For a story on the power of tacos that amounts to a free life coaching session, ask Gustavo De Los Rios about his two East Dallas taquerías, Mami Coco. After the original on Bryan Street was crowned with extraordinary success from online reviews, Mami Coco No. 2 opened this summer in the space formerly occupied by La Acapulqueña Mexican Restaurant and El Taco Loco, which operated for 28 years at the Samuell-Grand intersection near Interstate 30.
De Los Rios’ success comes after decades of hard, backbreaking work and what some would call failure. But, he says, there is no such thing.
From the time he moved to Dallas from his native Monterrey, Mexico, over 25 years ago, De Los Rios has worked “every imaginable” restaurant job, from fast food cook and dishwasher to manager and bar owner.
In 2013, he opened his first restaurant, Habanero Mexican Cuisine in Fort Worth, but he divested himself after one year when he realized that his 7:30 am to midnight work hours were preventing him from seeing his newborn daughter.
“It made me feel like I failed because I quit. Like, I threw in the towel, you know what I mean?” he says, adding that for a long time afterward, his frustration seeped into his daily family life. He took a break from the industry for the next two years, working in landscaping, being a Lyft driver and picking up bartending shifts.
One day, hungry, he stopped for tacos at his favorite spot, Taqueria Conin, to find it had closed. That was when “God brought me back to my life, back to the industry where I belong,” he says. With a cleared mind and knowledge from previous experience, he opened the first Mami Coco one month later, on March 16, 2018.
Another popular taquería that grew out of East Dallas, Tacos La Banqueta, is across the street from the original Mami Coco. For this reason, and because De Los Rios wanted to showcase something different from Mexican cuisine, he opened with a menu of enchiladas, burritos, sopes and his mother’s flautas. But after almost 40% of his customers walked back to their cars after being told there were no tacos, he understood he “might as well make tacos.” He added them to the menu three months later.
“The taco is king,” he says.
For the seven types sold at Mami Coco, De Los Rios picks up tortillas each morning from Tortilleria la Union in Mesquite. They’re soft and made fresh daily, and most importantly, he says, they don’t break apart.
De Los Rios admits that social media flames the widespread, insatiable demand for tacos, but ultimately, tacos are coveted because they’re simple, rich in flavor and flexible. They can be prepared in a gas station or on a food trailer, but they can also be expensive and gourmet.
De Los Rios calls the serendipitous second location another blessing. “It’s very impressive, the way God knows his ways.”
He was eating at Meson Maya across the street one Sunday with his wife, Gabriela, when she spotted the “For Lease” sign. De Los Rios had doubts because he had never simultaneously operated two businesses before, but the next day, the landlord came to Mami Coco and asked if he was interested in the space.
“I’m opportunistic, but in a good way,” De Los Rios says. “If God gives me an opportunity, I’m going to take it.”
It was wise for De Los Rios to trust his instincts. A month after the second location opened on Aug. 27, 2022, both restaurants were swarmed after a surprise boost from Yelp.
Mami Coco has had positive reviews “since day one,” De Los Rios says. He was impressed last year when Yelp ranked Mami Coco No. 76 for the nation’s best taco shops. But this year, when it moved up to the nation’s no. 10 spot (and by extension, No. 1 in Dallas), “it was beyond my imagination,” he says.
Lines of customers bought everything the restaurant could possibly make the next few days. For a minute, he even considered selling only one kind of taco.
Now that the wave has settled a bit, he’s waiting on his liquor license to sell beer and wine at the second location. Late-night satisfaction can be found here, too. He’ll keep the taco window open until 3 am on Fridays and Saturdays. During this time, he’ll give the people what they want: only tacos after 10 pm
And once he finds his rhythm with the two restaurants, he’ll start operating a trailer for special events and occasional visits to Collin County. He’s found that a lot of people up north want tacos.
On the unexpected success, De Los Rios says, “I thank myself, but I thank God. I put in a lot of work, but God put me here.”
Mami Coco has two Dallas locations: 4501 Bryan St. and 2706 Samuel Blvd., Suite B. mamicoco.org.