Sometimes the best food is in a place you least expect it – perhaps one you pass by every week or on long trips. We’re talking about gas stations, but not for their bags of pork rinds or sugary drinks.
Believe it or not, the food found in gas stations informs travelers about the cultural influences of that place. It might include chains known for their food, like WaWa in the northeast, or independent gas stations that the franchisees decide to offer food counters in.
For example, in South Florida, one might find Latin pastries behind the counter, while in Louisiana, it might be Cajun meats like boudin. Here are 10 gas stations you should certainly pull over for the next time you’re passing through.
Boiled peanuts at Sunrise Grocery
Sunrise Grocery boiled peanuts — Photo courtesy of Caroline Eubanks
Dating back to the 1920s, this general store in the North Georgia Mountains has a fully operational antique gas pump. Sunrise Grocery also had rumored bootlegging operations in its early days but now sells essentials for a mountain stay like vegetables, honey, bread and homemade soaps and pottery.
But what makes it such a popular stop, especially for the motorcyclists that traverse the winding roads, is the boiled peanuts. The Southern delicacy involves boiling the green peanuts for long periods of time until they become soft, with spices sometimes added.
The team at Sunrise cooks theirs in a big pot outside the store and has a popular Cajun variety. Locals will tell you to put a boiled peanut inside a glass bottle Coke for a perfect sweet-salty combination. But go early because they run out!
Po’ boys at Danny & Clyde’s Food Store
The po’ boy is a legendary Louisiana sandwich that can be found throughout the state as well as in New Orleans. But Danny & Clyde’s Food Store near the banks of Lake Pontchartrain has a great version, found behind the deli counter of this gas station.
The sandwiches are made with flaky French bread, filled with everything from fried shrimp to hot sausage to roast beef with gravy. They also have muffalettas, boudin balls and meat pies. Pick up these tasty to-go dishes on your way out of town to explore the rest of the state.
Breakfast pizza at Casey’s
You’ve heard of pizza for breakfast but what about breakfast pizza? Found at gas stations around the Midwest, this dish involves a basic crust topped with egg, cheese and sausage. Some varieties also have hash browns.
Casey’s, a gas station franchise found in Iowa and surrounding states, has versions with sausage, bacon or veggies. Customize your order with a base of sausage gravy or toppings like jalapenos or black olives. They have a few locations in Marshalltown, outside of Des Moines.
Chicken chimichanga at Allsup’s
Taos, New Mexico
Nicknamed “The Chimi,” the burrito at Allsup’s Convenience Store in New Mexico is a favorite late-night eat of the post-bar crowd. In between the fountain drinks and packaged snacks is a hot foods counter serving beef and bean or chicken chimichangas, conveniently wrapped and ready to eat. They have changing specials like a hatch chile burrito with a drink for only $3.
The store started in Roswell in 1956 and expanded into multiple locations. Best of all, the store is open 24 hours a day, so you can get your fix anytime.
Whoopie pies at Gott’s Store
Southwest Harbor, Maine
Whoopies pies can be found throughout Maine — Photo courtesy of iStock / leekris
The Citgo gas station near Acadia National Park seems like an odd spot for food, but it’s an essential road trip stop. Gott’s Store serves pizza and fried seafood but locals know that this is the best spot for whoopie pies.
The dessert is native to New England and involves two soft chocolate cookies or pieces of cake with frosting in between to make a sandwich. They even have pumpkin chocolate chip varieties. It’s the official state pie of Maine and it’s easy to see why!
Kolaches at Slovacek’s
These Czech pastries are popular breakfast items that made their way to the United States via immigrants, eventually finding themselves in Texas. There are a number of popular places to get them, but gas stations are one easy option like the ones at this Texas Exxon.
The kolach resembles a yeast dinner roll that has been stuffed with sweet or savory flavors like cheese, jam or even sausage and jalapenos. The pastries are an easy on-the-go breakfast and there are 35 flavors at Slovacek’s, in addition to other baked goods, sausage and sandwiches.
Spam musobi at Aloha Island Mart
Hawaii has a way of taking the cultures that influenced the islands and turning them into something unique. One dish that helps illustrate the foodways is Spam musubi. It’s a sushi dish made from Spam, which is a canned ham that gained popularity due to rationing during World War II.
In this musubi, the Spam is placed atop rice and wrapped in nori, making it a form of onigiri. The one-bite snack can be found throughout the Hawaiian islands, including at this popular gas station not far from Diamond Head in Honolulu. So grab one before or after your hike!
Fish tacos at Mercado & Taqueria de Amigos
California has a high number of Mexican taquerias, including those inside convenience stores, but Mercado & Taqueria de Amigos south of San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway is a must-stop.
Because of its coastal locale, the humble gas station restaurant has a seafood-heavy menu including the classic fish tacos. The lightly battered fish are cut in pieces and put in corn tortillas, topped with lettuce, onions and your choice of salsas. Pair with a horchata for the full experience, but bring cash.
Pepperoni rolls at Mid Atlantic Market
Morgantown, West Virginia
Pepperoni rolls make a great grab-and-go snack — Photo courtesy of Candace Nelson
The truly Appalachian pepperoni roll was created by an Italian immigrant in 1927 as a snack for coal miners. Made up of a yeast roll stuffed with pepperoni, they can be found throughout the state, served both room temperature and warmed. They might also include cheese and peppers.
In the college city of Morgantown, you can fuel up your tank and your stomach at Mid Atlantic Market, which sells both pepperoni rolls and deli sandwiches alongside Italian meats, cheeses and olives.
Fried chicken at King Chicken Fillin’ Station
King Chicken — Photo courtesy of Tupelo Convention & Visitor’s Bureau
Set inside Lee County’s oldest gas station near the birthplace of Elvis Presley, King Chicken is known for its golden fried chicken, especially alongside a biscuit topped with honey butter. It’s the perfect way to start the day.
Tucked inside Belden Grocery & Deli, they also have pieces of smoked and fried chicken for lunch, as well as pulled smoked chicken topped with bacon, cheese, slaw, pickles and two types of barbecue sauce. They even host Saturday brunch and monthly live blues music.