Garcia joined his father in opening the Houston eatery in 1981 after the Garcia patriarch saw success in Manhattan with his Spanish restaurant, Los Parados.
“I grew up as a short-order cook in my father’s Spanish restaurant in Manhattan,” Garcia said. “While there, I learned how to cut meat, chop vegetables, make coffee and more.”
The Garcia family gained ownership of what was once called El Patio, which had been operating at the Rice Village spot since 1957.
The naming process was spontaneous, Garcia said.
“We didn’t give the new name of the restaurant any thought,” he said. “I remember my father first saying, ‘Let’s name it La Casa Garcia,’ but eventually he just threw out, ‘ElMeson.’ That was a throwaway.”
“El Meson” translates to “The Pub,” a common name in the Latin American world, Garcia said.
The name stuck, and the Garcia family began bringing Tex-Mex dishes to Houston, later adding Spanish and Cuban dishes influenced by the family’s offerings in its Manhattan restaurant.
Now, the restaurant offers a hybrid menu, blending Spanish and Cuban influence, including a variety of grilled and roasted meats; seafood; and tapas such as piquillo peppers stuffed with lamb, raisins and pine nuts, seared foie gras with caramelized apple and pear, and bacon wrapped dates with Riojano sausage and blue cheese.
Despite some changes over the years, the family-owned roots of the restaurant remain strong, a holdover from when Garcia’s parents owned the restaurant.
“I’ve had the pleasure of being a confidant, a caretaker, a shepherd for both my parents,” Garcia said.
The management now extends to Garcia’s daughter, Jessica, who heads the restaurant’s wine program and manages the staff.
Garcia’s wife, Regina, also maintains a steady presence. Together, they oversee a staff of 26 with some part-time workers.
“We’re like a family here,” he said. 713-522-9306. www.elmeson.com