CINCINNATI - Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population and the impact of Hispanic culture is growing, too, here in the Tri-State.
One example is the number of Hispanic restaurants, which has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years.
The Hispanic Chamber says 24 years ago, there were only two Mexican restaurants in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
Today, as Cincinnati celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, there are close to 100 Hispanic restaurants in Greater Cincinnati.
The lack of Mexican restaurants in Greater Cincinnati is the very reason Luis Leon says his family relocated from Chicago to the Queen City 11 years ago.
"There weren't any Mexican restaurants here 10 or 11 years ago. When our first restaurant opened in Fairfield, we looked around the area. We saw the need for a Mexican restaurant," Leon explained.
The family opened Taqueria Mercado at the corner of 8th and Walnut streets in 2009.
"A lot of people in this area seem like they're from other areas, California, Texas and all of that. A lot of people were very glad that something that they knew, the food familiar to their kitchen, was coming to this area. A lot of people that were Ohioans, they never had Mexican food, ever," Leon said.
The president of the Hispanic Chamber, Alfonso Cornejo, said at least 50 percent of the customers who dine at Hispanic restaurants are not Latino.
"A lot of people tell me Mexican food is my favorite food. That's a sign of acceptance, so we're very happy for that," Corjejo said.
One lunch time customer says he enjoys the authentic Mexican food at Taquiera Mercado.
"I've noticed a few of them pop up recently. They're a really good option, really good food, good flavor. They tend to use a lot of good spices," said customer Jason Lininger.
The Hispanic Chamber says Hispanics make up about two percent of the population.
Leon says his family's decision to move to Cincinnati turned out to be a good one.
"It's kind of like an acceptance of our culture, our food and everything else. We feel welcomed in this area," Leon said with a smile on his face.