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