In my mostly questionable life, one of the few things that I have an absolute passion for, something that borders on a sad sexual frenzy, are gas station-based restaurants. TLO editor Patrick knows this and is always ready for me to graphically exploit it, this time by sending me a text message that massaged all the edible buttons and knobs I have: a new taco place was opening up at 7-Eleven.
While some of the newer 7-Elevens feature the passable Capitol City Burrito Co., many area stores have struck a deal with the Laredo Taco Company—out of the culturally-accurate state for tacos, Texas—to serve somewhat fresh Mexican food most hours of the day, starting with the enlarged convenience store located at 5901 SW 8th.
Last week was the grand opening and the lines to try Laredo were nearly out the door, people from all walks of life—many without masks and very little social distancing, mind you—eager to try the Tex-Mex promises of quickly-made tacos, burritos and nachos on their 45-minutes lunch-breaks. That being said, Laredo needs to learn how to deal with the lunch rush, but I’ll cut them some slack—they’re just getting started.
Looking past the glass sneeze-guard there was a full selection of meats, vegetables and other specialties that were apparently cooked in the back and brought out to these warming trays, offering a Subway-esque appeal that would normally have me saying “¡Come Fresco!” to no one in particular, but as I was rudely pushed from the back by an aggro-looking dude I instead ordered a variety of tastes to sample.
I started off with the Carnitas Nachos ($4.99), a meal that, sadly, looked better than it actually tasted. With a decent handful of standby tortilla chips and a miserly amount of queso, additives like sour cream, jalapenos and guacamole were all extra, nickel and diming me by a couple of dollars. Still, what made these nachos troublesome were the chunks of steak; like Jack Link’s meat-nuggets, they were large and girthy, but hard-edged and rough-hewn like an aged leather daddy, manhandling my throat with every bite.
Straight from a silver steam tray next to the meats were the Cheese Enchiladas ($4.99). The large globs of yellow cheese were comically satisfying, plopped on the plate with a bit of refried beans and the rest of their then out-of-stock Mexican rice. As you’d expect from gas station enchiladas, they were of the well-stocked cheap buffet variety, overloaded with red spices and crusty corners. To be honest though, they weren’t all that bad.
As I drank a few gulps of the angelic horchata ($1.00), I mentally prepared myself for the whole reason I came to Laredo for, the terribly-named Street Tacos Plate ($6.49) and their attempts at both barbacoa and picadillo, two specialties where most other places cut corners and just add seasoning and other spices to some shredded weak beef.
But not here, thankfully.
Four tacos were loaded up in the recyclable container with a scoop of rice and a bit of black beans. Sure, the corn tortillas were rubbery like a novelty item from the Mexican edition of the Archie McPhee catalog, but the fillings were absolutely impressive. I just scraped them out and enjoyed spoonful after spoonful.
The barbacoa here is actually beef cheek meat—the difference is notable and more than welcomed. It was decently flavored with the right amount of grease swimming around, with a bit of queso fresco to liven things up. Additionally, the picadillo was surprisingly spicy with well-cooked potatoes mixed in for great measure. Good on ya, Laredo.
The Laredo Taco Company has a few things to work out—and I’m sure they’d be the first to admit that—but it’s a definite step-above most corporate fast-food Tex-Mex places around town, especially when you consider that you can fill up your gas tank for a buck seventy-five a gallon while you wait on your order. Can you do that Taco Bueno?