First Look

Toluca in Uptown: A First Look and Chat with Co-Owner TJ Franks

The vibrant bar area of Toluca
The vibrant bar area of Toluca Lauren Drewes Daniels

Nestled in the side-bosom of the Gables Villa Rosa on Cedar Springs Road, next to the Ill Minster Pub, Toluca is an organic Mexican food restaurant that opened in November. Co-owner TJ Franks has been around for a while: He also has Southpaw’s Grill, which started peddling clean organic meals way-WAY before it was cool.

Since then, Franks has watched the Dallas dining landscape evolve.

“The restaurant scene here is completely different [from 2007],” Franks says. “First, Dallas has become a test market for national brands. They say if you can survive in Dallas, you can pretty much survive anywhere in the nation that fits your model.”

Franks attributes part of that influx to big corporations moving to the area, such as Toyota and Boeing. But, perhaps a bigger force is the delivery services.

“Delivery has completely changed the overall success rate of restaurants,” Franks says. “When we first opened Southpaw’s, I would share my clientele base with a few other restaurants around us. Now I’m competing against hundreds of restaurants. And the big delivery companies charge a big fee to be a part of this new convenience craze.”

It’s a marketing tool they’re playing to. On a recent visit at his Toluca — a rainy day around noon — at least three delivery drivers were in and out in half an hour.

“We have eyes on us everyday that might not know us, and staying top-of-mind is a key to success, along with providing a consistent and quality product,” Frank says.

Toluca is an eagerly floral and bright space.Trees pop right out of the middle of tables, colorful artwork adorns the walls, and neon-green chairs sit atop the polished cement floor.

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The MexiCali salad from Toluca that's pretty enough to eat.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
Seconds after walking in, the bartender, Alex, intercepted me to explain their ordering system. There are two kiosks on a wall near the entrance. She gave me a 24-second tutorial, her long colorful nails flying across the screen demonstrating how to build bowls and burritos, then deleting it all so I could start my order.

Within 36 seconds I was on my way. We need service like this at the DPS. Seriously, can we talk about that for a minute? (No, I know we can’t because our heads would explode.)

But at Toluca you really are almost forced, possibly against your will, to eat healthy. You’ll probably walk away from your table a better person. Just let it happen.

The base of every meal is vegan. You can choose from semi-built tacos, burritos or bowls. An example of “semi-built” is the Pura Vida, which includes black beans, quinoa, sweet baby bell peppers, roasted corn and romaine. Then, you add your proteins, cheese or toppings.

Carnivores will be happy here, too, though. Proteins include vegan spicy barbacoa, vegan chorizo, portobello mushroom, (non-vegan) mojo ahi tuna, ancho-chili short rib, shredded verde chicken and a spicy green chorizo. Tip: the vegan queso fresco is great.

The bar offers a full range of mixed drinks with house-made syrups. A spicy paloma is made with fresh grapefruit juice and a jalapeño cane sugar reduction.

The finished products are art. You’ll be inclined to look at it for just a bit and maybe take it home to mom, like that ashtray you made in the third grade. See what I made, Mom?

Before my salad even hit my table, I asked with great excitement, “Ooh! Can I eat the flower?”

She said no, it’s just for decoration. Bummer. So, I put it in my hair. Then, I lost it running to my car in the rain. I should have just eaten it.

Toluca, 2600 Cedar Springs Road (Uptown). Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Saturday; closed Sunday.
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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.