Pack your bags! In honor of life’s most delicious highways, we give you Hit the Road, Snack, our travel guide of things to eat, see, and do this summer, from coast to coast.
Living in New Jersey means never having to leave your seat if you need to fill up gas—a fact this Jersey girl loved. So efficient! Where else does a driver not need to hit pause on the “Summer Tunes” CD she burned when pulling over for gas? No other state, that’s where.
And then, I went to college in upstate New York, where I stopped inside many a Stewart’s while my car was refueling. The attendant urged me to forgo my old faithful (cookies 'n' cream) for black raspberry, an Adirondack specialty with a deep purple hue. Neither a raspberry nor a blackberry, black raspberries hit that perfect balance of sweet and tart. Its deliciousness practically chased the Jersey out of this girl. No amount of fantastic highway diners could let me forgive my home state for depriving me of all the regional specialties I’d missed out on.
I’m kidding, of course: Jersey diners (and boardwalks!) more than make up for our gas station food deficit. Plus, this lifelong deprivation is all the more reason I’m so excited to renew my license and hit the road this summer, eager to turn a routine task into a mini food adventure. To get a feel of what else is out there, I asked friends and coworkers from around the country to tell me what came to mind when I prompted them for “regional gas station food.” Here’s what they said:
Boiled peanuts are a road trip staple in Alabama. They're only good scooped out of a metal vat in the gas stations that speckle I-65 on the way to Gulf Coast, so don’t buy them prepackaged—that’s essentially a Southern sin. The good ones are super salty and soft. When you crack it open with your teeth, a gush of brine releases with the peanut, making it easy to chew. It's a perfect car snack, albeit a little messy. —Abbey Crain
Drive Here: Pretty much any gas station in Alabama.
QuikTrip Root Beer
The soda fountains at the QuikTrips in Phoenix, Arizona, are something special. Imagine a place where you could add cherry or vanilla syrup to any soda of your choosing. That’s QuikTrip. My favorite? Root beer with some vanilla. You can bet I got a 64 oz. glass and snuck it into the movie theater 5 minutes away. —Annie Roos
Drive Here: Look for QuikTrip signs all over Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, and more; they have over 750 stores in 11 states.
In California, we have so many great drive-throughs (ahem, In-n-Out!) that gas stations are not generally known for their eats—except for one Chevron in West Los Angeles. In this Chevron lives the Bombay Frankie Company, which specializes in the eponymous, hugely popular Indian street food. A piece of thin naan is slathered with a chickpea spread and mint chutney, filled with a spiced curry, like aloo gobi, shahi paneer, or chicken tikka, and topped with a crunchy cucumber salad and tangy tamarind drizzle before being tightly rolled up and eaten with yogurt raita (and a lot of napkins). This place is definitely worth the commute (and LA traffic!). —Brinda Ayer
Drive Here: 11261 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles; 310-444-9241.
Key Lime Pie on a Stick
Chocolate-dipped key lime pie (on a stick, no less!) is like taking something that's already perfect and making it even perfect-er. You won't find them at every gas station in Key West, but when you do, it's like hitting the jackpot—especially during the summer, when it's a billion degrees with 90% humidity. Tart, frozen key lime filling teams up with crumbly graham cracker crust and a rich chocolate layer to make a hot-weather treat that's almost as good as jumping into the ocean. —Erin Alexander
Drive Here: If you don’t happen upon one of these gems at a local gas station, make a trip to the Key West Key Lime Pie Co. or Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Pie Shop; enjoy while staring out at the ocean.
Andy Capp Hot Fries
I don't know if Andy Capp Hot Fries are a Southern regionalism, per se—but growing up, they were certainly a Kim family tradition on long road trips from Atlanta to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, where all of the cousins would spend the summer. In between the fast food and fried chicken and McDonald's (my uncle hated stopping for sit-down food on that eight-hour drive), it helped, I think, to have a palate cleanser once in a while: gas station Hot Fries. They're absolutely nothing like Flamin' Hot Cheetos (don't you dare compare them); they're lighter, almost airier, milder, and way, way spicier. —Eric Kim
Drive Here: Most gas stations in Georgia and the Carolinas. If you don’t want to leave it up to chance, search for purveyors on the Andy Capp website.
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"Burnt Ends" at Joe’s KC
In Kansas City, you’ll find one of the best BBQ joints inside a gas station: Joe’s KC. The station has a small convenience store inside, which sells typical convenience store items, but also has a massive wall of hot sauces and BBQ sauces from around the country for sale. If you drive by and wonder why there’s a massive line to get into a gas station, you’ll see the dedication to this Kansas City classic. Their burnt ends are well worth the wait, and their counter staff are seriously speedy to keep up with the demand! —Erin McDowell
Drive Here: 3002 West 47th Avenue; 913-722-3366. And there are some non–gas station locations in Kansas City too, but where’s the fun in that?!
Wawa Soft Pretzel and Half-Gallon of Iced Tea
Eastern Pennsylvanians have a cultish devotion to Wawa, a convenience-store chain that’s so much more than that: gas station, local icon, teen hangout. The hoagies, which you order on touchscreens by the deli, are beloved, as are its free ATMs and incredible selection of snacks. But the quintessential Wawa order is a soft pretzel and a half-gallon of Wawa-brand iced tea (too big for a cupholder, but worth it). As you travel west, switch to Sheetz, Wawa’s formidable western rival. —Emma Alpern
Bonus: According to Community member Jr0717, Wawa drip coffee is not to be messed with, especially after the staff at the Route 36 location in Middletown, NJ worked overtime during Hurricane Sandy to keep those urns full. (So you do have gas station food after all, Jersey!)
Drive Here: All over Eastern PA; just look for them and it won’t be long before you find one.
