I love to cook. Part of the reason for that is the fact that I love to eat. What’s more, I really like to eat good stuff. So, Mrs. NH and I have put our cooking skills to use over the past 5 or so years in order to recreate the flavors from the US that we miss eating. However, there’s one flavor that we haven’t been able to completely master in our Prague apartment. That’s barbecue. We’ve tried and even had some good success with ribs cooked in dark Czech beer and the legendary Coca-Cola brisket. They hold our cravings at bay. Well, I should say they did until this last trip to Texas. Then, darnit, my folks took us to Cranky Frank’s and ruined everything.
Cranky Frank’s, quite simply, is the best Texas BBQ I have ever had. No, I’m not the biggest Q expert on the planet but I do know the good stuff when I have it. On our last swing through Texas, we hit the aforementioned Frank’s (Fredericksburg), Rudy’s (Austin), Strack Farms (Spring), and Salt Lick (Dripping Springs). All had something to love, but honestly, Cranky Frank’s kicked the butt of all of them.
I ate there several years back when it was still Ken Hall BBQ and it wasn’t as good. This time, it was superlative. Tender, moist and succulently salty ribs. Pull apart brisket laced with just enough fat to equal tons of flavor. And the right “bang” of vinegar in the potato salad to stand up to Frank’s signature sauces. Smokey beans with a nice, silky texture. Wow, wow, wow. It so hurts to write this post from over 3000 miles away. I topped all of those flavors off with a Lone Star beer (criminally underrated brew, by the way) and haven’t stopped talking about the meal since then. To add to it, I brought a Cranky Frank’s bumper sticker to a Welshman named Frank who works down the hall from my office. Lo and behold, he’d been to Fredericksburg but sadly for him, not to Frank’s.
No, that meal hasn’t left my mind since I took the first bite off of those beautifully smoked ribs. It’s the gold standard of Texas BBQ as far as this blogger is concerned. The fact that it’s something we can’t replicate at home makes it all the more legendary – and that makes me cranky.
Texas always holds its fair share of surprises and this trip was no different. When a post-concert request for tacos turned into a detour to the “other side of town,” the surprise was well worth the trip. When I requested tacos in the first place, I was expecting something like Taco Cabana. What I got, thanks to a good friend, were Fuel City Tacos.
Yeah, the name confused me as well. I mean, it sounds like a gas station. That’s because it is. It’s literally a hole in the wall of a gas station (complete with bars on late-night visits). They serve Beef Fajita, Chicken Fajita, Pastor, Picadillo and Barbacoa tacos with plenty of options including corn or flour tortillas. The Barbacoa came highly recommended so I got three. Words cannot do these Mexican vessels of delight justice. Fluffy soft, double-wrapped in corn tortilla, the barbacoa sits nestled under a blanket of onions, lime and cilantro. On the side you get a red and a green sauce and I ended up using both liberally. As the juice ran down my arm (and I fought to keep it off my buddy’s car interior), I was transported to a place one rarely gets to visit. The place in your head where you know you are having some of the best food you will ever eat. Fuel City Tacos are the best tacos I have ever had. Ever.
Buoyed by this late night visit, I took the family on a “fuel stop” to Fuel City Tacos on our way out of Big D. This time, our friends had recommended we looked for the “Corn Lady” in front, under an umbrella-topped cart. She was described as serving some of the best corn you’ve ever had. I took the bait and got the corn. It was big kernel corn with a super-concentrated hot sauce, what looked like Chihuahua cheese and maybe mayo. The picture makes it look like kind of a mess but the dish that she served up in the styrofoam cup was excellent. The corn was just the right tenderness and the mix of other ingredients (I ordered mine “gringo” mild and am glad I did) served as the perfect foil to the sweetness of the corn. That followed up by another five barbacoa tacos and we were ready to hit the road down to Austin.
Interestingly, on that drive south, I was overcome by an incredible sense of well-being. Part of it was the fact that I had just spent several days with my bro, his family, and some of the best friends anyone could ever hope for. The other part was the fact that Texas, in general, felt like pulling on a worn pair of jeans and Mr. Rogers sweater after a long day in a suit and shiny leather shoes. Everything makes sense in Texas. Even the fact that the best tacos in the state can be found at a gas station.