Mesa is in Trouble

The Reyeses; their creamy flan de naranja. Photography by Kevin Marple.

Folks, you wanted authentic regional Mexican food, but you aren’t eating it. So far you’ve dismissed Alma and Café San Miguel. Several other restaurants billed as regional Mexican are suffering and are reworking their menus to add more “familiar” items to attract the borderline adventurous eater. Chef Gabriel Leon lost his dream when he was forced to close Masayrk Modern Mexican Kitchen. When he was offered a chance to start again at Mi Dia, he smartly decided to divide the menu into Tex-Mex, Sante-Fe style, and regional Mexican. MesoMaya bills itself as regional Mexican but almost every table is eating enchiladas. Did the market overfill a bogus demand?

I bring this up because last night I ran across a post on Facebook written by Jaret Reyes. She is the daughter of Olga and Raul Reyes who own and operate Mesa in Oak Cliff. She wrote: “Business is horrible. Mesa will be closing pretty soon if our sells don’t go up :( ” I contacted Jaret and she says:

“Yes, our sales went from being great to not even making enough to pay for bills and it is very depressing. We gave everything that we had to make it work and it’s not. My dad is working on the patio to see if that would bring it up, but its hard to come to work and not have anything. It sucks. We will do whatever it takes to save it.”

This is a gem of a restaurant. They serve some of the best food I’ve eaten in a long time. If you haven’t tried it, skip the urge to eat nachos one time and give their cochinita pibil a try. If you love Mesa, love it more.

40 comments on “Mesa is in Trouble

  1. I, along with my Mexican partner, have enjoyed Mesa on several occasions. We enjoy the flavors of the food and the family. There are items on the menu that we can’t find anywhere else in Dallas. However, we have a few reasons that we don’t go back that often. One, is that most of the dishes have the same flavor components. Too many of them have a dark smoky flavor such as smoked chiles and mole. My partner says “everything tastes the same”. There aren’t enough dishes with bright fresh flavors. Even the seafood dishes have a smokey flaver. So, we find ourselves going elsewhere unless we both are in the mood for those flavors. I’d like to experience some fresher, brighter flavors – particularly with the seafood. Secondly, the dishes are a bit small for the price. I know it’s stereotypical that Americans want larger portions, however we can have two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts and still leave a bit hungry – and we’re not huge eaters. Beefing up the portion sizes or slightly reducing the prices might help. Not long ago we had the lobster enchiladas, which while delicous, had a very small amount of lobster. We were surprised when we got the bill and found that they were $20. The price to value ratio is off. These are the reasons we don’t go that frequently, but I’m sure others will have opposing views. I hope that they do succeed as I think the concept is a winner.

  2. I’m a big fan, and usually have to roll myself out the door because I’ve eaten way too much. For my taste, Mesa is a great spot for a quick weeknight dinner at the bar. I’d welcome some new variety on the menu, but am happy to stick to old favorites in the meantime.

  3. Great location and concept, but I think the $18 average entree price is to blame. Makes it much pricier than neighboring Eno’s, Glorias, Oddfellows, or Vera Cruz.

  4. I am so surprised to read this. I was of the opinion they were packed every night. I will certainly try to do my part to help.

  5. I love Mesa, and every person I know who’s been there praises about their food. Service however is not top notch and prices are pretty high. My suggestion would be more reasonable prices.

  6. Possibly an issue is that they are not in the Bishop Arts district, which has a lot of promotion/PR behind it. You don’t hear many people north of the Trinity saying, “Let’s go to Jefferson Ave to eat!”

  7. I agree – It was my perception that you could not get in the place (ala Lucia). I recall sending people early on and finding they had difficulty getting a res. I assumed they were enjoying a robust business.
    Interesting to here others had the same impression.
    I, too, will make an effort to get over there soon and see what’s what on the plate!

  8. …and I am dyslexic. here hear there their left right… it’s hopeless (at least I used “it’s” correctly)!

