At 23 years old, Julian Rodarte is the youngest restaurant owner in Trinity Groves in West Dallas. He is a charismatic guy with an iPhone full of gorgeous food photos -- his gorgeous food -- and a lot of ideas about what Mexican food should taste like in Dallas.
This recent graduate of New York's revered Culinary Institute of America has a dad who has spent nearly a lifetime working in Dallas restaurants. Together, they just opened their first restaurant, Beto & Son.
It's located in Trinity Groves, a restaurant park and incubator for potentially scalable restaurants. Whereas some restaurateurs pride themselves upon opening just one downhome shop, Trinity Groves' investors aren't afraid to say they want to create and cultivate the next chain restaurant. Money guys Phil Romano, Larry "Butch" McGregor and Stuart Fitts own a piece of most of the Trinity Groves restaurants, and a team of restaurant veterans offer financial and organizational support.
For Julian Rodarte and his dad and co-owner Beto Rodarte, working with an investor like Romano -- who started Fuddrucker's, Romano's Macaroni Grill and more -- is nothing new.
Romano hired Beto more than 20 years ago to help run Nacho Mama's -- which became Cozymel's Coastal Mex. When Dallas-based Brinker International purchased Cozymel's, Rodarte went with it. He worked as a corporate chef for the mega-chain restaurant group for two decades, and he created most of the Mexican-inspired items on the menu at Chili's.
As a kid, Julian called Romano "Uncle Phil."
Beto & Son came about when Romano asked his old chef pal and his chef-school son if they wanted to open their own place. But what would they cook?
"All the stuff you guys wouldn't let me do," Beto jokes.
The Rodartes' playful menu contains some surprises. You'll find Mexican poutine, their south-of-the-border spin on the popular Canadian bar snack. But here, instead of french fries, the Rodartes make mashed potato and masa fries, then top them with chicken tinga, queso, tomatillo sauce and a fried egg. Also on the menu are noodle bowls, which Beto says were a regular dinner item at his home growing up in Durango, Mexico. The tropical salmon noodles are a colorful, Instagram-worthy bowl topped with a piece of seared salmon, chipotle cream, pickled onions and avocado.
It's Beto's favorite dish on the menu.
Julian and Beto know they're opening a Mexican restaurant in a Dallas market that's "so saturated," the son says. They make their own flour tortillas and buy bread from a panaderia two blocks away in West Dallas in order to be different, they say.
"And you can't just put sauce on an enchilada anymore," Julian points out. (Sloppy Tex-Mex: not his thing.) The enchiladas at Beto & Son come topped with lovely shaved radishes.
Julian says he wanted to be a chef since he was a teenager. In an effort to steer him away from the restaurant business, Beto put him to work washing dishes at the age of 15. "That'll teach him," Beto said. Julian continued washing dishes until he earned the right to cook.
Romano likes Julian because "he cooks for millennials," he says.
Beto, then, "understands how to make it into multiple restaurants," Romano says. Once Beto & Son gets rolling, both owners hope they can expand to other locations in Dallas, as is the scope for nearly all of the Trinity Groves restaurants.
"We're making a model here," Romano says, "and then you put wheels on it."
Beto & Son opened Nov. 18 at 3011 Gulden Lane (in Trinity Groves), Dallas. Details.