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Restaurants & Bars

La Comida Brings Its Tex-Mex, Yucatán Specialties, and Flamingo Love to Oak Cliff

Brothers Ivan and Mario Urtecho operated La Comida in Addison from late 2014 to late 2019. It took them eight tries to find a new location.
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La Comida has moved into the old Spiral Diner space in Oak Cliff. (The flamingo mural is not finished yet.) Brian Reinhart

Chips and salsa have a way of stealing the show at any Tex-Mex restaurant. As you read over your menu choices, place your order, and wait for dinner, the chips and salsa keep beckoning. “You’re hungry now,” they say. “Why wait until the real meal?”

At La Comida, the beloved restaurant that closed its original Addison location in 2019 and reopened in January in Oak Cliff, the salsa is even more tempting than usual. It’s a deep, rich red hue, and it’s punchily spicy. The dark color comes from the technique—the kitchen roasts tomatoes and peppers in-house—and the heat comes from the ingredients, which include both raw and pickled jalapeños.

If you’re living a mild salsa life, you don’t know the joy of trying chip after chip, working out the exact right amount of salsa to walk the knife-edge balance where the heat is thrilling but not overwhelming.

Until its first location’s closure in late 2019 after five years of service, La Comida was one of the Dallas area’s most beloved Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants. Brothers Ivan and Mario Urtecho, natives of the Yucatán peninsula who lived in Cancún before the town became a global tourism hot spot, worked for decades in Dallas-area restaurants like Mi Cocina before they founded La Comida. The restaurant was a success story until its landlord asked for a sharp increase in rent. The Urtecho brothers started looking for a new location.

They found a new spot nearby and were prepared to sign a lease to move in—in April 2020.

“We had the contract in front of us but we decided to do nothing,” Mario Urtecho says now. At the time, it looked like a stroke of good fortune: they’d managed to avoid the pandemic that was dragging down thousands of restaurants across the United States.

But as the pandemic wore on, the Urtechos kept looking for a new spot and kept coming up empty. The restaurant’s new home, in the former Spiral Diner space just north of the Bishop Arts District, represents their eighth attempt to reopen. For various reasons, the first seven failed.

“We wanted to reopen La Comida because we knew we didn’t close because we were doing badly,” Mario Urtecho explains. “We were doing well.”

Odds are that they will start doing well again. Oak Cliff is a homecoming for the brothers, who lived off Jefferson in the 1990s, sharing a room in the back of a friend’s house. They’ve seen old friends and former Addison regulars visiting the new restaurant already.

La Comida will get its liquor license in the coming weeks and begin serving margaritas and other cocktails. The Urtechos are working on a breakfast menu, which will start each morning at 9 a.m.

When I visited recently for dinner, my table grabbed a couple of combo plates. I was most satisfied by the tacos on each. The crispy beef taco’s tortilla shell is clearly fried fresh to order, with a bubbly, airily crisp texture that the store-bought “shells” can never match. The brisket taco has a great, deep flavor, and it’s loaded with crisp grilled onions, too. The salsas were terrific, and everything else was more or less standard Tex-Mex fare: chile con carne enchiladas, bacon-filled charro beans, a mild “Texas caviar” of black beans, corn, and lime juice.

But this isn’t just a Tex-Mex spot. The Urtecho brothers proudly represent their Yucatán heritage, too, with “tropical” ceviches, mango-jicama-shrimp salads, a cochinita pibil torta, and mahi mahi with a mango-serrano relish. Some of La Comida’s customers are former Cancún tourists seeking out the dishes they ate on the beach.

Mario and Ivan Urtecho’s grandfather owned a small chain of loncherías, small snack bars, in the Yucatán. The brothers came to the United States after Hurricane Gilbert caused catastrophic destruction in September 1988. The storm landed as a Category 5 hurricane, destroyed 60,000 homes, and remains one of the most powerful cyclones to ever make landfall in the Atlantic.

“My brother and I, we lost everything,” Mario Urtecho says. “We saw people die because they didn’t have food. They would say, ‘Hay comida? Dondé esta la comida? No hay comida.’ My brother and I had 15 days without having any fresh food. After that, we always said we would open a restaurant called La Comida. Simple name. La Comida: The Food. And it happened.”

Their upbringing and the devastation of the hurricane, by the way, also explain the feature of La Comida that every first-timer notices when they walk in: the restaurant’s over-the-top flamingo decor. Big, bold, pink flamingos decorate the menu, the windows, the walls, the bathroom doors, and even an enormous outside mural by local Danielle Rule. (She’s not done. As of this writing, the front of La Comida is still getting more painted-on flamingos.)

Flamingos congregate by the thousands around the Yucatán, including a huge wintertime gathering of migratory flamingos at Celestún. The Urtecho brothers have many memories around the birds, including an old saying that the pinker a flamingo is, the more shrimp it eats.

“When I grew up, you saw flamingos crossing the street,” Mario Urtecho remembers. “And Hurricane Gilbert killed thousands of flamingos.”

He’s excited to roll out a full cocktail menu in early April, for a lot of reasons. It’s good for business. It makes a restaurant more lively. But also: La Comida’s signature margarita is an organic marg with a pink sangria swirl. And its name is—what else?—the Flamingo.

La Comida, 1101 N. Beckley Ave.

Author

Brian Reinhart

Brian Reinhart

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Brian Reinhart became D Magazine's dining critic in 2022 after six years of writing about restaurants for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.

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