When Raphael Carreon was hired on as a dishwasher at El Chico’s in 1960, little did he know he was taking the first step up on a ladder of success. He soon rose through the ranks at the restaurant, becoming a waiter before being promoted to manager.


          It didn’t, of course, stop there. He knew that by combining what he’d learned about the restaurant business at the venerable El Chico with the basics of what he calls “San Antonio-type” cooking (the Carreon family had lived there before moving to Dallas when Raphael was 7), a style he’d learned from his mother that involves using plenty fresh garlic, cilantro and spices, he could open an establishment of his own.


In 1975, he opened the first of two restaurants, Raphael’s on McKinney . It was what Carreon refers to as a Dallas “institution” up until it closed in 1998 when he decided he’d like more free time. But he remains in the business because, in 1994, he opened the “little brother” of Raphaels, Rafa’s Café Mexicano.


Today, Rafa’s is a thriving establishment, proof that Carreon’s formula for success was on the money. Located on West Lovers, it’s a pinch of paradise in the middle of strip mall central. Scads of potted tropical plants sit outside and Latin music drifts out of outdoor speakers. Close your eyes, listen and take in the aroma of the menu’s many offerings (there are too many to count), and you might believe for a second that you’re south of the border.


Inside, walls are painted in vibrant colors and piñatas  hang from the ceiling. Some of chef Felix Padron’s most popular dishes include Pechuga Milanesa (see recipe) and Snapper Felix. Try a Fiesta or fresh lime margarita from the bar.


Carreon credits his success to a loyal clientele, fresh ingredients and consistency. His three main chefs have been with him anywhere from 10 to 20 years


There is a children’s menu (Rafa’s is very kid friendly, with butcher paper tablecloths and crayons) a full bar and a happy hour from 3 to 7 p.m. on weekdays. Lunch specials are in the $7 range, and dinner entrees are around $7-$15. A brunch is served Saturdays and Sunday until 3 p.m.



Rafa’s Café Mexicano


Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., closed Mondays



W. Lovers Lane





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