Outside of the rundown convenience store, the only indicator of what's inside is a piece of paper taped to the door that says "5ive Spice Kitchen now open." Critically acclaimed chef Carlos Rodriguez was working in the place alone. There are a few tables set up, and the walls are slowly being covered with license plates. After ordering a Fuego Burger, we bought a Topo Chico and a pack of Takis in the convenience store to go with it.
Back in 2009, Carlos and Christie Rodriguez opened a tiny spot in west Fort Worth called Salsa Fuego. By the following year, big crowds were hip to their food. But last October, less than a year after making a rough transition to a much larger spot nearby, Salsa Fuego shut its doors.
“Classic bit off more than we could chew,” Carlos says. “We wanted to grow and we just overextended ourselves. We had a lot of new equipment, a lot of new debt and not a lot of new sales. We ran it as long as we could, but had to shut it down. We were going to die there, man. It was too much work.”
5ive Spice actually opened shortly before Christmas, but no one noticed until recently.
“We didn’t tell anybody,” Carlos says. “We wanted to get all of our new systems down so whenever the rush came, we could handle it.” There have recently been some standing-room-only lunch days that had Rodriguez and his family working 15-hour shifts.
With limited refrigeration, honey chipotle shrimp is sadly not an option for burritos or tacos. But this is otherwise a scaled-down version of the Salsa Fuego menu with those wonderful burgers just like they were, only bigger now with a half-pound patty. Rodriguez has had burgers on his menu since day one, and they have evolved.
At first, he threw frozen hamburger patties on a grill with some seasoning. They were actually pretty good, but they weren’t great. Moving from frozen to fresh and experimenting with recipes, the burgers got better and so did the sales. When Salsa Fuego opened, burgers were not a big seller — in the beginning, they sold five a week, Carlos says. But after putting a sign up that said “Buy a guacamole burger” and perfecting his burger recipe for a couple years, Rodriguez was selling 700 burgers a month, and it went up from there.
Rodriguez eventually started hand-forming the patties and seasoning the beef with flavors that enhanced the flavor instead of hiding it — Worcester, black pepper, whole grain Dijon mustard and pureed shallots. “You get the flavor, but you don’t bite into the onion,” Rodriguez says. “There are people who don’t eat onions. But when you get my burger, it’s got the shallots mixed in and it just melts into the meat.” This keeps the Angus ground chuck juicy.
It is all about the meat at the end of the day, but these are striking burgers with savory toppings, some of the best in Dallas-Fort Worth. On a Fuego Burger, the melted cheddar Jack on top forms into a ring of fried cheese sticking out of the sides. It comes with roasted jalapeño mayo and fire-roasted green chiles.
Moving to a Rendon gas station from a location where most diners worked at Lockheed Martin, attended Texas Christian University or were visiting the nearby country club involved adjusting to a completely different demographic, Carlos says. But many of the locals who initially thought the prices were high are now hooked.
A Fuego Burger may not be cheap by convenience store standards, but by standards of quality it is a bargain at $8.47. The guacamole burger, which comes with roasted jalapeños, is the same price. For $9.66, the Cowtown Burger has bacon, American cheese, house-made barbecue sauce, sliced onion and — get this— braised Coca-Cola brisket.
Rodriguez seems happy to be working out of a new location that puts the emphasis on execution, freshness and quality.
“We’re going to hang out here,” he says. “We’re not looking to move or get too big too fast.”
5ive Spice, 5595 E. FM 1187, Rendon