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Jul 22, 2002 10:42 AM

Whoa Nellie! Tioga Gas Mart, Lee Vining

  • j

If you are anywhere in the Eastern Sierra area, fight all your instincts that are telling you 'NO' and go to the Tioga Mobil Gas Mart for a meal.

When a friend heard that we were going to Mono lake, she enthused about a restaurant in the Mobil Mart in Lee Vining. My initial reaction was, "yah right," but I looked it up and turns out this place has totally been written up and is quite the well-known Eastern Sierra food haven.

But still ... it is in a Mobil Mart. All I have to say is that we ate there the first night and proceeded to eat our next SEVEN MEALS there! It was fantastic.

First night, I was all overwhelmed by the menu and come our turn I didn't know what to order - so I end up ordering a steak caesar salad, and J. ordered a salmon salad. I spent the next 10 minutes beating myself up thinking, "WHY would you order a steak caesar at a mobil mart."

We get our food and go outside to hang out at the picnic tables (packed at 10pm). The tables and the lawn were packed with people chowing and listening to live music. All under the Mobil Mart neon glow, complete with citronella-burning tiki lanterns.

The food was INCREDIBLE. J.'s salad was this beautiful piece of fish over lettuce with a raspberry vinaigrette and just a bunch of fresh ripe fruit on the side, and mine was this awesome medium rare steak over a fantastic salad. I am fairly picky about caesar salads, and am not very tolerant of any salad preparation that is not traditional. This was a traditional caesar with a beautiful (and very generous) steak on top. Both of our jaws were just on the floor because we couldn't believe what we were eating ... at a MOBIL MART!

Over the next several days, we ate fish tacos, pork tenderloin, mushroom sherry soup (my favorite thing that I ate - deliciously mushroomy, and not super heavy), more salads, sandwiches (ham sandwiches were just okay. pepper turkey sandwiches were exceptional. none served with condiments - you add your own. great for packing for the day), smoked trout bagel sandwich, amazing smoked trout omelette, caramel apple cheesecake ... ahhh! I could go on and on about each of these things.

Did I mention this was at a gas station?

We ended spending quite a while talking to the chef - Matt Toomey - he's about 35 and just has this incredible story of how the mobil mart amazingness came about. He was pretty funny. He knew that we had eaten all of our meals there, but said that he makes this conscious effort not to say, "oh - back again?" to everyone who comes in repeatedly - he knows that people generally want to be left alone and not have it pointed out that they were there 4 hours earlier. The owner of the Mobil mart is an ear to ear smile, who wanders around greeting people. You'd be grinning as well if you had this chef come in, "to make some hotdogs," and end up with the best gourmet dishes around right in your gas station.

One big regret: didn't get to try the famous chocolate cake. If someone gets to try it, let me know, I'm seriously considering driving out there to get a slice if it's good enough.

Tioga Gas Mart
22 Vista Point Road
Lee Vining, CA


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  1. j
    Jennie Sheeks

    This is hilarious. Their website says that Bananas Foster is the house specialty dessert. I'm trying to figure out how they can do a flaming dessert at a gas station. Oooh, let's hope it doesn't involve the other commodity besides food sold at this location.

    1. i think it was also a review of it in the food/recipe section in the Sunday Los Angeles Times Magazine from a few months ago. does anyone also happen to have the link? it would be really appreciated. thanks.

      1 Reply
      1. re: kevin
        chip-chip vanderloop

        This is the only one I could find, from 08/05/2001. Just makes mention of the place though. Note: To access the story, you might have to be a member of the site.


      2. the first time I heard about this place was a few years ago and my friends did the same thing you did....they loved the food so much they drove back down the Canyon from their campgrounds and ate the rest of their meals at the Whoa Nelli is quite the find and did I mention that it is in a Mobil Gas Station?

        1. I just had some of the chocolate cake today; take the drive and get some!

          1. YES the food at the Tioga Gas Mart is wonderful! It is very sad that there is better food at the Mobil gas station in Lee Vining Ca than any so called 5 star restaurants here in Florida. You did not mention pricing, and I must add that the costs were more than reasonable at Tioga Gas Mart. The people watching factor was also pretty special.