When it comes to east Dallas most people think first thing about Deep Ellum but just a stone’s throw north of this gentrified part of town, you’ll find old east Dallas and the feeling here is a little more authentic to the area. “More authentic. Yeah. Definitely,” said customer Jose Ventura with a laugh.
“Yeah, yeah. It’s a little sketchy, but I think it adds to the charm,” said customer Chance Mullins.
“I know it might be a little scary place, or depending how people perceive of it, but people are friendly here,” said customer Hector Soto.
One of the friendliest folks in this area is Gustavo De Los Rios, owner of Mami Coco. Gustavo came to Texas in January of 1996 at the age of 25 because of—get this—the Dallas Cowboys! This hard to the core Cowboys fan has a few loves in his life. His mother-in-law and namesake of the restaurant, Mami Coco, is one of them. His other love, working in the restaurant industry. “I’ve been working in this industry since day one. I been dishwasher, cook line, grill, bus boy, bartenders. All the positions that you can imagine in this industry, I’ve been through,” said Gustavo. “I think I’m passionate about food. I’m passionate about this industry.”
When Gustavo opened Mami Coco, he had one rule. Thanks to the plethora of places to get a taco around him, he wasn’t going to sell tacos. So, Gustavo focused on authentic enchiladas and flautas. The only problem with not putting tacos on the menu? It seemed that’s all customers wanted. “Stepping inside the store and it’s like, ‘hey, I need tacos,” and I don’t have tacos. And they were just leaving away. I knew how to make them, and I had to start making them and thank God that I did that,” said Gustavo.
Turns out making tacos took Mami Coco to another level thanks to popular travel websites claiming Gustavo’s place as one of the top 10 places in the country to get tacos. When it happened, Gustavo had no idea. Mami Coco claimed a spot on the top 10 taco shops in the entire United States and the article was featured on the Dallas Morning News. “It feels nice to be recognized when you are not even expecting that,” said Gustavo.
Gustavo got things going in his tiny taco shop with his famous tacos of course. One made with bistek, chicharron prensado, and barbacoa. Bistek is simple beef taco but if you never knew where the word bistec came from, it’s pretty self-explanatory. “Bistek is because of the Spanish actually. It’s beef steak. Since we don’t know so much English, it’s bistek,” said Gustavo.
The chicharron prensado is a little more of an adventurous taco being pressed pork. “Whenever they are making the carnitas, everything is falling apart. They kind of put it together, they press it, they squeeze it, and they make it like a cake. You have everything. You have fat, you have skin, you have meat, you have everything. It’s so good,” explained Gustavo.
And finally, the barbocoa. As those meats cook, Gustavo dips the corn tortillas in guajillo oil and warms them up on the grill. Once hot, he finishes them off with a simple combination of cilantro and onions.
My first bite of bistec was beyond belief.
“You’ll for sure have good, authentic food,” said customer Hector Soto.
The chicharron prensado is light, flavorful. Got a good crunchy texture too. Absolutely fantastic taco. “The carnitas on it, it’s just, I guess, a saltiness on it or the natural saltiness on it makes it just taste good,” said customer Jose Ventura.
Gustavo’s take on enchiladas is authentic as possible and that might be a little different for some folks. “Those are the regional enchiladas,” explained Gustavo. “They’re pretty much stuffed with queso fresco, which is soft cheese, chopped onions, and then we top them off with more queso, sour cream, lettuce, carrots, and potatoes, and it’s sauteed on guajillo sauce.”
One bite and I knew these enchiladas had a completely different flavor profile. Just fresh light, not heavy. When you think enchiladas, you always think, ‘man, I’m going to walk out of this place,’ but not here. These are amazing. “The enchiladas do bring me back home as well,” said customer Jose Ventura.
And finally, Gustavo insisted we try his famous flautas topped with homemade avocado sauce and tons of cabbage. Turns out these flautas have an incredible crunch. They are awesome. I normally dislike flautas because they’re not meaty and just real, just bready. But these are perfect. “This is definitely in the top five taco places in Dallas,” said customer Chance Mullins.
“I always am a believer that good food builds memories. When I was a kid, my dad used to take me to this good taqueria. So that’s what I wanted to bring,” said Gustavo. “I want to bring memories to my new customers, and to my friends, and to my existing ones.”
Definitely well worth a stop on The Texas Bucket List.
“It’s pretty cool having little spots like these, just because they’re convenient for the neighborhood,” said customer Hector Soto.
“I always love these little dive places and never miss an opportunity to get a good taco,” said customer Chance Mullins.