Make no mistake: Matt Martinez Jr. is passionate about enchiladas. But these days, the fourth-generation Tex-Mex chef is peppering conversations with talk of clear soups, chicken-fried steak, catfish and other homestyle foods.

There’s no danger he’ll be changing the menu at his popular Matt’s Rancho Martinez restaurant, 6312 La Vista Drive in Lakewood. Instead, Martinez will be taking on a second challenge soon by opening a cozy restaurant and bar called Mattito’s next door in a space formerly occupied by a convenience store.

“My guys here (at Rancho Martinez) are so good, they’ll hardly let me in the kitchen,” says Martinez, who admits to waking up in the night after dreaming of new recipes.

“Over there, I’ll be able to cook every day. I love to do chicken and catfish and wild game like quail and venison…in a sort of down-home, Central Texas style – the kind of food I grew up eating.”

He’ll still be keeping an eye on Rancho Martinez, however: The kitchens are separated only by a door, and Mattito’s will cater exclusively to evening clientele.

Martinez left his family’s El Rancho restaurant dynasty in Austin five years ago to try his luck in Dallas. As a Dallas Restaurant Association board member, Martinez is known for sharing expertise with others, says Dawn Jantsch, association director.

Martinez also consults with potential Mexican-food restaurateurs throughout the country. International clients also are seeking his advice.

“I’ve got a trip planned the first two weeks of June in Australia for restaurant site evaluations, and maybe to South Africa in July,” he says.

Talk of such wide-ranging contacts seems out of place in his cluttered, closet-sized office in the back of Rancho Martinez. Dressed in a uniform and apron, and seated beneath shelves filled with clean linen, Martinez easily could be mistaken for an employee rather than the owner.

The restaurant industry’s seven-day work week is the only lifestyle Martinez has known, and trading in his apron for a suit and tie isn’t his idea of success. Martinez says his image of retirement is managing a 60-seat restaurant and bar.

“My dad’s 73 or 74 years old, and he still goes to work every morning and afternoon,” Martinez says. “I can never see myself doing anything else. I love the business, and I love the challenge.”

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