Fuel City, 1715 Haltom Rd, Haltom City. 817-484-0715. Always open. Cash only. $
Fuel City is a Dallas-based, all-in-one travel center concept that purveys cheap gas and a full range of standard conveniences. The stores are well lit, safe, and generally clean. It’s a fine place to stop for a tank of gas.
Fuel City also serves tacos. Tireless taqueristas toast tortillas on an array of flattop grills 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Dispensed through walk-up windows, often with a line of customers snaking out into the parking lot, the tacos at Fuel City have garnered a reputation for being the real deal.
The Fuel City taco phenomenon dates back to a 2006 piece in Texas Monthly that ranked the picadillo tacos at the original Dallas location No. 1 in the state. It made for a pretty good story, too, back in the keeping-it-real days of the Bush Administration — you can’t get much more legit than buying your tacos at a gas station. Why shouldn’t they be the best in Texas?
The story had legs, and the Fuel City brand grew. The owners opened a second location, this one in Mesquite, in 2015. Now they’ve moved in up the road to Haltom City — a large and gleaming facility complete with an impressive taxidermy display and an all-weather patio for dining onsite.
On a recent Saturday evening, my guest and I enjoyed the vibe of the place as we waited for our order. There were happy families milling around, the game was on, a men’s group of some kind was gathered at a corner table. One doesn’t normally go to a gas station to hang out, tacos or no tacos, but that’s what was happening at Fuel City. We could imagine a number of scenarios when kicking back on the patio would be just the ticket, from sobering up after last call to feeding a soccer team after practice.
Conspicuously absent from our list of compelling reasons to eat at Fuel City, unfortunately, was the food. It isn’t that anything we ordered was bad, exactly, but there was nothing interesting or exciting about it. Maybe our collective standards regarding tacos have risen appreciably since 2006, or maybe the place is coasting on some stale press. Either way, nothing I tried would make my Top 10 in Tarrant County, let alone the entire state.
The prize-winning picadillo, ground beef stewed with potatoes and green salsa, was disappointingly bland, tasting more of black pepper than chiles. With a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of salt, the concoction was edible — but the most exciting thing about a taco shouldn’t be the tortilla.
The fajita tacos, beef or chicken, would have been a puzzle for anyone expecting chargrilled strips of marinated meat on his or her tortilla. Instead, stingy piles of minced meat sat sullenly on tortillas, looking as unlike a fajita as anything I’ve ever seen. To be fair, the meat did taste a bit like fajita seasoning, but seasoning makes a fajita like sauce makes a barbecue.
The barbacoa — the menu called it “steamed roast beef,” and who are we to not leave well-enough alone? — was quite nicely flavored with garlic and chiles. Sadly, the meat was too greasy to enjoy, leaving a mouth-feel not unlike silicon lubricant.
Fuel City found some redemption in the al pastor, cubed pork stewed in a sweet red sauce of chiles and citrus. Topped with chopped onions and cilantro, the al pastor taco finally came close to living up to the place’s otherwise over-hyped reputation. It was just sweet enough, and just spicy enough, to stand on its own without any other tweaking.
The al pastor burrito didn’t work so well. The rift between Mex-Mex and Tex-Mex has never been so pronounced as in this kitchen’s al pastor burrito, where the flavorful Mexican pork was drowned in a sea of cheese and sour cream. (Al pastor with sour cream and cheese is just weird.)
A chicken quesadilla, made with the same fajita-seasoned chicken bits we had encountered before, wasn’t worth devoting more copy to than the sentence you’re reading right now.
It’s nice when a great place has great food, but as anyone at Ol’ South Pancake House can tell you, this is not necessarily a requirement. Fuel City packs a lot of personality into a clean and useful facility, and if the tacos aren’t anything to write home about, well, there’s always room for improvement.