Forget everything you think you know about gas station food. Abandon thoughts of soggy pizza, unidentifiable empanadas, and an unfriendly staff. The underground, hole-in-the-wall restaurant is on the rise, and the modern wave of foodies knows that good eats can truly come from anywhere. Offering everything from handmade sandwiches with fresh-baked Cuban bread to romantic sit-down dinners, each of these gas stations offers a delicious surprise. Leave your worries at the pump and fuel up at the Miami spots redefining convenience-store cuisine.
Fuel up with Taqueria Morelia's tacos al pastor ($2.15).
Photo by Riki Altman
5. Taqueria Morelia at Valero Station
It may seem strange to find tacos at a Valero service station, but it's actually a pretty natural fit. After all, tacos are the ultimate on-the-go food: portable, handheld, and delicious. Honestly, we're wondering why they're not a gas-station standard. Luckily, Taqueria Morelia has it covered whenever that Mexican craving strikes, with creamy quesos, packed burritos, and enchiladas smothered in signature homemade sauces. There's a second location in Florida City, but at this Homestead storefront attached to a Valero station, you can use filling up as an excuse to chow down.
At Europa Car Wash & Cafe, guests can stop in for an affordable, delicious breakfast.
Courtesy of Europa Car Wash & Cafe
4. Europa Car Wash & Café
In most car-wash waiting areas, you’ll find stiff plastic couches, a clunky TV, and, if you’re lucky, a dispenser of day-old, lukewarm coffee. This makes walking into Europa Car Wash & Café even more of a pleasant surprise. It’s a sweet escape to a cozy yet contemporary café on an unassuming Biscayne Boulevard corner. Have your ride hand-washed while you enjoy coffeehouse classics and made-to-order sandwiches in the $5-to-$7 range. A full tank, a clean car, and great food? Sounds like the perfect pit stop.
Açaí bowls are a surprising find inside the Mobil on Coral Way.
Courtesy of Mendez Fuel
3. Mendez Fuel
Sometimes great things are found where you least expect them. Well, a gas station is quite possibly the literal last place you’d expect to find cold-pressed juices and açaí bowls, but that’s Mendez Fuel. Housed in a Mobil on Coral Way, the shop offers healthy staples, gourmet packaged foods, made-to-order sandwiches, and even a growler station for craft beers. Smoothies cost a steep $7, but they’re far from the boring strawberry-banana kind, with ingredients like almond butter, dehydrated coconut, and sea salt from the Florida Keys. Finally, a no-frills place that proves healthy doesn’t have to mean snobby. At Mendez Fuel, you’ll find the convenience of a stop 'n' shop meal without the grease, grime, or guilt.
The dishes at Pepito's Plaza are packed with Venezuelan flavors and piled high with indulgent ingredients.
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
2. Pepito’s Plaza
Pepito’s Plaza is nestled behind a Exxon gas station on NW 107th Avenue in Doral. Past the rows of traditional convenience-store goodies, casual Venezuelan cuisine is served at a counter. Gas stations may be known for grab-and-go meals, but you’ll want to get comfortable for Pepito’s hearty dishes. Everything on the menu, from hot dogs to tacos, is piled high with authentic Venezuelan flavors. Go all-out and order the special burger ($7), topped with – brace yourself – lettuce, tomato, shoestring potatoes, American cheese, ham, a fried egg, and six sauces. Plus, it’s available with your choice of a beef, chicken, or smoked pork patty. Other standout menu items, such as the massive Doralzuela ($12) – beef, chicken, pork, ham, cheese, and a fried egg – are equally indulgent and definitely worth a detour.
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El Carajo's upscale dining room is tucked behind a gas station convenience store.
Photo by George Martinez
1. El Carajo
The phrase “hidden gem” must have been coined after a trip to El Carajo. Though widespread acclaim from locals and critics alike has given this secret spot away, the original charm remains — and so does the modest “Food Store & Deli” sign. It began as a simple gas station 30 years ago, opened by a first-generation Spanish immigrant and his three sons. Since then, El Carajo has evolved from simple convenience store to wine shop to bakery to the complete dining experience it is today. In addition to Spanish staples such as seafood paella ($25), the family-owned business serves some of the best tapas in town. Small bites like garbanzo fritos ($8) and lobster-stuffed empanadas ($4.50) are served on rustic wooden tables surrounded by shelves of fine wine, making dining in the backyard of a BP station feel like a Madrid market.