Photography by Sylvia Elzafon.

The intersection of E. Grand Avenue and Samuell Boulevard was long a hub for Tex-Mex. East Dallas residents could head to La Acapulqueña for a sit-down meal, and next door, El Taco Loco satisfied late-night taco cravings. 

Neighbor and business owner Patrick Donlin saw this corner as ripe for revitalization. It’s just down the street from Meson Maya, formerly El Torito Grill and Brownie’s, the 24-hour diner with tabletop jukeboxes that served the neighborhood for five decades. Donlin acquired the space that used to house the two Tex-Mex restaurants, plus one adjoining storefront, and decided to fix it up and lease it to two local entrepreneurs.

“I really like East Dallas, and I like trying to be more a part of the community, so I had been looking for something that was transformable,” he told the Advocate in April. “The big thing for me is it’s got to be good bones, good structure, good history.” 

Soon after, he found a tenant for both restaurant spaces; Mami Coco took the smaller of the two, and Mixtitos the larger. Here’s an introduction to two of East Dallas’ newest restaurants.  

Mami Coco 

Gustavo De Los Rios opened his first restaurant in Crowley in 2013. He lives in Mesquite, so it took an hour just to drive there every day. 

The long commute meant he hardly saw his newborn daughter during the first month of her life. A pizza restaurant was next to his place, and he agreed to sell his restaurant to the pizza company. But he says he thought he had failed because his restaurant only lasted a year.

“I went to landscaping for a year and a half, and then I went to Lyft, and then this industry brought me back to where I belong,” he says. 

One day when he was hungry, he stopped by one of his favorite taquerías, which was located on Bryan Street near N. Carroll Avenue. There was a sign on the door saying the place was available. Two weeks later, he had signed the lease.

A month after that, Mami Coco opened. Many people thought it was named for the Disney movie Coco, but it wasn’t. De Los Rios’ daughters call their grandmother mommy Coco.

Mami Coco is primarily a to-go spot, with limited seating at the indoor counter and outdoor picnic table. 

When De Los Rios opened the restaurant, he knew exactly which dishes he wanted to offer — flautas, burritos, quesadillas and enchiladas — and how to make them. 

Some customers would pop in looking for tacos, realize there weren’t any and then leave. So after about four months, he added them to the menu. 

“I knew how to make tacos. I’m like, might as well; let me give it a try,” he says. “Tacos are key.”

Now, tacos and enchiladas are the most requested items. The menu is still small, with six basic dishes, but there are ways to customize them to satisfy vegetarian and vegan diets. 

Donlin approached him earlier this year to ask if he wanted to rent out the smaller space on Samuell Boulevard, and De Los Rios jumped at the opportunity.

At the second location, expected to open soon, there are a few tables inside, and De Los Rios’ wife plans to paint a mural.

The menu is about the same as the current Mami Coco, except De Los Rios wants to sell beer, micheladas and maybe sangria. 

“I want to keep it simple,” he says. “That’s so I can concentrate 100% on the final product.”

Mami Coco, 2706 Samuell Blvd. Suite B

Mixtitos Kitchen

Jose Luis Rodriguez has been in the restaurant industry for 22 years, but he’s never owned his own place. 

One of his first jobs was working as a carhop at Sonic. Even though he was at the bottom of the industry ladder, he wasn’t bothered. 

“I love to do this, so the restaurant and serving people is part of my passion,” he says. 

He couldn’t speak English well, so his wife volunteered to help him learn the menu. One day, he helped a mystery shopper at Sonic and received a perfect score, surprising his manager. 

From there, Rodriguez went on to work at several other restaurants, including Cafe Brazil, Bistro 31, and Charlie Palmer at The Joule. One day, as a food runner at Palmer’s namesake restaurant, he served Palmer and his wife, Lisa. Rodriguez’s service was so good, Palmer asked him to be a trainer at all of his restaurants. 

“I’m a believer, so I think God has been moving us, as a family, in mysterious ways,” he says. “So when I see this miracle happening, my life was changing to that direction, which has been serving and helping others.” 

Rodriguez and his wife knew they wanted to have their own restaurant by the time their oldest daughter went to college, and they’re meeting that goal. It’s a dream Rodriguez has had since growing up in Mexico, selling cakes door-to-door. 

Their oldest daughter just graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School, and Rodriguez’s first restaurant, Mixtitos Kitchen, was expected to open in July. 

The name reflects the diversity of cuisines represented in the menu and pays homage to Texas-based Tito’s Handmade Vodka.

Rodriguez saw the for lease sign outside the Samuell Boulevard property and called Donlin. He was interested in the smaller space, but Donlin told him he thought the restaurant would be better suited for Mixtitos. Rodriguez went for it.

At the restaurant, which is now open, diners can order a variety of dishes for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. There are Japanese options, inspired by Rodriguez’s wife, who’s half Japanese. In addition, Mixtitos serves French dishes and options like steak and seafood. Drinks are sold from the bar.

Though Rodriguez never went to culinary school, he has decades of experience working with award-winning chefs. 

“This corner I think has something,” he says. “We have to contribute to it, and just to bring some light to this place is our goal. It’s very, very important for us to give that to our clients and friends and family, to have a place they can rely on.”

Mixtitos Kitchen, 2706 Samuell Blvd.