After moving to Winnetka Heights four years ago, Joe and Julie Mata decided to open an Authentic Mexican Restaurant in Oak Cliff. “This community is very eccentric,” Julie says. “You can find all types of people here and that is why we love it.”

Joe is from Michoacan, Mexico and can remember wanting to share his mother’s recipes with others as early as high school. The couple opened Tio Joe’s in April of 2005 and business has been stable since the beginning. Aside from the Tex Mex items on the menu, most of the entrees come straight from his mother’s kitchen.

The eatery sits in an unassuming location on Sylvan between Ft. Worth Avenue and the Trinity River Bridge, but the patio is almost impossible to miss as you pass by. Reminiscent of a restaurant on the beach with its palm trees, plants, fountain and other tropical accents, it’s quite possible that Tio Joe’s has the best patio this side of the river. 

On our visit, we of course started with chips, salsa and queso. It has been said that you can tell how good the food at a Mexican restaurant will be by critiquing the salsa. Using this rule of thumb, we were certain the food would be excellent. The salsa is quite spicy with the perfect balance of flavor and texture. The queso was also tasty with its mixed cheeses and bell peppers, but was a little on the thin side.

“When we opened, people thought we were crazy for choosing this location”

We ordered three adult entrees and two kids’ plates. The Carne Asada arrived at the table with charro beans, a cheese quesadilla and grilled veggies. The steak was flavorful and the veggies were truly grilled to perfection. The chicken and beef fajitas, which can be another tell-tale indicator of quality Tex Mex cuisine, were high on the taste chart. My favorite choice of the night was the Shrimp Flautas Adeitas. Served with rice pilaf, salad and an avocado cream sauce, the three flautas were overflowing with giant shrimp and roasted poblano peppers, which offered a zesty flavor. The kids enjoyed the quesadillas, but seemed to be more interested in exploring the vast patio than actually eating.

“When we opened, people thought we were crazy for choosing this location,” Joe recounts. Julie adds, “But with the plans for the Trinity River Project, we felt that it was a good choice. We opened on Joe’s birthday and that was a mistake,” she continues. “We were extremely busy and he barely got a cake,” she muses. Now the couple is considering another location in the next couple of years. “We want to make sure this one continues to have a lot of business first. Right now, we are very busy every day at lunch, but slower in the evenings,” Julie says. “But we’re pretty sure another location will come. Just as you probably grew up at El Fenix, we want the kids to grow up with Tio Joe’s,” Joe states.

So the next time you have a craving for a little atmosphere with your Mexican food and margarita, consider a visit to Tio Joe’s. They are open Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and Sunday 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Tio Joe’s is located at 3311 Sylvan Ave. and hosts live music on Friday and Saturday evenings.