In the western wing of the Chevron gas station, Eduardo Mora sweeps up after the lunch rush. A load of customers had just whooshed through, making a serious dent in the trompo, the blush-red pork tornado spinning quietly in front of a wall of heat, as slow and balanced as a music box ballerina. In a few minutes, Mora will stack the red sheets of marinated pork butt again for the afternoon crowd. It’ll take a solid hour if he’s focused solely on neatly stacking the layers.
The space of Bachman Lake Tacos & Grill is wide open. There’s a small partition that sections it off from the staples of the Chevron station, including a vertical fridge for the must-have Topo Chico, and that’s what Mora, a manager at the grill for about two years, likes about it. It feels casual and friendly and breezy. There are plenty of chairs, but it’s equally as comfortable to stand and eat trompo tacos while facing windswept Bachman Lake. Food tastes better when you’re standing, leaning on a counter. The taco and burger spot has been part of the DNA of this gas station for 13 years. It’s one of the most thoughtful, delicious and inexpensive bites in a city dotted with taco spots.
You order at the gas station register, the menu leading off with its best option: the trompo tacos. They’re $1.69 each, which means you’ll need three. They come with a shooter of salsa that will dissolve your head like water on cotton candy. Buttery grilled onions, chopped white onions, cilantro and a fire-blistered jalapeno also make an appearance in the Styrofoam container. Once you order, your trompo expert takes a long steel blade and carves into the charred wall of pork. A sandwich slice of the crusty ends and tender pork sears quickly on the flat top and is dropped into two butter-grilled tortillas. After taking a bite, you’ll find smoky, charred pork and heat from Guajillo chiles, one of the reasons the pork is Valentine’s Day red.
It’s stupendous, both warming and spicy hot, simultaneously crusty and tender. It’s a gas station taco that ignores the stereotype of a gas station. It lives harmoniously with Chevron, yet has nothing to do with it. The best food, from any section of the globe, isn’t dependent on the stigma of its location: The flavors are what transport you.
“Oh no, no,” Eduardo Mora says after I mention that some restaurants get their meat cone shipped in. “It’s made from scratch. It just tastes good.”
The pork is marinated in chiles for a day, the thin sheets get stacked carefully on the spit, and it twirls in front of the heat for hours. A time lapse video would show the trompo diminishing like a Texas tornado. The managers at Bachman’s grill, including Mora, meet every now and then to fine-tune the recipe. They keep their eyes on it, making sure it pops.
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“It has its little tricks,” he says about its captivating construction. Gazing into a twister of trompo should be something we could stream on Netflix. I would happily fall asleep to hours of fat-dripping pork, spinning in front of fire.
“It’s a free space,” Mora says of the restaurant. “You get to look outside — you’re not just stuck in the kitchen.” In a few minutes, he’ll go to work on another layer of pork. On the weekends, they stack two or three whole trompos a day on top of the burgers and fries they make. For the price and the feeling of planting your feet near the counter, facing windy Bachman Lake, it’s one of the best grilled foods around.
Bachman Lake Tacos & Grill, 3311 W. Northwest Highway