Whenever I travel back home, the first thing I do after I pick up my rental car is head over to a gas station with a 7-Eleven attached to it for musubi. They come in different forms, but the classic musubi is a slice of marinated spam on top of rice, wrapped in a ribbon of nori and pressed into a rectangular shape. Their musubis were even named best by a local Honolulu newspaper a while ago. Sure, there are a bunch of places on the island that you can grab a musubi, but when they're this good, and less than $2 a pop, why would you?! Hawaiian 7-Elevens also have a variety of bentos, Asian snacks (like Japanese onion rings and plum-flavored hard candy), as well as local Hawaiian snacks like dried ika, strawberry sour belts, and ling hi mui mango strips. —Rebekah Daniels
Drive Here: Any 7-Eleven in any of the Hawaiian islands.
If you find yourself road tripping through Southern Louisiana on the I-10, it would be well worth your while to make a pit stop or two at a few of those gas stations along the way and treat yourself to some boudin balls. If you're not familiar with this famous Cajun delicacy, it’s pork sausage made with rice, onions, green peppers, Cajun seasoning, and other spices roll into balls, breaded, and deep fry 'till golden brown. Just don't forget a cooler bag, as you'll for sure want to take some home—though I doubt they’ll make it that far without being gobbled up on the road. —Yolanda Evans
Drive Here: Beyond gas stations, the town of Scott, Louisiana, which describes itself as the "Boudin Capital of the World," is definitely worth the detour. There, check out Don's Specialty Meats, full of all kinds of Cajun delicacies; Billy's Boudin, where the balls come stuffed with Pepper Jack cheese; and Best Stop, where you can sample the egg roll version of this dish.
Royal Farms Chicken
I'm a vegetarian, so you'll have to take my dad's word for it: The so-called "world famous" fried chicken at Royal Farms, a mid-Atlantic chain, really does measure up to its name. Every three weeks or so—and regardless of whether he needs to fill up his tank—my dad navigates tricky Baltimore intersections for the chicken that's better than what his mom used to make at home. And no wonder: The chicken is fresh (never frozen), pressure-cooked, breaded with "special spices," and then fried. So rejoice, residents and passersby: You can select your favorite individual pieces (breast? drumstick? wing?) from a touchscreen at any hour of the day in most locations. But don't forget the Western fries (wedges of potatoes that are battered and fried). —Sarah Jampel
Drive Here: Royal Farms has locations throughout the mid-Atlantic; look for specific locations on their website.
Shell Station Chorizo Burrito
I have a deep love affair with burritos (and tacos, but that’s another story), whether it is filled with meat, chili relleno, veggies, or breakfast-y things. On the West Coast—Portland, to be specific—there is no shortage of stellar taquerias. But when it comes to breakfast burritos, the best place, hands down, is the market inside the Shell Station on Highway 26 in Sandy, Oregon (about 30 minutes east of town). It’s the perfect place to stop and get a juicy chorizo burrito on your way up to Mt. Hood, during any season, partly because its the only place open at 6am. Also because it’s just really good. —Timothy McSweeney
Drive Here: 38422 Proctor Boulevard; 503-668-6822.
Another Way to Enjoy Chorizo
Just before you pull into Dallas, you’ll pass a place called Ennis. You probably won’t think twice about stopping there (it’s bookmarked by Waxahachie and Corsicana, two towns with decidedly more exciting names), but you should. Because tucked into Chevron on Ennis Avenue you’ll find the Kolache Depot Bakery, featuring some of the best darn kolaches I’ve had in my whole life. Vestiges of the Czech migration to Texas in the mid-1800s, kolaches are cushions of dough with shallow pools of jam in their center. They can be rosy and tart and stuffed with raspberry jam, or made dark and chalky by sweet, sweet poppy seeds. My sister gets the apricot and I grab the cherry and my mom, without fail, reaches for the cream-filled ones. They come savory too—sausages wrapped in dough, sometimes punctuated by the fire of a sliced jalapeño. You can find kolaches in any major city in Texas and they’re fine—great, really. But I’m attached to the ones in Ennis. —Valerio Farris
Drive Here: As the bakery’s website encourages, “Czech them out” at 1103 East Ennis Avenue; 972-875-8364.
Nothing signals the start of summer in Vermont like a creemee (VT-speak for soft-serve ice cream). They are the unofficial reward for dealing with long, harsh winters. Roadside creemee stands scattered throughout the state, but you can also find them hidden behind the counter at many gas stations. While I'll never turn down a vanilla-chocolate twist (with rainbow sprinkles, please), the real gem is the maple creemee. I dare you to find something more delicious than pure VT maple syrup swirled with local dairy. Next time you're filling up your gas tank in the green mountain state, listen for the hum of a soft serve machine by the cash register. You could lick 'n' drive, but it will be so darn good (and melty!) that I recommend giving it your undivided attention. And it's Vermont, so the parking lot is probably a beautiful place to eat, anyways. —Kaitlin Bray
Drive Here: You’ll almost definitely stumble upon a creemee in Vermont without having to look, but if you don’t want to leave it up to chance, here’s a ranked list of the state’s best purveyors.
These are far from the only gas station foods America has to offer; in fact, it's just the tip of the iceberg. Case in point: When I opened this question up to the community, Omaha-based MMH tipped us off to how at many a gas station in Nebraska, you'll find a farmer selling the freshest produce, mud still on his knees. West Virginia–bred becca.rice says any self-respecting gas station in her state will carry pepperoni rolls, sometimes with hot pepper cheese. BakerBren alerted us that there is such a thing in the world as a self-serve milkshake machine (did you also hear angels just sing?); you'll find them at various gas stations in Montana and Idaho.
Check out the full hotline question page, and tell us about your favorite gas station snacks in the comments below!