The beach-shanty inspired building on the corner of Bell and Mulberry had been synonymous with Hoochie’s Oyster House and their dollar train beers until it relocated in 2014. Captain Nemo’s quickly took its place before changing its name to the Sub Shack, which disappeared quietly in June. Chef/owner Andres Meraz wasted no time overhauling the location into a laid-back venue for Latin street food the likes of which Denton has never experienced — and we don’t say that lightly.
Boca 31 has scratch-made empanadas on the menu, and they may very well be the only empanadas to be found in Denton right now.
A native of the Bay area, Meraz has a background running high-end kitchens around Miami, including the Dilido Beach Club at the Ritz Carlton on Miami Beach and Royal Palm South Beach. A bit of mild internet stalking suggests he might be something of a celebrity chef in Miami; he’s been featured on a number of television spots and competed in a fair share of national culinary competitions.
Despite his background in fine dining, Meraz says he wasn’t interested in that aesthetic for Boca 31, instead choosing to focus on the food. Having recently relocated to the area with the goal of starting his own restaurant, Meraz admitted his location choice was partially informed by the space’s current build-out. He spent less time and money renovating the space for his concept because it came with a number of kitchen amenities built in. Those familiar with the space in its past incarnations won’t be terribly surprised at the décor. It’s a clean, no frills dining area with an unobstructed view of the kitchen; diners can watch the three-person crew prep and plate dishes while expertly slicing and dicing a colorful cast of veggies and greens for service.
If you want to know about their amazing savory empanadas, you’ll have to ask the diners lucky enough to get there before us, because both the pork chili verde and spinach and goat cheese options were sold out by the time we arrived for dinner. Word on the street says they’ve been selling out of certain things pretty regularly during peak lunch and dinner hours, but it'll give you an opportunity to taste something new — like sandwiches, tacos or a buttery bowl of potato and yucca hash topped with a creamy mayo sauce spiced with Aji Panca, a Peruvian red pepper.
The sandwiches are excellent. In fact, the Peruvian sandwich is reminiscent of a butifarra (the sandwich, not the Catalonian sausage), with the addition of charred sweet potato slices. Along with marinated, slow-roasted pork loin and a citrus-onion slaw, the Peruvian is served on a crispy bolillo with tomatillo and spicy red salsa on the side. Get the chips so you can enjoy freshly fried, paper-thin plantains, yucca root and corn tortilla chips on the side.
Both the chicken pastor and barbacoa brisket tacos were a delight, topped with fresh pico and Aji Amarillo coleslaw. The pastor was more delicately spiced than we’re used to but was quite refreshing. The barbacoa had tons of flavor and not too much grease, again a nice surprise. They’re flavorful and messy, and we’re definitely going back for more. We also missed the coconut horchata paleta, but the guava and cream cheese empanadas hit the spot, almost like an inside out bagel with cream cheese and jelly, only crispy.
Open for a little over a week, Boca 31 is off to a good start. Currently BYOB, they hope to have their permits sorted out soon so diners can enjoy a beer or two with dinner. Once Armadillo Ale Works gets their brewery up and going next door at the space formerly known as the Hive, we anticipate a lot more foot traffic down that way. And when the weather starts cooling off, Boca 31 is poised to be the next hot-ticket patio for happy hour.
Boca 31, 207 E Mulberry St., Denton