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  10. I find The Brad’s comment interesting, because I went fairly early on and had no trouble getting a reservation, in advance or last minute. I’ll be going again soon.

  11. Thanks for the wake up call, Nancy. We’re lucky to have an option like Mesa. It would be a real shame to lose it.

  12. I believe the issue is with weekday business, not weekend. Also, Raul has been putting a lot of money and time into a patio he’s working on, which has included closing the restaurant some nights to work on it.

    I think more than anything this represents a frustration level on Jaretzy’s part. I don’t think any of the Reyes family would consider themselves media savvy and Jaret probably doesn’t realize that saying stuff like this publicly will probably do them more harm than good.

    If you’re really concerned for them or worried you won’t get that mole six months from now, I’d suggest taking three of your friends next Wednesday or Thursday night for dinner.

  13. As the old saying goes…location, location, location. I have no problem heading to Jefferson Ave., but Mesa is competing with a lot of Oak Cliff based restaurants like Eno’s, Hatti’s, Lucia, and others that are stealing the mainstream traffic. It’s a shame this couldn’t have been opened in Bishop Arts, no doubt it would be one of the busiest restaurants in the city.

  14. Name 3 restaurants in Dallas that offered good food consistently at a reasonable price with good service and failed due to lack of business. GO!

    Harder than it sounds…

    Ive never been to Mesa, but sometimes its better to be a bit more introspective rather than to blame the genre of food.

    IJS

  15. People: Mesa is one mile from Bishop Arts. ONE MILE. Doesn’t everyone in Oak Cliff own a bike already? That is like saying “I’d go to Blue Mesa on NW Highway if it was in NorthPark.” Mesa is actually closer to Dallas and easier to get to than Bishop Arts. Babies.

  16. We got the Orange Flan to do for Memorial day- quite the hit! Planning to head down there this weekend for dinner…

  17. @Glenn

    Providing good service and consistently good food at “reasonable” prices is a perfectly normal way to go out of business. Good service and consistent food can both be had by either hiring enough people or hiring exceptionally qualified people, both of which cost money. Good food costs money as well: good ingredients are expensive; having plenty of cooks whether you are busy or slow costs money; having the right equipment or kitchen costs money. Throw in “reasonable” prices and you’re screwed.

    (As an aside, “reasonable prices” usually means competitive prices, which isn’t always reasonable if you want to pay for quality ingredients or make sure no one ever waits 40 minutes for their entree, which is why the places that are consistently great, like a French Laundry or Alinea make you pay $250+ for a meal. As a further aside, last time I was at Alinea, they had over 30 cooks in the kitchen, about 2 or 3 for every diner.)

    It may not always be easy to name great places that went out of business because, you know, they’re gone. However, it’s easy to name mediocre places that succeed and spawn copies of themselves. Why? Because more important to success in the restaurant business are food costs, labor costs, location, trendiness, PR, etc. Way down on the list is great food and service. Sufficient or pretty good food will always make you more money. The choice a chef has to make is how much of his integrity he’ll give up in order to be successful.

  18. I think Mesa is great. But I have been to Meso Maya several times since they open and I think is awesome and I have try a different thing every time. Enchiladas are great , but honestly I did not became a regular for the enchiladas…. Good luck to Mesa love the place.

  19. k Mesa is great. But I have been to Meso Maya several times since they open and I think is awesome and I have try a different thing every time. Enchiladas are great , but honestly I did not became a regular for the enchiladas…. Good luck to Mesa love the place.

  20. We love Mesa and, the entire wonderful and talented Reyes family.
    We’ll try to come in more often. Especially during the week when you need your loyal customers the most. Our prayers are with you. Y que Dios esté con vosotros

  21. Interesting topic. There are many small individual restaurants in Dallas, that offer great food and service, in the same boat. Maybe it would make a good story? I don’t understand the “lemming” mentality in this town, and why the herds go to all these loud over-funded corporate type joints, and chain restaurants…gimme mom’n'pop stores any day!!

