For quite a few years, Mexican dining options in State College were limited at best. This college town that is home to Penn State University draws more than 40,000 students to its campus every year, including a small but growing population of Latino/Latina students. For this reason, it is surprising how few Mexican restaurants could be found here. For many years, the only Mexican-food option in town was a downtown restaurant located in a hotel one block from the PSU campus; its large outdoor patio means that students gather there on nice spring and summer days to drink margaritas, and the food, while pretty good, seems to take second place to the drinks. But a couple of years ago, a new Mexican restaurant opened on the Benner Pike, on the eastern outskirts of town; and now Don Patron Mexican Grill has opened on North Atherton Street, in a residential area on the northern edge of State College. And while it took a while for Don Patron to get here, the restaurant is worth the wait.
Don Patron is a chain, with a number of locations throughout western Pennsylvania and western New York State. This restaurant's location in a nondescript corner of a suburban strip mall, not far from a Wal-Mart, means that it's easy to overlook; but if you like good Mexican food, you should make sure not to overlook Don Patron. Once you are inside, you will find that the ambiance is authentically Mexican, with brightly colored decor -- this is the kind of Mexican restaurant that one might find in San Antonio, or Albuquerque, or Tempe, or San Diego. One of the large-screen TV's was even showing a soccer game between the Mexican football clubs America and Puebla! The service is characterized by the same kind of serious and earnest courtesy that I have always experienced at Mexican restaurants in Mexico, and in the Southwestern United States. My wife had a margarita, and when I tried it I found that it was excellent (I settled for white wine). The shrimp dishes are particularly good; I enjoyed the shrimp fajitas on one visit, and the camarones al mojo de ajo (rich garlic flavor) and camarones a la diabla (very spicy) are also very much worth your time.
Another Mexican restaurant is currently under construction, in the old Otto's Pub and Brewery building farther up on North Atherton; but while its "Coming Soon" sign has been up for some time, and the restaurant has a fresh coat of tropical green-yellow-and-red paint, that restaurant still shows no signs of opening up anytime soon. They had better hurry up and open, or else Don Patron may take away their business before their business gets started.
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