Who knew that the corner gas station could be the kitschiest hangout within earshot of downtown Riverside? No, not the gasser where GW’s fat cat buds drop the petrol price just long enough for you to vote Republican come November—this pit stop will fuel you up for no more than $10 per pop, and without mucking up the air.
I’m talking about the funky retro sunshiny edifice that got ripped out of the annals of Route 66 glossy books and pasted onto the corner of Brockton and Mission Inn Avenues in full Technicolor. Around since 1941, the old LaRue Lovelady Shell Station had been choking up Riverside skylines. This all changed when Mario Cortez, Ron Snell and Luis Rosas bought the joint recently, and gassy LaRue Lovelady became the gluttonous Taco Station; and Taco Station has it all—location, taste and people clever enough to drive funk to a new octane high.
Walking into Taco Station is like time warping into the real era of Back to the Future and Happy Days. Though the Fonz isn’t around to thumb his “Heyyyyy!” outside the bathroom doors, the khaki-clad attendants are—and they’ll grab you by the britches and jumpstart your engines. Not literally, of course, but it feels that way—it’s all hyper-stimulation. But what’s not to love about bright yellow and green walls, red concrete floors (remnants of its car-hopping days) and red kitchen chairs? There’s also that lardinous slab of pork al pastor that’s begging for carnivorous attention, the gum drop-filled gas pump just past the door, and the glass case filled with cinnamon-covered churros that subliminally whisper sugar rush.
Did I say churros? Yes, I did. Taco Station is not your everyday milkshake whipping-all-American cheeseburger flippiteria, see. The autobots hob-nobbin it here are not of your average Richtie Cunningham gringo variety. What used to be strictly grease monkey, hot-rod rippin’ territory is now the stomping grounds for the Neapolitan hipster and the kind of regional Chicano melting pot where the politics of the empty belly are the ones at work.
Meanwhile, the menu reads like the parts list at Pep Boys, and the ladies behind the counter are whipping up corn tortillas from scratch and machine gun slicing up tender strips of beef and chicken.
Kicking off my adventure in Automotive 101 are two full-service platters whose fuel-efficient economy would rock anybody’s boat: the Regular with three mildly spiced carne asada tacos full of cilantro and onions, done up anyway I choose (with or without cheese, tons of cabbage and lettuce, and salsa to my heart’s desire) with rice and a good helping of noxious beans, or the Baja-style Unleaded piled high with huge chunks of melt-in-your-mouth good fried mahi mahi. Both are steals at a mere $6.50 and $5.99—a pittance, and infinitely tastier when kicked up a notch with some very high octane salsa (muy hot, indeed).
The Self Serve route isn’t a bad deal either for those with plenty of air to spare in their tire—mix and match some Brake Pads (tacos) and Brake Discs (gorditas), but don’t ever mix a Diesel (burrito) pounder with other stuff like the Macho-sized Super Unleaded mega taco—you might have a blowout. Very fat, very delish, and very satisfying, the Full Serve Regular alone put me down for an afternoon siesta in the back of my Accord.
Do yourself a favor and head over to Taco Station for fuel that’ll make your engine purr—after all, who knew “the corner station” could be such a gastronomic delight?
Taco Station, 4088 Mission Inn Ave. (at Brockton), Riverside, (951) 782-8226; www.tacostation.com. Lunch for two, around $15.