  22. Nancy,

    Seriously..Park r u kidding??? the food was consistently one thing BAD!!!. Hectors was an out of date spot for geriatrics, Green Room ran its course and fell victim to bad management and bad location, I’m speaking of the first version not that mess of a couple years ago, and Horne & Decker went the way of all things Horne…POOF!!!

  23. This reminds me of Solendra with D magazine playing the Pick the Winners role. seems to be headed down the same path… I guess there might be a need to reconsider the best new restaurant of the year 2011 since Lucia is still a month plus out on weekend reservations.

  24. Mesa shouldn’t feel bad. It’s not just them. Other than places downtown (mostly in hotels), topless bars and along the Katy Trail, business for neighborhood restaurants is still depressed compared to last year (per TABC sales reports).

    Yet more places keep opening because landlords offer powerful incentives to fill up their empty (former) restaurant spaces. Because incentives are cheaper than tearing out all the restaurant-specific modifications (especially plumbing) made to the building to put a restaurant in the spot in the first place.

    And for the follow-up tenant, it is the least expensive finish-out budget. They’re risk is that their long term guest “draw” won’t overcome their location, and they’ll suffer the same fate as their predecessor in the space.

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  26. another thought…what about a low-priced/casual option? i recognize you don’t have to get fancy to go to Mesa, but in order for us to dine out (read: support) these local restaurants, it would be nice to have some (more) options where you can get 2 entrees for under $25. this CAN be done with fresh ingredients and quality service, or so I thought.

  27. Nancy, if you’re going to imply that the only difference between Jefferson and the B.A.D. is the distance from Highland Park, then you’re willfully neglecting more aspects of urban development, renewal, restaurant ownership, and general business sense than I think most of us have energy to discuss.

    -A Cliff Dweller who doesn’t “own a bike already”

  28. I used to work off of Jefferson for a non-profit. If they aren’t open for lunch, then that may be a big problem there due to the location. I lived in downtown and 90% of my fellow employees at our firm lived outside of Oak Cliff. We were always looking for places to eat at for lunch as well as happy hours right after work. If they aren’t open for lunch, maybe try that.

  29. I’m from Mexico and I really like Mesa but as many have mentioned, the issue is the value equation. To me it is not worth paying $18/$20 for tapa-sized entrees. I would definitely go back more frequently if they adjusted that value equation because their food is really good.

  30. The food is great, service is good, BUT when we were paying our bill, along with a $25 restaurant.com certificate, it was denied!! The owners indicated that they never ageed to participate in the restaurant.com program and said that it was a scam. When I contacted restaurant.com, they confirmed that the restaurant signed a contract. Yet, today the certificate is still on the restaurant.com website. So I am confused. So maybe another reason they may continue to lose business.

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  32. Have been a few times and overall love the food.
    The portions are small which turns me off, I don’t
    want to be hungry when I leave. I understand that
    food costs are important but how much does it
    cost for rice, beans and/or grilled veggies. Some
    dishes come literally with slightly more than a
    tablespoon of rice. Sure, it makes the plates look
    nice since they are basically 10% covered with food
    so there is a lot of room for garnish and sauces.
    Come on, we’re Texas, just give us enough sides
    so I can call it a meal. The prices weren’t too bad
    considering the quality of the entree.

    Second, I had the most wonderful Margarita there.
    Spectacular. 8 oz cup. 75% ice. $8. Drank it in three sips.
    Seriously, I’m not Mark Cuban, I like a good Margarita,
    but I could have drank 10 of them, and $80 doesn’t cut it.

    If you want to cater to the foodie crowd, that’s fine. I can
    go elsewhere. Cafe Veracruz, Gloria’s, Tillman’s, Hattie’s
    all have very good food with above average prices but
    plentiful portions.
    Basically, i