The lightbulb moment came in 2016 while watching the comedy-drama film Chef. In the movie, Jon Favreau’s character quits his restaurant job and opens a food truck to travel the country and rekindle his culinary creativity.
“That looks easy,” thought Carlos and Carla Rodriguez. The twins and their parents — all of whom worked in the Dallas restaurant industry — daydreamed about converting their little bungalow home on Bishop Arts’ rapidly changing Eighth Street into their own restaurant. That dream was financially out of reach, but a food truck? That seemed doable.
The family sold their 980-square-foot house (now a lemonade shop) and used the money to open their own food truck. They named it Cuates Kitchen, which means Twins Kitchen if translated from Spanish. It wasn’t at all easy like the movies showed, but they found success making tacos and empanadas from their native Veracruz, Mexico.
Five years later, the 31-year-old siblings’ dream of opening a restaurant in a little old house has come to fruition. Carla and Carlos, along with their mother, Fatima Molina, opened Cuates Kitchen as a brick-and-mortar restaurant earlier this month in Oak Lawn, where they’re serving up the tacos and empanadas that put their food truck on the map.
After months of searching for a second-generation restaurant that was move-in ready, they found it in the former home of Modest Rogers — a beloved but fleeting Venezuelan-inspired restaurant that closed last October.
The tiny restaurant on Fairmount Street has just 24 seats and a compact kitchen, but it is a big step up in size from the confines of a food truck, Carlos Rodriguez says. On weekends, the family would get a spot at the Truck Yard in The Colony and work long days slinging tacos from the crowded, hot belly of the truck.
“It would get up to 160 degrees in there sometimes,” he said. “It felt like someone was lighting my back on fire.”
Running the restaurant is a family affair, too. Carlos Rodriguez oversees the restaurant’s front of house, and Carla runs the kitchen with their mom, who makes all of the corn tortillas by hand. The mother and daughter previously worked in the kitchens of Boulevardier, Veracruz Cafe, HG Sply Co. and the Theodore. Their dad, who used to be a cook at Smoke and Lucia, helps on the weekends.
Many of the restaurant’s recipes like the mole, barbacoa with guajillo peppers, and chicken tinga are recipes passed down from the twins’ grandparents. Other recipes like the cochinita pibil, which marinates for a minimum of 12 hours and won “Best Traditional Taco” at the 2019 Tacolandia festival, were developed by Carla.
Everything on the menu, especially the ceviche and fish tacos, are echoes of the twins’ upbringing in a tiny 25-house town in Veracruz.
“Every day we had homemade tortillas, homemade everything,” Carla said. “We try to get our food to taste as good as the food we had growing up. I think we get close.”
They will still use the food truck for private events, but their main focus now is the restaurant that’s been years in the making, the siblings said.
Cuates Kitchen is at 3811 Fairmount St., Dallas. It is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday and for brunch on Sunday. cuateskitchen.com.