Nationally acclaimed El Rincón del Maíz now operates from a new location in Denton, where it continues to serve traditional Southeast Mexican cuisine and a large menu of Mexican vegan dishes.
Chef Michelle Torres, 39, and her husband Carlos Guillén, 49, opened the Denton restaurant in July 2023 after the Garland restaurant closed in February. They were in Garland for a year and a half.
“The place was already too small, so we decided to look for a bigger place,” Torres said.
El Rincón gained national prominence in September 2022 when it was included in the list of the 50 best new restaurants in the country by Bon appetit magazine.
The new El Rincón del Maíz restaurant is located at 1431 E. McKinney St. The restaurant still offers two menus, one with traditional dishes and the other vegan.
On his menu of traditional Mexican dishes, you can find tostadas de plantain, which are toasted tortillas topped with banana and marinated chicken on top; cochinita pibil, a very traditional Yucatán dish made with pork, oranges, and ahiote; black shepherd; apology; and a menudo made from beef stomach in red chili broth.
On its vegan menu, El Rincón offers the vegan cochinita pibil, made with grated jackfruit; vegan tinga made from carrots; vegan chickpea chorizo; or chicharrón de coco, made with coconut slices in a green sauce.
Also known are their flavorful flatbreads such as cilantro, nopal, beetroot, mango habanero, chipotle, guajillo, and chocolate.
From its cuisine to national recognition
Torres never thought about opening a restaurant. Since arriving in the United States 23 years ago, she has always worked in factories in Dallas and Garland. Guillen, her husband, is an electrical engineer.
At home, she always liked to cook not only according to the recipes that she learned from her mother and grandmother, but also according to new combinations that delighted her family. Her food was so good that she was always in charge of cooking for family meals.
Guillén always insisted on opening a restaurant, but Torres did not want to; he seemed too big for her. Until something happened that changed the course of her life.
“I got sick. I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and started cooking vegan food at home,” Torres said. “Because of the illness, I stopped working and started experimenting with food because my idea was to avoid meat to lose weight, and I succeeded.”
Since Torres was not working, her husband pushed her to find a job and open a restaurant. They found a former Sonic location in Garland and set up their first business.
“My idea was to offer my people some Mexican food that is not easy to find in Texas,” Torres said. “We are from the south of the country, we cook with a lot of spices, and we have very traditional dishes that take a long time to cook, and they are not so easy to find here.”
Torres is from Villahermosa, the capital of the Mexican state of Tabasco. Her family has lived in this state for generations. According to her, the chef is even a distant relative of Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador.
The chef’s father was born in Tepetitan, a city in the municipality of Macuspan, the same place where the President of Mexico was born.
“When I grew up, we saw each other often, and I remember when Andres Manuel, my father and other cousins went to play baseball in the city; they were always together,” Torres said.
In his restaurant, Torres offers typical dishes from the state of Yucatan, neighboring Tabasco, whose cuisine is considered one of the richest in the world. In 2019, the capital of this state, Mérida, was named a Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO.
In the first few months of El Rincón’s operation in 2022, things didn’t go well. Torres said they were on the verge of closing because it was too difficult to pay rent and bills to operate. Just eight months after opening, the good news came.
“Actually, we were going to give up,” Torres said. “But one day people started coming, congratulating us and saying that we did a good job. That was until someone told us what we did Bon appetit list that we knew what we were being congratulated on, and we didn’t even know what it was.” Bon appetit had previously emailed El Rincón notifying them of the recognition, but Torres and Guillén thought it was spam.
Bon appetit magazine named El Rincón one of the 50 Best New Restaurants in the US in September 2022. And from that day on, the restaurant could not keep up with all the visitors who came to try their dishes.
“We really had no idea how important this was to us. I still can’t believe it,” Torres said.
Guillen said that in those days they were visited by employees of other restaurants who tried to show them the extent of this recognition.
“They would come and tell me that where they worked, there are chefs who went to study in France or other countries, and they were not even mentioned there (in Bon appetit),” Gillen said. “And they couldn’t believe that we, in our first restaurant and completely unfamiliar with this world, were on this list; that’s when we realized the magnitude of what had happened.”
Torres and Guillén decided to close their Garland establishment because it could only accommodate 30 people and they wanted to accommodate more patrons. They can now accommodate over 100 people and have seven employees at their new facility in Denton.
Although they intended to open their restaurant in downtown McKinney, it was faster for them to open in Denton because the location was ready to go, so they decided to open it across the street from the Denton County Courthouse.
“From the beginning, it was a surprise that most of our clients are Americans because we created this concept for Latin American visitors,” Torres said. “We love that they get to know our culture.”
Torres said visitors come from all over North Texas and some drive up to an hour to eat their meals.
“I am honored to serve all of our customers and show them the best of Mexican cuisine,” said Torres.
El Rincon del Maiz is located at 1431 E. McKinney St., Denton and is open daily from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm except Sunday when they close at 4:00 pm. You can visit their Facebook page. Here.