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Arrieros’ sopes are piled high with piquant al pastor. Photo by Lauren Phillips

Arrieros Mexican Food. 4400 Benbrook Hwy, FW. 817-818-0096. 8am-5pm Sun, 10am-9pm Mon-Tue, closed Wed, 10am-9pm Thu-Fri, 8am-9pm Sat. All major credit cards accepted. 

Maybe the stretch of Benbrook Highway running southwest from the traffic circle at Alta Mere isn’t at the top of your list of dining destinations in Fort Worth. Tucked between the tire shops and “lounges” that line the road, though, is a gem of a Monterrey-style Mexican restaurant that is worth driving out of your way for — in fact I’ve done so twice after my initial visit. Returning to the scene of a review (on my own dime) is about the highest compliment I can offer a place.

My first visit to Arrieros found the sunny storefront dining room about half-full during a weekday lunch service. The décor of muted desert pastels wasn’t too busy, and the TV wasn’t too loud. The single server on duty flitted between tables as effortlessly as she switched between Spanish and English. My guest and I seated ourselves and promptly received menus and tall glasses of ice water. Efficient service seemed structured around respect for the one-hour lunch break.

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It was tempting to fill up on the light-as-air tostadas and fresh-made salsa that arrived with our drink orders (if there’s a good place to enjoy a liter-bottle of Mexican Coke, this is it), but those calories would have been better spent on the handmade corn tortillas — comal-toasted, chewy, with the slight soapy scent of good masa. It is impossible to look at a bag of crumbly factory-pressed tortillas with anything but disdain after you get a hankering for the real thing, made fresh while you wait.

If the tortillas were good, the sopes were even better. A thick patty of corn masa was piled high with piquant al pastor pork, shredded lettuce, avocado, and a drizzle of crema. A variety of other toppings were available, including grilled nopales cactus and potatoes with chorizo sausage. Too large for an appetizer and just a bit too small for a meal on its own, the sopes would be the perfect after-school snack.

The chile relleno was a perfectly plump roasted poblano pepper stuffed with white cheese and coated with a thin breading that managed to hold its own after being smothered in red sauce. We found the best way to eat the magnificent pepper was to slice it into thick ribbons to wrap in one of the perfect corn tortillas, maybe garnishing it with some of the shredded iceburg lettuce and ripe avocado that arrived alongside.

The chicken flautas were served three to an order, the kitchen’s fresh tortillas double-wrapped around a core of tender chicken and deep-fried to a crisp golden brown.

The carne asada plate, a seared slab of marinated beef, was accompanied by a grilled paddle of nopales cactus. The grilled beef was tasty, if just a bit tough. The nopales, a vegetable that can sometimes have a somewhat slimy feel, were perfectly cooked, with a texture like a thick roasted pepper and a taste similar to asparagus spritzed with lemon. Strips of both steak and cactus were stuffed into another soft corn tortilla for the best fajita you’ve probably never had.

Entrees are, of course, served with refried beans and Spanish-style rice. The beans were smooth and well-seasoned and the rice fluffy and light, but both should properly be regarded as optional. At Arrieros, you want to save room for the good stuff.

Arrieros Mexican Food

Sopes $4.50

Chile relleno plate $9.50

Chicken flautas $8.50

Carne asada plate w/cactus $11.99

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