Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Yes, this is a gas station. No, it is not particularly scenic. BUT... something makes this Mobil station very special, and it has been lurking in the backs of our minds for seven or eight years or more.

Several years before we hit the road, I read about a quirky restaurant in a Mobil gas station's convenience store on the east side of the Tioga Pass Road through Yosemite, not the most easily accessible location (especially this time of year, when Tioga Pass is still closed by snow).

The review stuck in my mind though, and yesterday, we found it: the Tioga Gas Mart, on Hwy 120 at the junction with Hwy 395, and home to Tioga Toomey's Whoa Nellie Deli, (read the menu here), famous far beyond the little town of Lee Vining, where it is located.

Ever since we decided to drive Hwy 395 for our return route to Sacramento, Odel has been imagining the fare at the Whoa Nellie Deli and salivating. As soon as we arrived in Lee Vining and set up "camp" (read our review of Mono Vista RV Park here), he was ready to hop in the car and go get lunch. In his dreams, he thought we might want to eat dinner there both nights we were in Lee Vining; an early menu check would allow us to plan accordingly.

Who am I to trample on a dream?? Off we went for our culinary adventure.

The GOOD: the menu was as interesting as we had read/heard and the food we ordered was outstanding. I had the "Legendary Lobster Taquitos on a bed of brazilian black beans with tomatillo salsa and salad", the colorful plate shown here.

Those red tortillas are rolled around a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth lobster stuffing (the consistency of cream cheese) and deep-fried. Everything on the plate was delicious, including the bit of fresh mango salsa and the huckleberry salad dressing.

Odel went for a slab of St. Louis Style BBQ Ribs with Huckleberry BBQ Sauce. You can imagine the grin on his face when this plate arrived!

The "sides" were potato salad and a vegetable neither of us could identify (above the ribs, on the right), an unusual state of affairs. Delicous, salty, buttery, garlic-y, it appears to be either finely chopped/grated or put through a ricer... hmmmm, what the heck IS that??

Chef Matt Toomey, out greeting his guests (seated in booths and at tables at one end of the squeaky clean convenience store), answered our question: spaghetti squash! Wow. I'm gonna have to try making that stuff again - mine never tasted like that! I think the butter, garlic and liberal salt application must be the key. I could have had a bowl of THAT for lunch.

The BAD: we were unable to restrict our ordering to what might be considered "lunch" (soup, salad, sandwiches, for instance). As you can imagine looking at the portions we consumed, we didn't have much of an appetite when dinnertime arrived, even after a walk from our campground to beautiful Mono Lake.

Instead of a return visit to Whoa Nellie Deli, we browsed through our leftovers and found some goodies there from a few nights ago: cold grilled chicken thighs and Greek Style Quinoa Salad. The salad recipe came to me from a Canadian BookCrosser who read of my quinoa obsession and sent me a link to her award-winning salad (thanks, GypsyMom!).

I made a few very minor changes (noted in italics on my linked recipe above and on the recipe roster) because we like strong flavors. It was great when fresh AND as leftovers!


  1. Some of the best places are the ones we would never think of walking into.... Ever wonder how many great places we have passed up because of looks!!! I will remember this place and next time we find ourselves in the area will be sure to stop. Did you ever think of doing another blog with all the food places you have found unique??

  2. Laurie, your photos are WONDERFUL! Doesn't matter if it is food or landscape, they are nicely composed and interesting.

  3. After you mentioned the vegetable that you couldn't name, I looked closely at the picture and thought to myself, looks like spaghetti squash! I was right, when I read that the chef said it was so! We will also have to try that place when next we are in the area.

    Hugs, Sharon & Ron