See Ya, Oak Cliff

Storied Dallas Tex-Mex restaurant finds new home in McKinney

Storied Dallas Tex-Mex restaurant finds new home in McKinney

Corazon de Tejas, Cuellar
Oak Cliff Tex-Mex fans will need to drive to McKinney to enjoy this fine fare. Courtesy photo

A Tex-Mex restaurant that recently closed its only branch in Dallas will arise anew in McKinney: El Corazon de Tejas, late of Oak Cliff, will open a location at 1222 N. Central Expy. in a former El Chico's, which closed in June.

Co-owner John Cuellar says that he and his partner Gilbert Cuellar settled on McKinney after scouting options for the past few months, and haven't checked Dallas off their list.

"We looked at over 40 places before we selected McKinney," he says. "We were considering Dallas, on the eastern side of US-75, where there are a lot of attractive residential areas. But most of those locations, we couldn't afford."

The McKinney space was home to an El Chico for 30 years; the closest El Chico is at 75 and Spring Valley Road. Cuellar, whose family founded the El Chico chain, says that they've hired some of the employees from the shuttered McKinney location, who are now working temporarily at Cuellar's Fajita Ranch, their restaurant in Plano.

"Some of them worked there for years, and we're pleased they're coming on board with us," Cuellar says.

El Corazon debuted in 2013 in Oak Cliff in what had been Tejano, but what started out in 1955 as an El Chico. The Cuellars updated the interior, added a mural, and broadened the menu. In 2016, they opened an offshoot in Plano called Cuellar's Fajita Ranch.

Their Oak Cliff location was doing well despite being surrounded by long-term, ongoing construction. When suitors began to approach, Cuellar opened the door to negotiations. The bids included one who wanted to keep the location as a restaurant, an option the Cuellars would have liked. But a wave of Oak Cliff frenzy-mania scared off all the bidders save one and it turned out to be the one the OC brigade dreaded the most: a CVS pharmacy.

"I'm sorry people felt mistreated because that was not our intent," Cuellar says. "We were part of Oak Cliff for many decades before all this, and I have many friends in Oak Cliff that I've known my entire life."

They hope to open the McKinney restaurant in September. Like their Plano location, it's right off US-75, which Cuellar says bring in diners not just from the neighborhood but also driving by.

"But there a lot of wonderful things going on right now in McKinney, it's a wonderful place to be," he says. "We hope to add some history and vintage Tex-Mex."