something I was curious to see come to fruition. His dish consisted of the typical refried beans and rice, as well as three separate enchiladas: one chicken, one ground beef, and one picadillo. Covered with white, green and red enchilada sauce, this dish looked like it was made for a family of 7. As I suspected, El Sombrero got a big thumbs up from him; and he somehow managed to finish every single thing on his plate.

As a small dessert, we ordered sopapillas, which disappeared from the table before I could manage to even think about snapping a photo. There’s just something about those crisp little tortillas – dripping with honey, drizzled with chocolate, covered with whipped cream and sprinkled with cinnamon, and sugar – it just leaves your palate with something sweet and savory, without compromising stomach room.

Visiting El Sombrero is a little out of your way if you’re visiting the Dayton area, but I promise you it is worth it. Ruben and his employees will take care of you, the food is beyond delicious, and your visit will not cost you an arm and a leg. Granted, your stomach might be annoyed with you for testing its limits – but those are just minor details.