Quality Mexican Where You Might Have Least Expected It

Would you be surprised to hear that some of the best Mexican food around can be found in a gas station? I was. Despite the hidden location, El Crucero is no hole in the wall.

While the dining room is separated from the convenience store by little more than a rack of postcards and a vintage gumball machine, fresh-cut tulips and blue glazed napkin holders on every table help to give the room a sense of place beyond its surroundings.

It’s easy to see El Crucero as a taqueria, and indeed, the tacos didn’t disappoint. The asada and chicken fillings were so plentiful that I had to take the double tortillas apart and make separate tacos with them. At $2 for each overloaded taco, it’s just like getting four regular tacos for a buck apiece. The red salsa served with the tacos didn’t deliver the heat that I was expecting, but for those looking for a little extra kick, try asking for the habanero sauce—it comes with the cochinita torta, served Yucatecan style with slow-cooked pork and pickled red onion. Though the bread, baked firm and toasted on the griddle, provides a deeply satisfying combination of crunch and chew, I wondered if there could have been more inside the sandwich.

A board next to the counter announces specials that change daily, as well as a menudo special on Saturdays. The day I went, it was pozole, filled with more slow-cooked pork in a rich, red broth and served with fresh tortilla chips and a plate of limes, radishes, and onions. I dropped the entire contents of the plate into the soup for a single-bowl eating experience as textured as it was satisfying. It’s a large helping, and at $7, the pozole is one of the best deals I’ve seen in Corvallis.

Like any good investment, returning to El Crucero pays dividends. The second time I stopped in to eat, the owner remembered me and we chatted about his plans for the restaurant. He said that he plans to expand his kitchen into the dining room and create better signage. A more up-to-date Internet presence might help, too. But maybe don’t change too much. Part of the fun is the surprise of finding good food in a place you don’t expect it.

El Crucero can be found at 1830 Main Street in Philomath. They’re open every day, 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

By Cameron Shenassa