We Texans like to think of ourselves as having a close relationship with Mexico, in regard to culinary aspects. Our geographic proximity has allowed flavors and specific cuisines from Mexico to make their way over with ease, but there is still a divide. It is relatively simple to find a decent taco, elote, fruteria, or any other Mexican street food in DFW. It is also simple to find a restaurant offering a high-end take on hyper-regional cuisine. But where is the in-between? At Downtown Plano’s El Piropo, that’s where.
El Piropo is not fancy. But it isn’t a hole in the wall, either. It falls between, nestling itself in a relatively unexplored valley. This was exactly where José Barraza and his family planned to land. José is just one of three from the Barraza family that run El Piropo, but he is the “unofficial face” of the restaurant, as he calls himself. He has a set of broad shoulders and a dark beard that contrasts against his pervasive pearly smile. He points generally around El Piropo.
“We want to showcase the flavors of Mexico,” José starts. “But not just food. There is a connotation of flavors being food, but flavor is also the incorporation of art, of ambiance, of music.” El Piropo inhabits the former space of Kelly’s Eastside on K Avenue. It’s narrow and cozy, with warm orange paint and exposed brick. It is splattered with art hanging off any exposed wall that could have a nail sunk into it, and smells like plantains straight from the fryer. In pleasant weather, rows of brightly patterned chairs fill the outdoor patio.
“We aren’t Tex Mex. So many restaurants go overboard with their version of Mexico that it becomes a caricature,” José sighs. “We wanted a more subtle approach to it.”
El Piropo has been open for a few months now. The menu spans across all of Mexico, picking up flavors along the way. Fajitas don’t come alongside cheddar cheese and flour tortillas, but instead come out bubbling with nopales and guajillo pepper. The fish isn’t beer battered and surrounded by a mountain of cabbage and sour cream, but instead marinated in pineapple juice and mezcal. It’s food that doesn’t try to be aggressive, go over the top or cost a fortune.
But as José claims, flavor is much more than just food, and El Piropo is more than just one room. Off in the second lobe of the restaurant, a strange feeling takes place. Upon stepping into this portion of El Piropo, the balance shifts from a restaurant to an art gallery that just-so-happens to serve food.
“We’ve got our dining area, and on the other side we have ‘the museum.’ We have art, alebrijes [the Mexican spirit guide animals most known from the movie “Coco”], and we have dancing lessons on Fridays,” José explains. “We also have speed-dating events.”
Speed dating alongside enchiladas and mezcal sounds a little strange at first, but at El Piropo it makes perfect sense. El piropo means “flirtatious compliment,” after all. But it’s not entirely about making contact. It’s about keeping that contact – with family, with food and with culture. El Piropo may seem like a simple spot to grab an enchilada, but it’s quietly filling in the missing link of fine yet casual Mexican food that Plano needs.El Piropo >