I’ll Take One of Those Too – Curbside Gas Station Cuisine

In a recent post that touched on travel, I offered the opinion that the best food is found at gas stations. Perhaps. Still, this is hardly a unique perspective on curbside culinary attractions. It turns out that the Internet has quite a bit to say about “gas station food”. Since Curbside Classic is an Internet place where folks gather to talk about all things automotive, transport, and then some, it seems reasonable to see what you have to say on the subject of fueling your body at the same time you fuel your vehicle. I’ll get us started with a few of the greatest hits, but then leave it to readers in the comments to expand on the topic.


That’s perhaps an off-putting subheading to some readers, but WordPress insists that this article will have greater “readability” if I insert a descriptive/directional subheading and don’t tax typical attention spans with more than 300 consecutive words. Regularly breaking things up with some kind of heading is claimed to encourage people to keep reading; or at least to be lulled into the comforting belief that this article is shorter than it actually might be.

So “Innards” is what you get, since that’s what a shortly arriving paragraph will be about.

The lede photo is one of those things I quickly photographed using one of the cameras that has no GPS-locating function. As best as I can recall, it was taken somewhere near Huntsville, AL in 2017. I’d be interested in knowing – from someone in the area – if it’s still there or if the location has perhaps been converted into a more traditional convenience store/gas station. “Livers and Gizzards” looked to be very much a going concern in 2017. There’s clearly no national shortage of chicken innards or people who want to eat such things. To wit, I was recently offered a giant plate of fried gizzards as a gratis-appetizer at a restaurant in Houston, and saw many at tables near me scarfing them down.  Therefore I can see no reason why “Livers & Gizzards” needs to have closed.

Inside, close to where you’d go in and ask for “the receipt on pump 4” the namesake delicacies were displayed in a case much like this. As we’ll see, this is the typical display for homemade gas station eats.

As a Curbside Connoisseur you probably know that.



Legendary food-writer, journalist, etc. Calvin Trillin has a famous piece from 2002 that is a deep dive into one of Southern Louisiana’s many signature foods, boudin. You have to dig for the piece deep behind a paywall in the January 28, 2002 issue of the New Yorker, but it’s well worth the read. Trillin’s starting point is that boudin is a food that seldom ever makes it out of a gas station’s parking lot. That’s because most of it is consumed in the car/truck immediately after its purchase.

For those unfamiliar with Southern Louisiana or American gas station convenience stores in general, most people get their boudin from a place that looks like this. I suppose that it’s possible to get boudin in a regular grocery store, but much of it is homemade and is sold roadside close to the source. Or at least that’s how you get the good stuff.

The boudin itself looks like this, although boudin from any particular roadside vendor may look a bit different/unique. I like as much rice as possible inside mine. That’s in addition to whatever else is in there besides the rice. As is said about all types of sausage, you likely don’t really want to know what “whatever else” is.

Prior to sale, most boudin winds up being wrapped in aluminum foil (the covering of choice for gas station cuisine).  A number of years ago when I was last driving through Cajun country rather off of I-10, it was often sold out of foam coolers on the front porch of the gas station building.


Pepperoni Rolls

Perhaps more so than boudin (which is largely a Gulf Coast delicacy), the pepperoni roll crops up in a number of regions as the go-to gas station food. West Virginia seems to have flooded the zone on the Internet with claims that the pepperoni roll was “invented” in West Virginia and therefore is the state food. I personally find those claims a bit weak as I have definitely encountered these things in Michigan and Ohio where I was also told by local boosters that the item was invented there and was the state food.

West Virginians have thoroughly commercialized the pepperoni roll and there are a number of bakeries that specialize in making them specifically for sale in gas stations/convenience stores. Nevertheless, I am sure that there are still plenty of locally-produced pepperoni rolls that wind up wrapped in aluminum foil and held in one of those display cases heated with a light bulb.


Food Displayed Under Light Bulbs

I struggled to find a good photo of this online, and sadly don’t have one of my own, but a signature delight while driving on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico (and to a lesser extent, other Caribbean islands) is eating a lunch composed of the incredible range of fried foods typically displayed in some sort of display case heated with light bulbs. These pictured examples are all a little bit less rustic than I’m used to, but I’m sure the food is just as good. Likewise, these photos are from dedicated food stands (heated with actual heat lamps); but you can find similar foods at gas stations and sometimes just tents with a table and chair along the side of the road or in parking lots.

