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Raul and Olga Reyes: The Determined Cooks

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In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 30 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Mark Graham. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

During any given dinner service, Olga Reyes mans the pass inside the small kitchen tucked in the back of Mesa in Oak Cliff. Two types of ceviche, salsa fresca, avocados, chayote squash and papaya cut into a large dice, cucumber and jicama shredded into wisps of long hair, a finely grained crumble of cojita, micro cilantro and other embellishments and garnishes fill the small, stainless steel bins before her -- waiting as she puts the finishing touches on plates of duck mole, cochinita pibil and other dishes from her native Veracruz.

Out front, her husband, Raul, in tightly buttoned, freshly pressed whites, massages the crowd. He runs plates, describes dishes with passion and smoothes potential wrinkles, all while keeping a watchful eye over his son Raul and daughter Jaretzy, who greet guests at the door and tend bar.

It wasn't always like this. A few years ago, when Raul opened a similar regional Mexican restaurant in the same space, his wife was clipping hairdos at the beauty salon next door. La Pampolana Veracruzana eventually shuttered, but the closure was only temporary: Mesa, dressed in oranges and browns and accented in cool, silvered cedar, rose out of the ashes of that first failed attempt. The Reyeses never looked back. The restaurant, buried in a Jefferson Boulevard strip alongside a discount shoe store and a shuttered pawnshop, has been hailed by critics, including this one, as one of the city's best. And they're still going.

A large patio built from reclaimed lumber is set to open in the coming weeks. And Olga's Beauty Salon will follow soon after, re-invented as a yet-to-be-named stylish lounge giving Mesa fans an excuse to hang out after dinner. Pay attention to the woodwork throughout all three spaces. Raul built a significant portion of the restaurant with his own hands, demonstrating the gritty determination this family will surely become known for as their little restaurant empire grows.

See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

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