If you are going to visit Yosemite National Park and you have the opportunity to drive through Tioga Pass (the eastern entrance into the park), the best gas station food is waiting for you.
Yes, you read that right: The Best Gas Station Food… EVER! And I’m not talking about 3-day old hot dogs, nachos, slushies or stale funyuns. This is my second post about my family’s trip to Yosemite last week. If you have never been, you really need to plan a trip ASAP. We spent 6 days camping at Yosemite National Park. And for one of those days, my husband decided to take us on a day trip out of Yosemite Valley and off to explore the infamous Tioga Pass.
Tioga Pass is the eastern entrance into Yosemite National Park. It is just shy of 10,000 feet elevation and is typically closed from November thru May due to ice and snow. And in the middle of July, we still found plenty of snow here.
Despite it’s harsh weather, Tioga Pass is simply tranquil and gorgeous in July. When we went in 2011, we had a very wet and snowy year. The rivers and lakes in Yosemite were full and the waterfalls were gushing. The mountains of Tioga Pass were still capped with snow, and you could find water trickling down the mountain sides and onto the highway throughout the drive.
There was so much water from snow melt this year, that the lakes in Tuolumne Meadows over flowed their banks. We found flooded campgrounds and soggy picnic tables, which was a nice sight considering California has been in a drought and the most of the lakes in California have frightfully low levels of water.
This snow melt feeds the rivers and creeks that flow down to Yosemite Valley and yes, the water is ice cold. My kids enjoyed snowball fights in their shorts, and we made several stops along the way to our ultimate destination – lunch.
A coworker of my husband’s told us out this infamous Mobil gas station and the amazing food we could eat there. I was getting car sick from the 2-hour drive and couldn’t imagine a gas station having swoon-worthy food. I was skeptical and wondered if I could swallow a convenience store hot dog from and not hurl on the 2-hour return trip back to our campsite. I had no idea what was waiting for us.
At the intersection of U.S. Route 395 and California State Route 120 you will find a Mobil gas station. It’s the only gas station for miles and there is nothing around it except, well, nature. And inside this gas station is the Tioga Toomey’s Whoa Nellie Deli.
You can find all kinds of trinkets and souvenirs from Yosemite inside, as well as the typical gas station finds of gum, chips and sodas. But, what makes this place NOT your typical gas station is the food.
I ordered the salad with seared salmon and it looked like this. Gorgeous, isn’t it?
My husband ordered a steak sandwich. And it really was a steak sandwich, no mystery meat here. The experience was surreal and extra-ordinary. Were we really dining in a gas station eating this gourmet meal?
Granted, the kids had slices of pizza for lunch. It was nothing special, but certainly a nice change from the usual camp food they were eating that particular week. But Mom and Dad were pleasantly surprised and their tummies were certainly happy.
And dessert? No convenience store garbage for us. Cheesecake, carrot cake and this fudgy chocolate cake with raspberry sauce.
I was thrilled that we were able to enjoy such good food at reasonable prices, a real undiscovered gem in Yosemite. Undiscovered? Not really. I found this hanging on the wall by the restrooms.
Looks like Gourmet Magazine beat me to it. And if you google the Whoa Nelli Deli, you will find that others have found this secret getaway, as well.
And now YOU know, too!
So if you drive through Tioga Pass, or if you drive north past Mammoth Lakes and visit the saline splendors of Mono Lake, you have a wonderful lunch waiting for you.
UPDATE: I visited the Whoa Nelli Deli again in 2017 during a trip to see the Tufa Towers at Mono Lake. The food is still excellent. This time, the kids and I ordered the steak sandwich. It’s still a real steak sandwich. And the chocolate cake? Still fudgy and incredible.