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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

Link: http://www.thesierraweb.com/tiogagasm...

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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.

        Link: http://www.latimes.com/travel/destina...

      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 Deli....it 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.

            1. Just wanting to let people know that Whoa Nellie Deli is closing for the season this coming Sun, October 29, 2006.

              My friends and I went Sun 10/22/06 and I enjoyed the St Louis style baby back ribs $17.95! Just very good w/ good bbq sauce. They ran out of garlic mash so got potato salad instead which was fine. I didn't like the coleslaw side.

              Friend got jambalaya which he liked. Another friend got the mealoaf which he enjoyed.

              They take credit card too.

              my pics: http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow...

              Tioga Gas Mart
              22 Vista Point Road
              Lee Vining, CA

              1. Too bad I didn't know about this place before I went there a couple of weeks ago. My friend & I did 'The Fall Color Tour' and went thru Lee Vining on our way south to Mono, June & Mammoth Lakes. We ate at Nicely's Restaurant, which was decent w/great service. But I would have loved to enjoyed your experience!

                1. I was there a few months ago and while it is a novelty to find in this area and I have recommended it sincerely in the past, I again was underwhelmed with the fish tacos - they were okay and too messy to eat easily as the taco shell fell apart readily, and the one slice of the chocolate cake was portion overkill (get one for two, that is obvious) - size of portions can be more dining gimmick, than credible dining.

                  The lines at dinner time were daunting to the point of seeking food elsewhere in town - yup, just food, lots of ribs and chili but at far cheaper prices than Whoa Nellie.

                  1. Some recent travels brought me through Yosemite en route to June Lake. Just east of the Yosemite on the corner of the 395 and 120 is a small crossroads of civilization, Whoa Nellie Deli at the Mobil gas station.

                    Several in the town of June Lake informed us that this was must-dining. So while it was still a bit of a drive away from where we were staying, we headed down to road, a good 20-minute drive. I was certainly surprised when, in fact, we found there was a restaurant called Mobil Restaurant.

                    Upon arrival, one could see that seating would not be a problem with ample outdoor picnic tables and indoor booths. We were very fortunate as there was a French wine tasting being held that evening.

                    The daily specials and full menu are posted above the order counter and I had a chance to chat with chef, Matt Twoomey, the master and man behind the evening's joy.

                    We started with a seared Ahi steak, served with a seaweed salad. This was a pretty hefty starter and would have been a great dinner for me alone. Great quality fish and perfectly seasoned soy-based sauce.

                    "K" ordered an herb-crusted pork served with an apricot/berry glaze while I opted for the venison, crusted with shallots and nuts, served with a red-wine glaze.

                    Both entrees were served with fresh asparagus and mashed potatoes. Of our two desserts, a six-layer carrot cake blew me away and a fresh cheesecake served with a fresh berry sauce was preferred by "K".

                    It is hard to describe the absolute glee that was experienced throughout the entire dinner. Of course much of it had to do with the location - one never expects to find exceptional food offerings at a gas station. The existence of a Sunday-night wine tasting certainly helped. Technically, the deli is known as "Whoa Nellie Deli" but everyone in town calls it the Mobil restaurant. Chef Twoomey admitted that there are things he would love to experiment with, but has obvious limitations due to the gas station's kitchen. Both meat dishes were amazingly prepared and of obvious high quality. The sauces were sensible and well-balanced. One can see that they were opulent in size and we were hard-pressed to finish our meals. Overall, this had to be one of the most memorable meals I have ever experienced and gives me good reason to head back to the area.

                    On a follow-up note, we had to drive by the following morning and I stopped for a smoked trout bagel. Another stunner, the fresh bagel had a pesto-based smoked trout spread accompanied a large slice of smoked trout, capers, tomato, and red onion. Amazing.

                    1. The Whoa Nellie Diner at Tioga Twoomey's continues it's stellar tradition of wonderful food. I had one of the specials, a fried calamari sandwich with cajun sauce. It was served with a spring mix salad topped with fresh blackberries and a vinegarette.My friend had the steak ceasar salad (the favorite of the 2 staff we spoke with). Both items were delicious and served within 10 minutes of ordering.

                      3 Replies
                        1. re: toodie jane

                          It's not cheap! A couple of the entrees (The pork and maybe something else) are $20+, but there is a wide array of prices, depending on the entree. And the pork was enough to serve at least two, so it's not a bad deal at all.

                          1. re: pkt63

                            We've also been there often to get sandwiches to go when hiking or heading out to visit Bodie. Excellent for picnic fare too!

                      1. AMAZING!!!!! Everything was delicious. My husband taught Matt Toomey I high school
                        and we were treated like Royalty. The music on Wed -Sunday night was
                        outstanding. Parking spaces galore! The nicest staff.
                        We will be back. Thanks Matt & everyone at the
                        Whoa Nellie Deli in Lee Vining.