The new location of Fuego Burger (4400 Benbrook Hwy, 682-250-5600) isn’t much to look at. There’s nothing but a couple of televisions on the red-and-cream-colored walls inside the same nondescript stripmall storefront on Benbrook Highway that once housed Pop’s Burgers. But for its owners and the loyal following they’ve amassed over the past 10 years or so, the tiny dining room is a thing of beauty.
It’s been a long, strange trip for Fuego Burger owners Carlos and Christie Rodriguez. Their journey from near Camp Bowie West to a gas station in Rendon and now to Benbrook started in early 2015, when the Rodriguezes decided to expand their first endeavor, Salsa Fuego.
Upon the opening of their critically lauded hole-in-the-wall on Alta Mere Boulevard in 2009, Salsa Fuego’s chef-driven menu of elevated-but-approachable Mexican food made it the kind of off-the-beaten-path eatery that would impress the uninitiated and give you street cred with real foodies. Adding to its quirk was the fact that you could find among the many authentic Mexican dishes one of – if not the – best burgers in town.
Riding its popularity, Salsa Fuego relocated to a much larger nearby space, this one previously occupied by Peony’s Chinese Restaurant. The couple was rumored to also have designs on turning their original Alta Mere spot into a separate diner that specialized in their popular burgers. It looked as though the one-time gem was poised to become a culinary juggernaut. But that never materialized. Just a few months after relocating to its new digs, Salsa Fuego mysteriously shuttered. Seemingly overnight, a local favorite just vanished – but not for long.
Last year, the Star-T was the first report that the Rodriguezes had resurfaced in Rendon, sharing space with a Phillips 66 on FM 1187. Their 5ive Spice Kitchen, which the couple later changed to Fuego Burger, flew way under the radar for months. Its second location in Benbrook, however, has seen the born-again brand reclaim its prominence in local rags.
On my recent visit, a steady stream of customers trickled in throughout the lunch hour, though the dining room was never really packed. Christie was manning the walk-up counter and the grill, and she was occasionally blurring through the dining room to refill waters and iced tea.
The place feels very much like a start-up. My guest and I were given plastic knives and forks, everything was served on metal trays lined with butcher paper, and the salt and pepper came in little paper packages.
Despite its ramshackle appearance and skeletal crew, the operation ran smoothly, and the food was cooked to the same old high standards. The homemade salsa ($4) was as good as ever, though the accompanying chips were a tad on the stale side. On my guest’s torta ($8), juices from the lush slabs of tender carnitas soaked into the French bread creating something akin to a Mexican au jus. The shoestring onion rings on his side order ($4) were crispy and salty.
The real reason to drive 15 minutes out of town is the Fuego Burger ($9). The half-pound patty surrendered its juices upon the first bite, as the impossibly well-seasoned beef mingled with fire-roasted green chiles, a roasted jalapeño mayo, and its signature cheddar-jack “ring of cheese” that sprawled well beyond the borders of its bun.
A comeback story never tasted so delicious.