Fill up with gourmet fare at these historic gas station-turned-restaurants.
Gas stations aren’t known for their fine cuisine for practical reasons. Who has time for a long meal when there are miles to be clocked, right? But across America, restauranteurs are setting up shop in former gas stations, replacing rubbery hot dogs, day-old donuts, and congealed cheese pizza with innovative fare in settings full of history and tradition. We’re talking bacon-wrapped meatloaf with bourbon-infused butter, trendy tacos, octopus salad with chickpeas and edamame, and more. So step right up to your neighborhood gas station restaurant and fill ’er up. Here are 13 of the best gas-station-turned-restaurants.
WHERE: Albuquerque, New Mexico
This 1930s Texaco gas station along the legendary Route 66 has been converted into a 1950s-type diner, though the food is completely modern-day diner “rethink.” The signature dish is bacon-wrapped meatloaf sandwich with bourbon-infused butter, having been featured on the Food Network series Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The standard burger and green chili chicken chowder are also worth a try. And don’t skip dessert, with the likes of cranberry raspberry cheesecake empanada jettisoning you straight to sugar nirvana.
WHERE: Chicago, Illinois
A 1940s Pierce service station is now home to a trendy taco honky-tonk in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, where Mexican street food has been infused with Midwest style. We’re talking taco de panza (braised pork belly with tomato guajillo sauce), taco al pastor (marinated roasted pork shoulder with grilled pineapple) and taco de pescado (beer-battered tilapia fillet). Indoors can be crowded; the large outdoor seating area is perfect in warmer months.
INSIDER TIPSwing by 30 or 40 minutes before you want to eat. It’s first-come, first-served, and there’s always a line.
Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue
WHERE: Kansas City, Missouri
One of the nation’s top-rated smokehouses serving some of the planet’s most delicious BBQ, Joe’s occupies a little former neighborhood gas station in Kansas City. Originally called Oklahoma Joe’s for the setting of its original restaurant in Stillwater, Oklahoma (even though this one also opened in 1996), it took on the KC nomenclature in 2014. Go for the pulled pork or beef brisket. Or, if you can’t decide, go for both with the Smoky Joe, served on a pillow-soft bun. Then again, the Z-man sandwich is a local favorite: sliced smoked brisket, smoked provolone, onion rings, and barbecue sauce all on a Kaiser roll. Heck, it’s all good. You can’t go wrong.
INSIDER TIPJoe’s also sells pulled pork, beef brisket, turkey, ham, and sausage by the pound—which will feed three adults.
Grindhouse Killer Burgers on Piedmont Avenue
WHERE: Atlanta, Georgia
It’s not the fanciest place around (you order at the counter), but the Grindhouse’s setting is hip and casual (an old filling station, of course), and the burgers are—based on the crowds—indeed killer. The signature burger is the grindhouse style, with American cheese, grilled onions, lettuce, pickles, and the special Grindhouse sauce. Other options include gringo style (black bean spread, pico de gallo, avocado, jalapeños, and fiery diablo sauce), euro style (Swiss cheese, sautéed mushrooms, lettuce mustard, and mayonnaise), and cowboy style (cheddar cheese, applewood bacon, crispy Vidalia onion rings, and BBQ sauce). Also killer: The covered patio.
Elaia & Olio
WHERE: St. Louis, Missouri
You can still spot the porcelain bricks and garage doors of this beautifully restored art deco filling station, though any oil you’ll find will be of the olive type, decorating shelves of reclaimed wood as well as enhancing dishes on the rotating menu of small Mediterranean plates. Top draws are the thyme-infused fish stew and octopus salad with chickpeas and edamame. If you can’t decide, opt for the four-course prix-fixe dinner. Olio’s space is industrial-mod down to the vintage record player pumping the tunes. Elaia is the elegant wine bar occupying an adjacent historic house where the original gas station’s owner once lived.
INSIDER TIPOlio’s wine program has earned it a place in Wine Enthusiast’s America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants in 2014 and 2015. So yes, you should order some wine.
Red Truck Bakery
WHERE: Warrenton, Virginia
Red Truck Bakery in Old Town Warrenton, Virginia (about 50 miles west of Washington, D.C.), may occupy a former Esso filling station, but it also happens to be one of the nation’s best small eateries. Among its accolades: northern Virginia’s Best Bakery, Best Locally Owned Coffee House, Best Breakfast Place and Best Place for Sandwiches. Not to mention, Andrew Zimmern called the granola “the best granola in North America.” Though the sour-cream coffee cake, double chocolate moonshine cake, and Shenandoah apple cake are also amazing. Red Truck is open Monday through Saturday and also offers a small menu of soups and sandwiches. A sister bakery recently opened in the town of Marshall, 15 minutes north.
INSIDER TIPIf you can’t make it to Warrenton or Marshall, you can order the decadent delights online.
