All week at City of Ate, we celebrate the magic of the taco. Check back for more interviews, essays and maybe a list or two. Or maybe four?
Three or so years ago, when I was driving in a rickety Penske truck with my life's possessions toward Texas, I knew just one thing about Dallas' taco scene. A chef friend back in Washington D.C. told me that the best tacos to be had in Dallas were sold at a place called Fuel City. We were in his kitchen and there was an entire duck with its head still attached simmering away in hot oil. "They serve tacos in gas stations down there," he told me. "No shit," was all I could say in return.
Within a few days of my arrival, I found myself sitting at an outdoor table under the Texas summer sun with the biggest glass bottle of Coke I've ever purchased and a Styrofoam box filled with picadillo and barbacoa tacos. I remember thinking they were pretty good, and that the picadillo was spicy, and that it was pretty great to suddenly live in a state where you could gas up your ride with one hand on the pump while the other cradles a warm tortilla stuffed with meat.
See also: Ten of DFW's Best Taquerias
I don't remember being astounded by the tacos, though, and I know I didn't make it a point to race back to Fuel City the next time a taco craving struck me. I was more than happy to explore other taco destinations, and those picadillo tacos would have been forgettable, except that so many people kept reminding me about them.
So how is it that a chef in Washington D.C. has a bead on killer tacos in Dallas, even though he'd only visited the city once or maybe twice at the time? My guess is Texas Monthly. Not that he'd read the article, but when a big-ass glossy declares a certain taco the greatest of the greatest tacos ever sold, people tend to take notice of such things. They get to talking and they say things like, "We should really go try those Fuel City tacos because I hear they're the greatest ever," and, "Would you believe they serve tacos in gas stations?"
In the time that's passed I've tried a lot of other tacos in Dallas -- tacos made with roasted lamb tucked into tortillas made seconds before, and tacos made with intestines that some desperate soul figured out how to make really, really tasty. I've had tacos made from pig fried in its own fat and tacos stuffed with pungent huiltlacoche. And each time I made it back to Fuel City, those picadillo tacos became a little less impressive.
That Texas Monthly article was written way back in 2006, and even though several awards (including a few by the Observer) have been thrown at the taco stand since, I can say with 100 percent certainty that the tacos served from the takeout window at Fuel City are not the best tacos in sold in Texas. They're not even the best tacos sold in this city. Not even close. In fact, they're not very good.
Most of the articles I've read recently about Fuel City's tacos tout that the window is open 24 hours a day, as if drunks purchasing hangover prevention at 3 a.m. are known for having good taste. Others celebrate the $1.40 price tag, even though a buck and change is the going rate for tacos everywhere. Gas station tacos that cost more should be able to pump your gas while cleaning your windshield and checking your oil for you. And tacos of any sort should taste better than these.
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But Fuel City's tacos can't even entertain your taste buds, let alone tend to your automobile. My most recent picadillo taco was filled with much more potatoes than beef, and a pastor taco was filled with pork as dry as the beef jerky sold inside Fuel City. The tortillas were greasy, with a waxy consistency and almost no flavor.
Maybe nearly a decade ago the best tacos in Texas were served at a gas station in Dallas, but I doubt it, and they certainly aren't any more. So the next time someone suggests you head to Fuel City for anything other than gasoline and beer, counter with one of the taqueria that have sprouted up in the past few years. Taquerias like La Banqueta, or El Come Taco, or oh, hell... We've got a list right here.