18 Years In, Pepe's & Mito's Mexican Cafe Remains a Classic.
Pepe's & Mito's Mexican Cafe
2911 Elm St.
Ambiance: 2.5 out of 4 lunch specials served with rice and beans.
Food: 3 out of 4 lunch specials served with rice and beans.
Service: 3.5 out of 4 lunch specials served with rice and beans.
For going on 18 years, Pepe's & Mito's Mexican Cafe has thrived in its little corner of Deep Ellum.
Not because it's a trendy spot. Not because its food is especially remarkable. Not because its location is other-wordly great.
Pepe's & Mito's has simply lasted as long as it has because it just might be the most consistent restaurant in town. And, yes, that's one hell of an important quality.
If nothing else, it's a trait that will get you noticed: Earlier this month, during an excursion through a number of esteemed Dallas-area restaurants, Guy Fieri and his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives crew stopped in to honor this particular spot's work. The episode, which aired earlier this month, has already aired some six times on the Food Network, and, while we wouldn't necessarily consider Pepe's & Mito's a diner, a drive-in or a dive, we'll agree that the space very much deserves this kind of recognition — and certainly for its more adventurous menu items, which the show indeed highlighted, including the restaurant's Mexican soup and its surprisingly delectable tacos nortenos.
But what the show didn't feature — and what really makes Pepe's & Mito's such a reliable stand-by — is its more-standard Tex-Mex fare (although it should be noted that the restaurant is always careful to refer to itself as a “Mex-Tex” joint instead, because of the emphasis it chooses to place onto its take on the regional fusion). Yes, as expected, the surprisingly extensive Pepe's & Mito's menu features the same things you can find at most similarly inclined spots across the state — crispy tacos, soft tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, chimichangas, etc. — either as individual dishes or as lunch and specialty combo platters. But they're hardly here as filler. They are the backbone of the place, and these plates really do rise above the rest of the regional crop.
Determining exactly why this is the case is a tough task.
The ingredients are the same here as you'll find at other restaurants. The preparation is the same as well.
But upon their arrival at your table, these plates never appear sloppy, as can happen so frequently at lesser establishments. And, though these orders are surely second-nature for the restaurant's kitchen staff, there very much appears a little extra care at play here. Would it be corny for us to say that Pepe's & Mito's makes sure to cook their dishes with love as their secret ingredient? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean that such a sentiment is wholly wrong.
Because, really, that's what sets this place apart from its competitors; Pepe's & Mito's just very much feels like the family restaurant that it is. Stop in here more than once and the friendly wait staff remembers you, and stops by frequently (but not obnoxiously) to make sure all's well with your meal.
It helps, too, that it's not an expensive place, either. Even at the highest end, none of Pepe's & Mito's lunch offerings surpass the $9 mark, and they all come with rice and beans; none of its specialty dinner or combo plates cost more than $10.45. And, of course, the chips and salsa offered at the start of the meal are free. And, yes, each customer at a table gets his or her own salsa cup, which is an important, and oft-forgotten, touch at Tex-Mex joints.
And, listen, for all his shortcomings, Guy Fieri is spot on: Those tacos nortenos, at $10.45 for an order of four, plus rice and beans and taco dressings, are quite the delight.
On the other hand, he's also a problem: For months now, Pepe's & Mitos's has been working on opening up a second, less Mexican-inspired spot just a couple blocks away, called Pepe's Ranch. The opening has been delayed for a couple of reasons, our waitstaff bemoaned during a recent visit, not the least of which is because of the uptick in business that the original spot has seen since their Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives feature.