Network reconfiguration for service restoration in distribution systems is a combinatorial complex optimization problem that usually involves multiple non-linear constraints and objective functions. For large scale distribution systems no exact algorithm has found adequate restoration plans in real-time. On the other hand, the combination of Multi-Objective Evolutionary Algorithms (MOEAs) with the Node-Depth Encoding (NDE) has been able to efficiently generate adequate restoration plans for relatively large distribution systems (with thousands of buses and switches). The approach called MEAN results from the combination of NDE with a technique of MOEA based on subpopulation tables. In order to improve the capacity of MEAN to explore both the search and objective spaces, this paper proposes a new approach that results from the combination of MEAN with characteristics from the mutation operator of the Differential Evolution (DE) algorithm. Simulation results have shown that the proposed approach, called MEAN-DE, is able to find adequate restoration plans for distribution systems from 3860 to 30,880 switches. Comparisons have been performed using the Hypervolume metric and the Wilcoxon ranksum test. In addition, a MOEA using subproblem Decomposition and NDE (MOEA/D-NDE) was investigated. MEAN-DE has shown the best average results in relation to MEAN and MOEA/D-NDE. 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.