EATS & DRINKS
Yeyo’s Mezcaleria & Taqueria at the 1907
Delicious food that tastes like it’s from the streets of Mexico
By Case Dighero
Atmosphere photos by Novo Studio
Food photos by Meredith Mashburn
101 E. Walnut St., Rogers
Rafael Rios is a busy man. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the chef and his devoted skeleton crew are working hard to safely feed and nourish his loyal followers with pick-up and delivery services out of the Yeyo’s 8th Street Market location in Bentonville. Times are tough for just about every restaurant worker in the United States, but somehow Rios’ creativity, work ethic and altruistic attitude remain intact. The welcoming demeanor and infectious smile that his friends and fans have come to know are unwavering despite dismal circumstances.
In November Rios opened Yeyo’s Mezcaleria & Taqueria in the 1907 building in downtown Rogers, following several years of success with his iconic Bentonville food truck and then the brick-and-mortar location nestled in the warm culinary blanket of 8th Street Market. Opening a new restaurant is stressful, but this man — born in California and raised in Mihoacan, Mexico — doesn’t show any sign of anxiety. After all, just before the world went distant, he was appropriately nominated for a James Beard award, an impressive status to have achieved, especially when starting a new venture in a new town.
Still, Rios is one of the nicest, most gracious people working in High South cuisine, and if anyone can make the best out of a bad situation, it will be him. He has the undying support of scores of chef friends who operate high-profile restaurants throughout the region. He is well-respected and well-liked, mostly because of his low-key, inclusive temperament, but also because his family has operated a farm selling to the Bentonville Farmers Market and most of the accomplished chefs working close by. The farm is a thing of beauty, filled with pastoral texture and grit. The produce is supported by the Rios family work ethic – planting boots squarely on the ground to till the soil, sow the seed and harvest the singular crop.
The new Yeyo’s Mezcaleria & Taqueria comfortably seats 50 people, including the bar and patio. It’s one of the coolest, most chill places to grab a bite in the state of Arkansas. The ambience echoes the vibe of the rest of the building, which houses some of the region’s most creative paradigms in food, such as Heirloom, Onyx and Doughp bakery. But don’t be mistaken, Rios has created a space that is completely his own, draped in the highly stylized and sought-after work of wunderkind artist Octavio Logo and an interior design that subtly celebrates the culture and texture of urban Mexican life. If I didn’t know any better, I would swear we were in Mexico City. The bar is cool, sleek and perfect for sipping one of his mezcal flights or handmade cocktails. Nuanced flights come nestled on a handmade board in heavy cordials of three with seasoned, salted orange wheels, roasted grasshoppers and agave worms. It may sound dangerous, but Rios has carefully procured small batch mezcal from all over Mexico, and I suggest at least one round every time you walk through the doors of this taqueria at the1907.
The food is divine, yet completely accessible, which is precisely why he is a James Beard nominee. Showcasing his swagger at balancing High South wares and Mesoamerican tradition, his culinary style has no equal.
There’s something for everyone, and although I crave red meat and pork, the Vegan Al Pastor Taco ($3) is as satisfying as anything on the menu – root vegetables that include radishes from the Rios farm, marinated in classic adobo, fresh mint and cilantro, then grilled to smoky, bittersweet perfection before being heaped upon earthy, homemade maize tortillas and smothered in salsa de chile morita.
Of course, my absolute favorite is Rios’ Cochinita Pibil Taco ($3), succulent, slow roasted pork wrapped in banana leaves and served with pickled red onion, habanero peppers; the buttery pork juxtaposed with the spicy, sweet acidity of pickled vegetables is nothing short of extraordinary.
Obviously, Yeyo’s at the 1907 is a destination for elevated Mexican street food, but it’s also perfect for just hanging out and snacking, evident in dishes like Elote y Refritos ($10), a small crock of warm refried beans stratified with charred sweet corn, cotija cheese and fresh cilantro and served with grilled Oaxacan tortillas; likewise the homemade Chichaarrones ($6), fried pork rinds fried and dusted with ancho, jalapeno powder, then served next to fresh lime, pico de gallo and more salsa de chile morita.
Like many in the food industry, Rios has modified his operation during the pandemic, operating exclusively from the Yeyo’s location in Bentonville – working hard to serve, nourish and protect the staff, family and devoted customer base that he has worked tirelessly for 10 years to build loyalty with. But, it won’t be long before the world returns to normal and Rafael Rios reopens Yeyo’s Mezcaleria & Taqueria, once again promoting the undeniable harmony of Arkansas-Mexico edible culture.