Book a Hotel
WHERE: New Orleans, Louisiana
Classic American with a modern Southern attitude aptly describes the dishes of this fun and funky New Orleans restaurant occupying a 1940s filling station. The signature mac & cheese is famous; if you don’t order them, everyone will shun you, FACT (so says the menu). Perhaps you’ll also find cast iron chickies (chicken wings with smoked bacon and pickled chilies), pork tenderloin with herbed grits, and the locally world-famous Cowbell burger, with signature ketchup and agogo sauce. And it’s all served up within the comforting confines of reclaimed wood-lined walls and bottle cap art. No wonder the resto’s motto is “Eat Happy.” Look for daily specials on their Facebook page.
Xiao Bao Biscuit
WHERE: Charleston, South Carolina
An old Exxon station and auto repair shop hides a local hipster hot spot for Asian soul food. That’s right, Asian-inspired dishes interpreted with Lowcountry ingredients. Specialties might include bo tai chanh (Vietnamese beef carpaccio with watermelon), Okonomiyaki (Japanese cabbage pancake topped with farm egg, bacon, and/or pork candy), and fiery mapo dou fu (spicy pork and tofu cubes). Handcrafted cocktails add to the allure; try the Sichuan Sting (Sichuan-peppercorn-infused gin).
INSIDER TIPThe bright green picnic tables are the place to be in warm weather.
Southern Soul BBQ
WHERE: St. Simons Island, Georgia
This award-winning smokehouse, sitting in a ’50s gas station along an island road, is all about beachy comfort. License plates adorn the walls, and on-tap brews flow freely. Pork, ribs, and brisket, even turkey are slow-cooked more than 12 hours the “old-fashioned way,” over hardwood-fired logs. Though you can also get corn dogs, BBQ sandwiches, and rotating specials of the day. The joint opened in 2007, but true success came in 2010 after Guy Fieri of Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives stopped by. He showcased the “super tender” brown-sugar-and-tupelo-honey-coated ribs, “ with special kudos going to the Brunswick stew, a slow-cooked jumble of smoked chicken, pork, tomatoes, corn, lima beans and more. Just before the show aired, a fire gutted the building. They reopened within weeks, barely missing a beat. Indeed, neither have the long lines of fans who continue wait their turn for some of the nation’s best BBQ. To see what’s cooking, check the Instagram feed @southernsoulbbq.
Ellerbe Fine Foods
WHERE: Fort Worth, Texas
A 1920s gas station it may once have been, but this award-winning ode to farm-to-table fare in Fort Worth is about as far away from pumping gas as you can get. With the elegant décor and pots of rosemary and mint out front, this is the sort of place locals come to celebrate anniversaries and go on dates. The seasonal, sustainable, constantly changing menu honors the chefs’ southern roots (they’re from Louisiana) with a culinary nod to their adopted city. You’ll find the likes of cornmeal-crusted Texas redfish, wild Burgundy escargot, and panéed lobster tail. If you can, get a seat on their beautiful patio (once the portico for gas pumps), even if there’s a line. It’s well worth the wait to dine on amazing cuisine beneath a perfect Texas night.
INSIDER TIPThe in-house market purveys yummy condiments and boutique wine so you can bring home the goodness.
WHERE: Berkley, Michigan
While some gas-station-turned-restaurants hide their origins, Vinsetta Garage plays theirs up loud and clear with the original brick façade, cement floors, neon signs, and twists on classic mechanics’ fare: Angus burgers with bacon on house-made pretzel buns, wood-fired pizzas, and their famous Union mac and cheese. Though you can bet anything at this hugely successful eatery on Detroit’s outskirts will taste eons better than any typical roadside fare. Vinsetta resides in what’s believed to be the oldest garage (1919) east of the Mississippi.
The owners have a second joint in an old gas station, called Honcho Latin Street Food & Coffee. It’s in Clarkson, also on Detroit’s outskirts.
WHERE: Brooklyn, NYC
A mother-daughter duo opened this French bistro in a former garage that has become one of Brooklyn’s hottest restaurants. Mom Catherine Allswang, a Parisian chef-restauranteur originally from Normandy, is responsible for the French-infused menu, while daughter Rachel Allswang is an interior designer, responsible for the cozy space with its open kitchen, yellow walls, and orange-covered chairs. The seasonal, locally sourced menu tempts with the likes of hanger steak à la plancha with duck-fat potatoes and béarnaise sauce, braised rabbit stemperata with capers, green olives, and celery—or go for the organic chicken for two, presented at the table whole and served with an apricot-sweet potato side.
INSIDER TIPThis is the place to go for the special Bastille Day (July 14) menu.
Tank Garage Winery
WHERE: Calistoga, California
Check your snootiness at the door of this unique winery in California’s château-filled Napa Valley. Housed in a ’30s mechanics’ garage and gas station, it still very much looks the part. Indeed, people ask if they can pump gas at the historic gas tanks (if only—the long-frozen dials register in cents, not dollars), and the garage door opens on warm days. The wines are as singular as their setting—one-off craft wines that aren’t distributed (though you can order online or join the wine club).