All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their histories while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
There are many categories of heat at Pepe's & Mito’s. Depending on the Texas season and the time of day, sunlight will pour over the patio and onto warm chorizo. At lunch, steam traces the dining room air, trailing back and forth from the kitchen, from the smoky sizzle of steak fajitas.
The flour tortillas, the fresh ones handmade in the kitchen, have spots of charred bubbles, and the tamales are tender from steam. Make sure the tamales are smothered in the jalapeño-green salsa because at Pepe's & Mito’s, happiness is a warm tamale.
If it’s patio weather, which is forever the best time to be at this 24-year-old Deep Ellum restaurant, then sitting with Pedro and Sandra Rojas’ family recipes is one of the most Dallas experiences money can buy. Why is it quintessential? Pepe's & Mito’s leans more on the “Mex” in Tex-Mex. The tamales are passed-down recipes from owner Pedro “Pepe” Rojas' grandfather.
“I don’t know how many generations the tamales go back,” Sandra Rojas says, "but they’re handmade.”
Chorizo is made in house too, Rojas’ grandfather’s recipe comes from his days as a meat market storefront owner in Mexico. That recipe’s been passed down, and Pedro Rojas won’t make a new batch if he doesn’t have the right ingredients.
“We never, ever, ever buy chorizo in a store,” Sandra Rojas says. “A lot chorizo is made with ground beef. We use real meat. It’s a lot of work. You can’t just make it and sell it right away.”
Pedro and Sandra Rojas grew up on homemade flour tortillas and scrambled eggs speckled with juicy chorizo. The dish is served at brunch on the weekends. Pile the scrambled eggs and chorizo into steaming flour tortillas, dabbing salsa that’s near sparkling-green from the jalapeños. It’s a true Texas brunch, and it will clear the cobwebs from your mind. Add a cold Negra Modelo wedged with lime, and Big Tex will emerge from his warehouse and embrace you in a hug before sprinting into the horizon.
Pepe's & Mito’s — Rojas family nicknames for Pedro and his father — had a slow start. Almost 25 years ago, on May 20, the restaurant was half a block away on Elm and Walton streets. It was a tiny room — the original space seated around 50, including the patio. A review in The Dallas Morning News broke open the floodgates, and the restaurant outgrew the spot. In March 2012, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives broke the dam altogether.
“When they came out — oh my God — we had a line going nonstop,” Sandra Rojas says. Fieri wolfed down tacos norteños, grilled beef tacos simmered in a chipotle-wine sauce, and customers showed up in herds. The Rojas team anchored themselves and kept the recipes the same.
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For some of the house specialties, you may find yourself three bowls of chips in before the food arrives. Waits are forgotten when tamales arrive — they hum with nose-running heat. Traditional Tex-Mex dishes like smothered enchiladas and queso don't have the same electricity.
“I’ve been asked many times where we buy our chorizo, and we just don’t," Sandra Rojas says. "My husband is not going to change it.”
The made-from-scratch flour tortillas take time, too, resulting in a chewy-meets-charred base for your taco. Whether you love this version or not, they radiate a warmth at the table that’s lightyears better than the store-bought stuff. Sandra Rojas served them for breakfast as far back as her childhood.
Pepe's & Mito's, 2911 Elm St. (Deep Ellum)