Why are the Best Tacos in Dallas Served in Gas Stations?
Let’s get to the meat of the matter. There is a direct relationship between a taco’s taste and the number of frills offered at a restaurant. Generally speaking - the fewer niceties offered, the more delicious the tacos. If you believe this basic logic, you’ll have no trouble buying into the concept that Dallas’ best tacos are served at gas stations. For those of you who need more convincing, let’s taco bout it.
Instead of dining at a tacorea that puts organic macaroni & cheese on your fried avocado and cactus taco, we push a simple agenda - to recognize that the true beauty of a good taco lies in its simplicity and its community.
Over the last 10 years, Dallas/Fort Worth has seen an incredible rise in the number of Mexican food restaurants. Of these new establishments, the surge in uniquely named taco eateries is actually a tad distressing. If you take issue with eating from a gas station but have no problem dining at a restaurant called Fuzzy’s Tacos, Rusty Taco, or Velvet Taco - then your issue might lie within.
‘Taco authenticity’ can be found in a variety of places. Authentic tacos are not genuine because the restaurant is a hole-in-the-wall, but rather because their taste and simplicity evoke a similar reaction in every type of person who frequents the eatery. Let’s not burrito around the bush. This mentality is exactly what makes places like Fuel City fantastic.
Fuel City – For tacos, corn, and maybe some karaoke too
The best tacos in Dallas are found at a gas station named ‘Fuel City’. This gas station/taco restaurant/unofficial nightclub is owned by a man named John Benda. Benda has been everything from a youth minister to a life insurance agent. At one point, he even bought a Dallas smoke shop and transformed the business into a corner store. How did a gas station become his most successful venture?
He spent $4 million to build out the entire Fuel City complex. A police officer with a penchant for culinary arts asked John if he could open a taco stand in front of the gas station. After a few years, Benda built out a section so the taco stand could become a taco walk-up window.
Benda wanted people to see what south of Dallas looked like before the city rapidly expanded, so he decided to bring in longhorns and donkeys. John installed an old windmill and placed an oil derrick on the Fuel City property. It doesn’t exactly explain the sasquatch statue, or the occasional camel. However, that’s exactly what makes John Benda’s business so enigmatic.
Joseph Bickman, the president of Fuel City said, “At Fuel City, we like to consider ourselves to be more than a Travel Center; we are a destination. We have been coined a Texas Landmark by some and ‘Texas in a nutshell’ by others.” That’s precisely the reason why Fuel City makes $30 million annually (which is more than 10x the income of a normal gas station).
Fuel City is a welcoming tacorea for people from all walks of life in Dallas. While waiting in line, you’ll likely be standing beside bikers, construction workers, up-and-coming rappers, families with young children, pastors, KPMG consultants, janitors, executives, and every possible job in between. All in line for the street tacos. And the seasoned cup of corn.
That’s the appeal. In molding an environment of Texas past, John created an atmosphere that successfully lured in the community that truly represents Dallas today. When you’re leaving Uptown, Deep Ellum, or Oak Cliff, there’s only one taco place that makes you want to head 10 to 15 minutes in the opposite direction - Fuel City.
Fuel City’s $1.62 tacos bring in a wide range of people, swerving into the parking lot for food, and maybe to fill up their car. Or both. People who speak ill of Fuel City are the type of people who ask to speak to the manager in a Chili’s. So what if their only neighbors are bail bondsmen? So what if the weird limes they put near the ordering window seem to attract fruit flies? The lack of predictability creates a community of late-night dining unparalleled anywhere else in Dallas.
Patricia Sharp with Texas Monthly wrote that Fuel City’s picadillo tacos are the greatest tacos ever sold. Her team consumed 532 different Texas tacos and ranked them all, only for Fuel City to come out on top.
I recognize that the label of ‘best tacos in Texas’ is subjective and up for debate. However, that taco debate should be centered around the concept that its competitors are also gas stations. Another classic Dallas spot is Fox Gas.
Fox Gas – For tacos, chandeliers overhead, plus a laundromat
When a teacher at Bryan Adams High School in East Dallas asked her Algebra 2 class where to find the best tacos in Dallas, the consensus was clear - Fox Gas. They aren’t the only ones who feel so strongly.
This fine dining gas station even bears a few similarities to Fuel City. Both are 24/7, accessible no matter the time of day, and they’re also cheap. These two factors create an environment that allows Fox Gas to become the host of an organic raucous party almost every weekend night.
The Fox Gas 2:00 a.m. crowd won’t be in any of the same economic, demographic, political, or social groups as one another. Instead, as people who love tacos, they share a stronger value system. In the same vein that causes one to sit inside a Whataburger at 2:00 a.m., people visit because they want to be surrounded by like-minded people. At Fox Gas, Fuel City, and the Buc-ee’s that sit around DFW’s perimeter, one can share a common sense of excitement with people from all walks of life.
So WHY are gas station tacos so good? The tacos are cheap. They’re fast, efficient, and reliable. They’re simple - no gimmicks. But most importantly, there is a community. After all, where else can everyone hold a singular, common belief when surrounded in such diversity? If your expectations aren’t uppity or bourgeois and you enjoy people-watching, gas station tacoreas and their beautiful, greasy tacos represent the best and brightest of Dallas.
On Fuel City’s property sits a large shipping container that has a sizeable mural on the side. It reads “Where Dreams Come True”. I like to believe that’s true.
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