Latin street food comes to life at Denton’s Boca 31

Latin street food comes to life at Denton’s Boca 31

Latin street food comes to life at Denton’s Boca 31
October 11
23:28 2017

A sunflower yellow and sky blue fence lines the quaint restaurant on a sunny afternoon as customers laugh among the Latin music.

At Boca 31, the breeze attracts customers outside as they sit on the patio enjoying the array of empanadas and tostones, a favorite of the locals.

Inside, Boca 31 is bustling as the open kitchen invites everyone to take a peek of how Latin food is prepped and cooked.

Adrianna Santiago, a server and food preparer, brushes the empanadas with a layer of butter.

“This is our famous empanada,” Santiago said. “We make them four times a day because they are so popular.”

Santiago, a public health student, recently moved here from McKinney, Texas and has worked at Boca 31 for a month and a half. As her first job in Denton, Santiago finds the environment great to work in.

“[It’s] really nice [to work at] a place [and] know what’s on the menu,” Santiago said. “I’m Puerto Rican. Tostones are really big in Puerto Rico, and it’s more personal because you get to share what the food is really like. I think people like that.”

Santiago likes how the restaurant brings in many familiar faces since locals keep making their way back for more.

“Sometimes it gets busy, but I love it,” Santiago said. “You’re always doing something — it never stops.”

The family environment is on display as the customers and kitchen staff greet each other with ease. The atmosphere is guided by the delectable aromas of savory food.

Chef Andres Meraz prepares food in the kitchen of his restaurant, Boca 31. He opened the restaurant in July 2016. Jacob Ostermann

Owner and chef Andres Meraz puts a unique spin on Latin-American cuisine that gets customers talking.

Meraz opened Boca 31 a little over a year ago, and he said the reception has been overwhelming.

“It’s going great,” Meraz said. “Really good actually — we’ve been getting busier and busier.”

Deemed “Latin street food,” Boca 31 has expanded their food style into something that melds different food concepts from around Latin America.

“It gives me a bigger range of cooking style,” Meraz said. “It’s not one cuisine, like only Peruvian cuisine. So I can get away with doing plantains from the Caribbeans and using Mexican ingredients in Peruvian dishes. We [also] have the empanadas which would be [a] Puerto Rican recipe. My wife is Peruvian, so I use some of their ingredients.”

Being both the owner and chef has its perks. Meraz has the authority to switch things up whenever the current system is not working. Some of the items on the menu were originally not up to par, but the combination of ingredients worked well together. Meraz even dared to change the menu right before opening the restaurant — a testament to his dedication to satisfying customers.

“I’ve been cooking for a long time, but running it is hard because everything is my job,” Meraz said. “It’s my job to oversee everything, and it’s hard to be consistent.”

Challenges aside, Meraz said there are many benefits to owning and operating his own eatery.

“Having a chef run it is easier [too] because someone who’s going to open up a restaurant will want to cook their own food,” Meraz said. “I can change something based on what ingredient we have or erase something off the board because we don’t have the ingredient.”

Although Meraz calls the shots, his wife has a big influence on the food.

Being of Peruvian descent, she was the one that took him to Peruvian restaurants and further introduced him into the food that would become part of Boca 31. Her mother always cooked Peruvian food, which made Meraz more curious.

“[My wife] being picky helps me read other people in the area,” Meraz said. “My original plan was an upscale restaurant, but she told me I’d have to tone it down in an area like this. You have to understand that area.”

Raised in the San Fransisco bay area, Meraz got his start at a young age, being exposed to cooking by age 11.

“My mom raised three boys, and I always had to cook at home,” Meraz said.

Along with that, he worked at his grandfather’s restaurant, Carnitas. Since it was only open three days a week, the restaurant would have lines snaking down the street.

“Fifty years and still running,” Meraz said.

When it came time to figure out what to do after high school, he tried out various fields, from computer classes to construction.

“I looked into construction and hated it — maybe because there was no food around,” Meraz said.

Through connections, Meraz landed himself in Spain at a three-star Michelin restaurant, Akelarre, in San Sebastián, which is the highest honor a restaurant can receive. Although he was already at the top, Meraz chose to divert and open his own restaurant that was run just by him.

Using his vast experience from Carnitas to Akelarre, Boca 31 came to life.

“I looked in a lot of different places, and this was a good town,” Meraz said. “It had a full kitchen ready to go, so I wouldn’t have to build anything. They have everything set here, and I listen to what the people say. We didn’t have a veggie taco before, but everyone was asking for it, so we added it on. You have to give what the people want.”

The song slows down, but the kitchen continues on as Meraz joins. After cooking pork pulled chicken for the tacos, he then garnishes it with spices to add flavor. The staff continues its fast pace as line cook Caleb Yoder cuts vegetables for preparation.

“I like the environment and the food,” Yoder said.

Santiago greets another customer that walks in, taking her order before heading back to the kitchen.

The customer, UT Arlington student Monica Canizares, heard of Boca 31 when she booked it for her dad’s birthday.

“It was really good when I tried it,” Canizares said. “I really like the sweet potatoes and the guava-cheese empanadas.”

Looking into the future, Meraz has plans for more restaurants, possibly revisiting his original seafood concept. But for now, Meraz’s focus is to be the Latin street food of Denton.

Featured Image: Chef Andres Meraz holds two of his entrees at Boca 31. Jacob Ostermann 

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Sadia Saeed

Sadia Saeed

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