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Food & Drink

Meet the Humble Family Behind El Rincón del Maíz, One of Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurants in America

Michell Torres still can't believe that her vegan menu of South Mexican dishes would garner such attention.
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From left, Carlos Guillen, Michell Torres, Gerardo Guillen and Maria Garcia. Nataly Keomoungkhoun

A week ago, Michell Torres was making tamales and stuffing tacos at El Rincón del Maíz, a South Mexican eatery in Garland that she and her family opened in an old Sonic Drive-In last October.

The 39-year-old is a self-taught cook who has been making food for her friends and family for years. After being pestered to open her own restaurant, she finally did with help from her husband, Carlos Guillen, 48, and their son, Gerardo Guillen, 20. The men do a little bit of everything—waiting on tables, taking orders, managing the register—while Torres handles the food in the kitchen with the rest of the staff.

Coming up on a year since its opening, things were looking fine, Carlos said. But last Thursday they received news they never saw coming: El Rincón del Maíz was named one of the 50 best new restaurants in America by Bon Appétit, with a distinct shout-out to their expansive vegan menu crafted by Torres herself.

“She still won’t believe it,” said Carlos, who, along with Gerardo, helped translate Torres’ answers from Spanish to English. “These past three days, we’ve seen the difference.”

The Guillen-Torres family is anticipating a bump in traffic over the next few weeks, especially after the busy days after the announcement. Carlos said he’s ordered double or triple their usual inventory to keep up with demand.

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The vegan quesabirras. Brian Reinhart

El Rincón del Maíz has two menus, one with a hearty range of meats and a vegan one to cater to plant-based lifestyles. Both have South Mexican flavors, using adobo sauce (chili powder, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and herbs), recardo negro (a sauce made from variety of dried chilis, corn tortillas, herbs, and other spices), and achiote paste (orange juice, annatto seeds, garlic, herbs, and spices) across both spreads. The mole sauce—one of Torres’ specialties—has ingredients like peppers, chocolate, and tortillas.

Torres grew up cooking and eating most of the food she made, but when she was diagnosed with diabetes, she decided to cut back on meat. She was frustrated that there weren’t many vegan or plant-based foods that she enjoyed eating, so she came up with her own menu.

The first few “experiments” of South Mexican vegan foods didn’t go very well, said Carlos, who prefers to eat meat over plants. Then came the hibiscus and cauliflower tacos.

“She made the tacos and I said, ‘Oh man this is real good,’” Carlos said.  

The vegan menu includes breakfast items, tacos, and other dishes that are available for lunch and dinner. Popular vegan items are those hibiscus and cauliflower tacos; quesabirrias, made with jackfruit and vegan cheese accompanied by a pepper-based broth; and a vegan version of picaditas, a popular Mexican street food.

Although she’s put together an ace vegan menu, Torres said she enjoys making the pastor negro and cochinita pibil tacos, both of which include pork and remind her of her South Mexican roots.

“Those are very close to her home,” Gerardo said.

When the family heard that El Rincón del Maíz had been named a best new restaurant by Bon Appétit, Gerardo said Torres cried. She never thought that her family-run restaurant would garner any kind of attention, let alone from a national publication.

It all felt like a dream, Gerardo said. Reality hit them in the face this weekend.

“We had someone call in for reservations,” Gerardo said. “We’ve never had to make reservations; I just told him to come by.”

Author

Nataly Keomoungkhoun

Nataly Keomoungkhoun

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Nataly Keomoungkhoun joined D Magazine as the online dining editor in 2022. She previously worked at the Dallas Morning News,…

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