"You might want to grab a seat," the cashier advises me. "It gets busy here." She ain't joking. I arrive at the South Trail Texaco that houses Taco Jalisco a little before noon. For now, it's quiet, but that calm goes out the window once the lunch breakers arrive.
Jalisco opened earlier this year on the right side of the Texaco, with just three small tables and four seats against the window panes that look out onto the station's hot pavement and pumps. As the lunch hour rolls in, the space fills with construction workers, nearby office dwellers and sweaty athletes refueling after a workout.
You order at a long counter that runs the width of the station, pay at the Texaco's main cash register and then await your cuisine, which stays true to Mexican lunchtime tradition. You'll find tacos ($1.05-$2.50), gorditas that vary by the day ($3.50), burritos ($3.99-$6.99), tortas ($7.99) and much, much more. This joint even serves breakfast in the form of eggy burritos ($4.99), beginning at 7 a.m. six days a week and 9 a.m. on Sundays.
Chips and guacamole ($4.99-$5.99) kick things off correctly, with warm, freshly fried corn and a large bowl of chunky avocado, tomatoes, onions and spices. A basket disappears in no time. Taco protein options include fish, chicken, beef, tongue and multiple types of pork. A taco stuffed with al pastor pork is charming, but the fish in the cod taco ($2.29) is mostly flavorless—a symptom that plagues almost all fish tacos.
Jalisco's gordita is more impressive. Today's special includes chicharrón, along with queso blanco. The corn envelope around the meat has been well griddled; it's crispy and pockmarked with brown spots. The torta, meanwhile, is more substantial—a full-on sandwich that comes served with a side of bland crinkle fries and a roasted jalapeño. The bread is soft, perfect for soaking up the juices of the pastor meat inside. Lettuce and cheese add to the package—as does Jalisco's impressive selection of sauces. Ranging in heat from zero to habanero, the condiments make everything they touch better. A thin avocado dressing is a particular winner.
Don't leave without a caramel churro ($1.50), a vast improvement over the station's regular variety ($1.25). It's crispy, of course, but moist inside, too. To drink, you have the full range of gas station beverages at your disposal. Grab a tallboy Diet Coke, a Straw-Ber-Rita, whatever. Truly, this Texaco is a wonderland. Which explains the constant consumption by customers craving comestibles. That cashier wasn't telling no lies.
Taco Jalisco is located inside the Texaco gas station at 6895 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, and is open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. For more info, call (941) 312-4754.