Tex-Mex redux

Oak Cliff Tex-Mex institution Tejano set for reinvention as El Corazon de Tejas

Oak Cliff Tex-Mex institution Tejano set for reinvention as El Corazon de Tejas

Tejano, restaurant, Oak Cliff
Tejano sign has been a familiar sight on the Oak Cliff landscape for many years. Photo by Teresa Gubbins
Tejano, restaurant, Oak Cliff
Menu will see a small expansion but still offer standard combination plates. Trip Advisor
Tejano, restaurant, Oak Cliff
Front of Tejano, soon to be El Corazon de Texas, has an Art Deco facade. Photo by Teresa Gubbins
Tejano, restaurant, Oak Cliff
Tejano, restaurant, Oak Cliff
Tejano, restaurant, Oak Cliff

Tejano Mexican Restaurant has been an institution in Oak Cliff since before most of us were born, serving reliable Tex-Mex combination plates in one form or another since 1955. Once upon a time an El Chico's, it has been Tejano since 1978.

But that era will end in February, when the place gets a makeover and a new name: El Corazon de Tejas.

Owners John and Susan Cuellar are "rebranding" the restaurant: Refreshing the menu, renovating the space and installing a team of folks with experience and new ideas. They'll close after lunch on January 20, and re-open the first week of February.

"We don't want to run away our local customers who've been loyal to us for decades," Susan says. "But we felt like the building had gotten run down around the edges, that happens in everyone's house. We decided that really we needed to reconcept it."

They're working with designers Ann Spicer and Peggy Jones, who will not only change the palette, they'll add some distinctive decorative touches, Susan says.

"They're using all sorts of warm colors, like corals and reds," she says. "They're painting a huge mural that will look like one of those 1930s travel posters with this beautiful girl in a sombrero with palm trees, very Dolores Del Rio. To my thinking, it's a perfect way to pull together the beautiful art deco design of the building with an image that is still distinctly Mexican."

They'll redesign the bar, more seating space so that guests can sit and eat dinner there if they want.

Here's a fun fact: Tejano was first built as a Wyatt's cafeteria, Susan says.

"Well, first it was a Wyatt's grocery store," she says. "And then the Wyatt family went into cafeterias and changed it to a cafeteria."

The Cuellar family bought the location in 1955, and turned it into an El Chico. In 1978, El Chico's parent company decided it didn't want an El Chico at that spot, so John, his father and brother re-named it Tejano and kept the restaurant running.

Susan says they want to make small alterations to the menu, but don't want to destroy its role as an affordable neighborhood Mexican place. They have a new kitchen manager, Will Vasquez, and a new general manager in Mariana Cuellar, whose father was an original partner in Tejano until his death.

"Our new kitchen manager wants to try some new things," she says. "We'll add a little seafood. We're just looking at the menu realistically and seeing what we want to keep. I have three friends who say the mole is the best mole they've ever eaten."

The menu will feature a boxed-off section of "favorites from Tejano," an idea devised by their daughter Catherine. And they'll continue to do menudo on the weekend.

"The main thing is that we don't want our price points so high that people close the menu and go home," Susan says.