2 local restaurants bringing life to the Samuell-Grand intersection

Photograph by Sylvia Elzafon.

Jit intersects of E. Grand Avenue and Samuell Boulevard has long been a hub for Tex-Mex. East Dallas dwellers 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 area as ripe for revitalization. It’s just down the street from Meson Maya, formerly El Torito Grill and Brownie’s, the 24-hour restaurant with tabletop jukeboxes that served the neighborhood for five decades. Donlin acquired the space that housed the two Tex-Mex restaurants, plus an adjoining storefront, and decided to furnish it and lease it to two local entrepreneurs.

“I really love East Dallas and I love trying to be more part of the community, so I was looking for something transformable,” he told the Lawyer in April. “The most important thing for me is that it has to be good bones, good structure, good story.”

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

Grandma Coco

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

The long drive meant he barely saw his newborn daughter for the first month of her life. A pizza place was near his house and he agreed to sell his restaurant to the pizza company. But he says he thought he failed because his restaurant only lasted a year.

“I went into landscaping for a year and a half, then I went to Lyft, and then that industry brought me back to my place,” he says.

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

A month later, Mami Coco opened. Many people thought it was named after the Disney movie coconut, but it was not. The De Los Rios girls call their grandmother Mom Coco.

Mami Coco is primarily a take-out place, with limited seating at the indoor counter and outdoor picnic table.

When De Los Rios opened the restaurant, he knew exactly what dishes he wanted to offer – flautas, burritos, quesadillas and enchiladas – and how to prepare them.

Some customers would come for tacos, realize there weren’t any, and 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 try,” he said. “Tacos are the 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 it to satisfy vegetarian and vegan diets.

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

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

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

“I want it to be simple,” he says. “That’s how I can focus 100% on the end product.”

Grandma Coco, 2706 Samuel Blvd. Suite B

Mixed cuisine

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

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 doing this, so eating out and serving people is part of my passion,” he says.

He didn’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 worked at several other restaurants, including Cafe Brazil, Bistro 31, and Charlie Palmer at Joule. One day, as a courier at Palmer’s eponymous restaurant, he served Palmer and his wife, Lisa. Rodriguez’s service was so good that Palmer asked him to coach all of his restaurants.

“I’m a believer, so I think God moved us, as a family, in mysterious ways,” he says. “So when I saw this miracle happen, my life changed in that direction, which served and helped others.”

Rodriguez and his wife knew they wanted to have their own restaurant when their oldest daughter went to college, and they achieve this goal. It’s a dream Rodriguez has had since growing up in Mexico, selling cakes door-to-door.

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

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

Rodriguez saw the rental 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 to Mixtitos. Rodriguez went there.

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 is half-Japanese. Additionally, Mixtitos serves French fare and options like steak and seafood. Drinks are sold at the bar.

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

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

Mixed cuisine2706 Samuel Blvd.

Gladys T. Hensley