East Dallas Tex-Mex restaurant closes, but popular tamale shop rebounds
East Dallas is losing a sweet Mexican restaurant: Peak & Elm Cocina y Bar, which served Mex and Tex-Mex in a cool old building at the corner of Peak and Elm Streets has closed — but the food and trademark tamales will be available in a new location, under a familiar name.
The new location is at 4823 Bryan St., across from Jimmy's Food Store, an area that's emerging as a hot foodie zone, where it can found under the familiar name of La Popular Tamale House.
It'll sell tamales to go, single or by the dozen — in flavors such as beef, chicken, pork, bean & jalapeno, veggie, and seasonal flavors such as pumpkin and black eye pea. It'll also house a catering operation where you can order some of the same food you loved at Peak & Elm.
Tamale fans will recall that La Popular used to be in a building at Columbia Avenue and Munger Street. Owners Jesse Moreno and his father Jesse Senior moved the tamale operation to new headquarters at Peak & Elm when they opened the restaurant in February 2013.
Peak & Elm Cocina y Bar was the brainchild of Jesse Junior, who saw an opportunity to share their recipes in a sit-down setting. The restaurant had great, affordable food and was well received, but the neighborhood did not evolve as planned.
"When we first went into the space, there were a lot of promises from the property owner," he says. "It was branded as the 'New East Elm,' with a master plan to make the area more walkable, with retail and food establishments. But we haven't seen any of that."
The strip of vintage storefronts where the restaurant was located has endured numerous ownership changes in recent years. The "New East Elm" Facebook page has been dormant since March 2018, and the current landlord has rented out spaces to a tattoo shop and a rave party spot with events that run all night.
"We love the building, and we put a lot into it and want to support it," Jesse says. "We've always been known for carry-out and it gave us the opportunity to try something new with a full-service restaurant."
The Morenos got a head-start at Bryan Street after holding a tamale pop-up there during the holidays. The location has many assets, including a full commercial kitchen and plenty of parking, which was in limited supply at Peak & Elm.
"We're in love with the area at Bryan and Fitzhugh," he says. "Having the pop-up there, we saw the potential. There's so much going on there with Khao Noodle Shop, Pickletopia, and now Top Round is coming, and of course Jimmy's and Urbano Cafe. It has the kind of walkability we value, where you can hop from place to place."
At the new location, they'll continue to sell tamales as well as a small menu of quick, reasonably-priced items, if customers want to grab a plate and sit down. It'll also be the home to their brisk catering business.
Other ideas include festivals in the parking lot, maybe even farmers markets, to encourage foot traffic in the area, which is blowing up with new apartment buildings.
"You can be on Swiss Avenue with multi-million dollar homes, and then right behind them are apartments that go for $500 or $600 a month," Jesse says. "We want to be part of that mix — to create that balance, to do our part by bringing in something that has history in East Dallas, that still has East Dallas flair and uniqueness, standing next to new buildings and national chains."
Their plan is to do an opening party on March 23. "It just happens to be National Tamale Day," Jesse says.