WORDS BY ALYSSA STEVENSON; IMAGES BY WILL MILNE
On the lot sandwiched between the Greater Denton Arts Council and the empty space we have lovingly come to know as 'The Hive' there sits a brightly colored shack that has gone through its fair share of restaurants. This time however, Chef Andres Meraz and his partner are bringing enough flavor and soul to the food that we are completely addicted to what he's dishing out and serving up. Read on to find out what we love about Boca 31, and why you're going to ditch your afternoon Sonic for some of their aguas frescas.
The first time we stepped foot into Boca 31 it was at the urging of a well-trusted friend and neighbor, but since we've been in and taken our first bites, we've been heading back and taking all of our friends with us. It is definitely our kind of place, small and noisy, close to the action of the kitchen, where there is a single chef enveloped in the steam and heat of the kitchen, serving up orders left and right - all the while with a gracious smile on his face.
It turns out that Meraz has worked in some incredibly high-profile fine dining establishments not only in America, but in Spain as well. He's cooked in Michelin starred restaurants and come up along famous chefs, but has chosen Denton as a home to be near to family. He opened Boca 31 - not with Michelin stars in mind - but as a sort of soul food for people. Meraz is of Mexican heritage, but he brings in the flavors of other latin countries, to change it up from the Tex-Mex that is common to the area.
On our first trip, we basically ordered half of the menu. It didn't matter that there were only two of us. We started off with the two empanadas, which were delivered fresh, hot, and with a side of garlic crema. The first one was full of spinach, goat cheese and caramelized onions,, which oozed out as we took our first bites. The empanada was fully filled, with no space or room left inside of the pastry, which was perfectly flaky. The second was a pork chile verde, filled with flavorful slow cooked pork and a lively chile accompaniment. Topped with the crema, this is an empanada that we'll be ordering over and over again.
"The Peruvian" sandwich consisted of marinated citrus pork loin on bolillo bread with sweet potato and citrus onions. I know what you're thinking, that potatoes have no place on a sandwich. That is where you're wrong. Meraz makes you wonder why you've been leaving sweet potato off of our sandwiches all of these years because this is a revelation in the world of sandwich. The pork loin is moist and flavorful, and citrus onions cut through the starch of the potato and make the flavors of it all sing together.
And yet the tacos are still our favorite. Soft corn tortillas, stuffed to the brim with slow cooked fillings, and toppped with aji amarillo coleslaw and pico de gallo, we're talking about tacos worth sweating in the 100 degree sun for. The chicken pastor has a bright and lively citrus kick, and is a perfect choice alongside their aqua fresca of the day. (Our favorite is their pineapple mint.) The brisket blew us away - as it is slow cooked in a multitude of peppers for more than 6 hours, which yields tender beef with layers of flavor, but none of the accosting heat we are sometimes confronted by. Meraz expertly introduces all sorts of peppers into the mix, but makes sure that you can actually taste it, and leaves you wanting more without your eyes watering. The potato and chorizo is comfort food at its finest - layered with refried beans and queso fresco, this proves that potatoes can burst with flavor, and be a legitimate filling for a taco.
We finished up our meal with a second round of aguas frescas to go, and even took a few back to the office, and a couple of horchata-coconut popsicles. The popsicles were creamy and cool with a cinnamon kick, just what we needed as we headed back to work on hot day. Check out Boca 31 on Bell Street, and say hi to Chef Meraz for us, you won't regret it.