Typically when somebody says they had dinner at a gas station, it involves a bag of Pemmican jerky and some Pringles, usually washed down by a 32oz Special Brew. But dig a little deeper, and you can find gas stations where the food isn’t just edible, it’s actually downright delicious. Like, going-to-the-gas-station-for-the-express-purpose-of-eating delicious. Here are eight hidden gems we found in gas stations around Miami, tucked in the back somewhere behind an entire aisle of multi-colored air fresheners.
For shocking the hell out of tourists, no place in Miami will ever top El Carajo. Just tell your carload of out-of-towners you’re taking them to one of the best tapas joints in the city, where you’ll sit in a room surrounded by hard-to-find wine bottles and dine on exquisite Spanish food. Then pull into the parking lot of a BP station on SW 17th Ave and US-1, tell them to Google translate the name of the place, and let hilarity ensue. If they’re still skeptical, be sure to tell them some serious authorities also named them one of the best gas station restaurants in America.
You’ll definitely think twice the next time your friend has a really bad idea and you say “that sounds about as smart as convenience store sushi.” Because believe it or not, the sushi coming out of this Kwik Stop on Grand Ave (which technically isn’t a gas station but is equally as unexpected a place to find first-rate sushi) not only won’t make you sick, it’ll make you come back again for more. Combine that with a menu long on Thai curries, Peruvian saltados, fresh ceviches, and spicy pad Thai and you don’t just have a great convenience-store restaurant. You have -- hands down -- one of the best Asian joints in the city.
Any self-respecting South Floridian knows that to find the best Mexican food in the region, you’ve gotta head south. Way south. As in all the way to Homestead. And, sure, getting here is kind of a schlep, but hey, at least you won’t have to go far to fuel up for the long drive home, because this Valero station on NE 8th St has an attached Mexican joint plating hearty, authentic Mexican tacos, on house-made tortillas with meat carved from rotating spits. And what’s better, the interior actually feels like a sit-down spot, and not like you’re grabbing food to spill on yourself while you’re driving back.
If we told you there was a place in Miami full of craft beer, gourmet health food, and creative street art you’d probably say “There's no WAY I’m dealing with parking in Wynwood.” But what if we told you that place was a Mobil Station on Coral Way and SW 32nd Ave? Here you can fill your growler with tasty local beers on draft, or pick from literally hundreds of craft and imported beers by the bottle. They’ve also got a pressed juice and smoothie bar, boasting stuff like almond butter smoothies, gluten-free cookies, and made-to-order sandwiches and wraps. And the colorful carwash was designed by local artist Alexander Mijares.
Miami might actually have more gas stations with Cuban cafeterias than it does ones with working restrooms. So narrowing down the best is a tough call. Our pick is attached to a Westar on Coral Way and SW 22nd Ave. First, it’s located in Miami-proper’s best stretch of cheap gas stations, meaning a fillup AND lunch here is still probably cheaper than just a tank of gas elsewhere. But it’s also home to a pan con bistec that stands up to anything in a legit Cuban restaurant... and a pretty solid medianoche.
Nobody who claims to “eat healthy” would ever readily admit to eating full meals at a gas station, right? Well, not unless you’re in South Beach, where apparently even the gas stations offer healthy, homemade salads and wraps from a mother and daughter who serve everything sans-dairy. The go-to at this West Ave Texaco is the peanut butter and jelly almond milkshake, but the entire menu is based around nut milks. So the lactose intolerant who still love a good indulgence can enjoy dairy-free drinks without worrying about the mephitic effects a few hours later.
That awkward gas station island that sits between Biscayne Blvd and NE 4th Ct at NE 54th St already has racked up a reputation as having what may be the best beer selection in the city. They’ve got over 200 brews that can’t even be found at Total Wine or Whole Foods. But the REAL hidden gem here is the fresh food they serve all day, like Miami’s best falafel outside Aventura. Also on the menu: a well-seasoned Philly cheesesteak and a Turkish specialty sandwich called Tashka, which we haven’t seen anywhere else in Miami. Much less a gas station.
There are some downright outrageous burgers in Miami, but those crazy concoctions all have one thing in common: They’re expensive. Want a Facebook post-worthy burger for less than a value meal at the airport Wendy’s? Head to this Exxon station on NW107th Ave and NW 58th St, where the Special Burger comes with American cheese, a fried egg, ham, six sauces, shoestring potatoes, and a whopping $7 price tag. The rest of the menu is long on Venezuelan specialties that don’t sound nearly as artery-clogging, like parilla barbecue, arepas, and pan con queso. And even the likes of Anthony Bourdain have thought enough of the place to pay it a visit.
