Some of the most interesting bites of food in Dallas can be found in a most unlikely location: behind the fuel pumps, next to the scratch-off tickets and the soda machine. Gas station food counters are, for many Dallasites, not just a novel place to eat but a central part of the city’s diet.
To be clear, we’re not talking about hipsters or trend-chasing foodies here. Working folks on lunch break, roadtrippers in need of a fill and neighborhood communities looking for a gathering spot were chowing down in convenience stores long before foodies decided that visiting these spots was a way to show off their adventurous tastes.
We’re also not trying to be demeaning. There is an unfortunate stereotype that gas station foods are dirty, greasy and cheap, a canard that takes on racial undertones when used in conversations about foods like tacos. This list, we hope, disproves that generalization, showing how much hard work and even creativity can go into a corner store food counter.
Here are seven of our favorite gas station restaurants in Dallas. Two more favorites are not included: El Rincon del DF, the superb torta kitchen that recently moved out of a convenience store and into a permanent home of its own, and Petra and the Beast, the magical East Dallas laboratory for noodles and charcuterie housed in a Sinclair station built in 1932. Misti Norris and Tony Ibarra may be cooking where there once were pumps and cans of oil, but their property hasn’t filled up a car in decades.
Momo Stop: Spicy Nepalese dumplings in a Texaco and a Chevron
Irving, Texas, has one of the biggest Nepalese immigrant populations in the United States, and the Nepalese food scene here ranges from high-end white-tablecloth restaurants like Ramailo to, well, a window in a gas station. Momo Stop dispenses momos — big, round Nepalese dumplings filled with chicken, turkey or vegetables and twisted into a spiral at the top. In-the-know customers know that the C in “C Momo” stands for chili and portends a spicy red sauce that coats the full order of steamed dumplings.
The dumplings make a wonderful to-go order — $7 for about a dozen, almost enough for two people — and the C momos perch on a razor-sharp edge of spice. Given their quality, and ample side dishes including furandana, a Nepalese spiced rice pilaf, it’s no wonder Momo Stop has become a miniature chain, with locations in a Texaco on Belt Line Road and a Chevron station on MacArthur.
Momo Stop, two locations: 3635 N. Belt Line Rd., Irving, and 8600 N. MacArthur Blvd. #160, Irving
La Salsa Verde: Dallas’ ultimate gas station taco?
Only two of La Salsa Verde’s four locations are in gas stations, but they’re all terrific in their own ways. The original location, tucked behind a dry cleaner and MoneyGram store off Northwest Highway near Bachman Lake, is little more than a long counter facing the hot griddles. On Coit Road, the Salsa Verde tucked into a Chevron station is even tinier, with barely a half-dozen stools available for dine-in customers. We’ve happily ordered tacos de cabeza and lengua to go, then popped open the Styrofoam container in the parking lot and chowed down. Ultra-tender lengua and cachete are excellent orders here, as is the rich blood sausage taco and the squash blossom quesadilla. If you’re lucky enough to find a seat inside, don’t miss the habanero-flecked pickled veggies.
La Salsa Verde, two locations in gas stations: 14225 Coit Rd., Dallas, and 3209 K Ave., Plano
Ceviche 365: A taste of Peru in a Shell station
This one is surely the most stereotype-challenging restaurant on the list. Gas stations are dirty, right? They’re smelly and covered in germs, right? You would never want to eat a big bowl of raw fish in a convenience store.
Not so fast. There’s no real reason a gas station kitchen can’t be as clean as any other. And at Ceviche 365, which opened a few months ago in a Shell location at 35 and Royal Lane, the chefs proudly do their work in a glass-walled stall. Diners seated along the counter can watch their ceviche get made, whether it’s Caribbean-style, with diced pineapple, or Peruvian-style, with sweet potato, yucca and Inca corn. A second location, at Fox Fuels on Northwest Highway, just opened and features an outdoor window for mild-climate months.
Ceviche 365, two locations: 11404 N. Stemmons Fwy. and 10120 Harry Hines Blvd.
Bachman Lake Tacos and Grill: The other great trompo spot in Dallas
Everyone in Dallas knows by now about Trompo, the excellent West Dallas taqueria that specializes in, yes, trompo — the process by which red-seasoned pork is stacked on a vertical rotisserie and sliced off carefully to order. A great trompo taco has tender, rich meat with a crisp, charred outer edge, sliced into thick ribbons and served on a corn tortilla pillow.
And that is exactly what Bachman Lake Tacos and Grill delivers in a Chevron station on Northwest Highway. Here the vertical meat-cone rotisserie is built by hand for each service, and the tacos are worth the effort. Even in a neighborhood with some of Dallas’ finest gas station foods — three other restaurants on this list also have locations within a mile or two — Bachman’s trompo stands out.
Bachman Lake Tacos and Grill, 3311 W. Northwest Hwy.
Kerala Kitchen: A Texaco South Indian feast
Huffines Boulevard and Highway 121 is a quiet exit — it doesn’t even have a traffic light — and the Texaco station on the southwest corner can be easy to miss behind a row of trees. Even easier to miss is Kerala Kitchen, the tiny Indian restaurant tucked in the leftmost corner of the convenience store.
But gas station meals don’t come better — or bigger — than the Kerala plate special, which takes the Kerala tradition of sadhya, a vegetarian feast served on a banana leaf, adds some meat and adapts it to the convenience store setting. A metal tray groans under quantities of rice, beef or chicken curry, fish curry, thoran (a shredded, curried coconut-vegetable blend), avial (a mild mixed vegetable curry) and a variety of chutneys and dipping sauces. The quality across each dish is consistently outstanding, and if you’re an especially big fan of one component, you can order it by the pound to go.
Kerala Kitchen, 3600 Huffines Blvd., Carrollton
El Tacaso: Impressive barbacoa tacos from the tiniest of kitchens
The corner of Harry Hines Boulevard and Northwest Highway could hardly be called a corner: It’s a jungle of pedestrian-hostile concrete ramps and merge lanes, with cars leaving clouds of fumes in their 45-mph wake. The streetscape is industrial-looking buildings, storage centers and gigantic gas stations, including one — Fox — which just got its own location of Ceviche 365. But we’ve had ceviche already, and now we’re moving across the street, to the Friendly’s convenience store at the Mobil station. Inside, the kitchen is alarmingly small: Fancy hotel suites have bigger bathtubs.
Fancy hotel suites do not often have better barbacoa. El Tacaso’s breakfast tacos are delightful, but the barbacoa has the deep, rich, long-simmering flavor that comes from a kitchen that does not cheat or cut corners. It sticks to your taste buds and memory for hours.
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El Tacaso, 10025 Harry Hines Blvd.
Chef Point Bar and Restaurant: Top off the tank with a Bloody Mary
Over in Watauga, Chef Point has taken the gas station restaurant to another level, serving a sit-down menu of Southern comfort food, mimosa flights and grilled salmon. Franson and Paula Nwaeze exercised their creativity to open the place; after the bank denied them a loan to open a restaurant, they offered to buy a Conoco station instead and the bank agreed.
The resulting restaurant is a Watauga brunchtime staple and winner of the Observer’s 2017 Best Bloody Mary trophy. There may be no other gas station in Texas where you can find lobster mac and cheese, a monte cristo sandwich or an entire menu section of dog foods and non-alcoholic “Doggie Beer.”
Chef Point Bar and Restaurant, 5901 Watauga Rd., Watauga