Sign up here for our daily Miami email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.
1. El Carajo Tapas and Wine2465 SW 17th Ave, Miami
2. Asian Thai Kitchen3135 Grand Ave, Coconut Grove
3. Taqueria Morelia1871 NE 8th St, Homestead
4. Mendez Fuel3201 Coral Way, Miami
5. Mima's Kitchen2190 SW 22nd St , Miami
6. Milk Gone Nuts!1840 Alton Road, Miami
7. Biscayne Gas5400 Biscayne Blvd, Miami
8. Pepito's Plaza10701 NW 58th St, Doral
El Carajo is a Spanish tapas and wine bar in Coral Way. It also happens to be fronted by a functioning gas station. However, don't let the facade of convenience fool you: El Carajo just so happens to have one of the most varied collections of wine in the area. The menu features more than just tapas, with paellas and large format meat and seafood dishes for the table also on offer. One sip of sangria and you'll forget you're drinking and dining inside a BP on US-1.
As a general rule, I generally don’t turn to a convenience store for a hot meal or sushi. Asian Thai Kitchen, nestled inside a Kwik Stop in Coconut Grove, is an exception to said rule. The mother-daughter team behind the concept are turning out authentic, from-scratch Thai and Japanese dishes among Funyuns and lottery tickets. There’s nowhere to sit, but the flavor-forward curries and fresh sushi rolls are expertly crafted for take out and delivery. Leave your preconceptions at the door.
You wouldn’t expect to find authentic, high-quality al pastor tacos on house-made tortillas inside of a gas station, but that’s exactly what you’ll find in the Valero station on NE 8th St. in Homestead. Taqueria Morelia is serving Morelia Michoacan-style cuisine from its post inside a gas station. There are tortas, tacos, burritos, and top billing the chiles rellenos and chilaquiles. Grab extra napkins and salsa verde -- you’ll need them no matter what you’re eating.
Fueling Miami's masses with craft beer, fresh-pressed juices, organic health food, and actual fuel (like, for your car), Mendez Fuel is situated in a Mobil gas station and car wash, and painted with Wynwood-reminiscent street art in its home on Coral Way. There are 16 rotating taps, from which you can enjoy a pint of beer at the bar or a growler to go, or choose from a massive stockpile of bottles. Sandwiches, wraps, and smoothes are made-to-order, and the cookies are even gluten free. Don't judge a gas station by its gas; judge it by its fuel.
Possibly one of the worst places to be when hunger strikes is waiting for your car to inch its way out of the car wash. Unless that car wash is the Westar on Coral Way, because if hunger strikes there, it’s Mima’s to the rescue. The Cuban cafeteria is serving up authentic cuisine using recipes adapted from the owners’ grandparents, like pan con bistec and a media noche that will have you coming back for more, even when your car isn’t in need of a wash.
Leave it to the people of South Beach to bring health food to a gas station. And not just any health food: ice cream. Milk Gone Nuts is the South Beach-based, bikini body-hopeful’s answer to truck stop Choco Tacos and Nestle Lil’ Drums. It’s inside a gas station on Alton Rd., and focuses its healthy energies on organic juices, wraps, salads, and vegan popsicles and milkshakes. Milk has literally gone nuts: the Texaco-tucked eatery uses nut milk, and nut milk alone in each of their signature shakes, and you won’t find even a lick of dairy on the menu. Stop by for a rich, nutritious milkshake on your way to the beach… guilt-free.
Little known fact: Miami’s best liquor store is actually a gas station, probably. Biscayne Gas is home to some 700 selections of wine, beer, and sake, more than the majority of (if not all) other liquor stores in the area, and definitely more than other gas stations. You’ll likely get hungry while perusing the aisles for the perfect poison; head to the back for a Philly Cheesesteak, falafel, or Tashka (Turkish sandwich) to sate your hunger during your extended stay among Biscayne Bay’s extensive booze selection.
The word plaza might make you think of something other than gas station surrounds, and the modern stone plaza with picnic tables, umbrellas, and palm trees at Pepito’s Plaza in Doral may make you think you’re not really at a gas station. You are. You’re at an Exxon, which is home to Pepito’s, which is home to one of the city’s best burgers (for the price). It’s also home to hot dogs, arepas, and other Venezuelan-style street food, but the burger -- loaded with American cheese, a fried egg, ham, half a dozen sauces, and shoestring potatoes -- is a heart-stopping must-have for under $10, and you don’t even have to eat it in the car.