Mofongo isn’t exactly fried (although it contains fried things – see chicharrones below), but I so love it that I simply have to include this photo. This I believe is actually a Santurce food stand. Santurce being the area that you fly over as you depart San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport and wonder what you might have missed seeing in the city. You probably missed this. Now you have to go back.


So not only is the best food sold at gas stations, but it’s also displayed under light bulbs.


Boiled Peanuts

Boiled peanuts in their shells is a gas station food that exists primarily in the South, but I’ve seen them rarely elsewhere, sometimes in the Midwest. The classic presentation is a crock pot with a ladle and a hand-written sign. The peanuts are submerged in a hot murky stock/brine. I’ve not tried these, mostly because they seem a bit messy to eat in the car. Your experience?



Less messy than boiled peanuts would be actually shelled and roasted nuts. Pecans – whether you pronounce the word as something used as a necessity on a long road trip where dad refuses to stop for bio breaks (yes kids…life used to be tough) or as something that rhymes with the last name of the actor who played Sonny in the Godfather movies – have long figured as roadside attractions.

This has been going on at gas stations in the pecan-growing regions for quite some time.

The regionally common practice of selling pecans to roadside travelers at gas stations ultimately gave rise in a big way to Stuckey’s. Stuckey’s deserves its own article here on CC given the place that these Pecan Shoppes (you need the terminal “e”) assumed in mid-century American roadside history. As a kid in the 1960s on road trips, the billboards every 10 miles or so resulted in my always pressuring my parents to stop for gas at Stuckey’s.

My parents generally ignored my pleas as they were forewarned from the “Pecans – Candies – Gifts” advertised on every Stuckey’s sign, what this place was really about. In turn, they seriously wanted to avoid entering an establishment that featured a multitude of candies and/or gifts as those things were roughly equivalent to two of the seven heads of the beast in their – or at least my Mom’s – worldview. That just left pecans, which apparently they could take or leave. Generally, they left them.

I guess we just weren’t a nut-eating family.

Stuckey’s, by the way, is attempting a comeback after nearly vanishing by the early years of the 21st century. It has “pivoted from being a roadside attraction to a consumer packaged good“. Well, good luck with that.


Fried Fish

Throughout the Mississippi Delta it’s common to find fried fish held under light bulbs or on steam tables in gas stations and convenience stores. On one trip to the Delta, I encountered signs for fried “pangasius“, which I later learned is the name for several species of fish that are similar to catfish.

As in most parts of the world, the true value of a thing is established by whether or not you can eat it. Apparently pangasius is good eating. And if it’s good local eating, it’s going to be available at a gas station.

I should note as a matter of full disclosure that there is debate as to whether pangasius in fact is good eating. There are sites on the Internet that claim that it’s full of toxins, a claim which does have a ring of truth given the local habit of farming pangasius (and catfish) in converted former cotton fields. One site I found recommends eating nuts instead of pangasius. This, on the other hand, may simply be yet another example of inter-gas-station-food-rivalry promoted by the pecan industrial complex.



Yup. Pork rinds. Where you find pigs, and barbecue (i.e., the South), you’re going to find “cracklins”. I mean, why go to all the trouble to make a football when you can just fry the stuff up and eat it? I grew up with these things, fed to me by the same people who felt that eating “candy” was a moral failure and a sure harbinger of Armageddon (see “Stuckey’s”, above). Go figure.

Sure, you can find pork rinds produced by FritoLay in grocery stores in Massachusetts (I have no idea who buys them); but why would you eat something mass-produced like that when you could get a baggie full of the greasy homemade version in gas stations throughout the Barbecue Belt?

Don’t even get me started on chicharrones, available roadside in the Southwest, Latin America, and other places where delicious food is sold.

There’s a whole website mostly dedicated to discussing the difference between pork rinds and chicharrones.



Finally, in the vein of roadside foods that are contested in terms of what they are and where people confuse one type of the food with another, we have kolaches.  Kolaches are very popular throughout modern Texas, but are also in fact frequently klobasneks mistakenly advertised as kolaches.

These Czech/Slovak pastries are considered quintessential road foods in a broad swath of Texas, although it seems that often the fruit-filled sweet versions (kolaches) and the savory meat-filled versions (klobasneks) are all sold as “kolaches” throughout the state. While I’ve not been there, the town of West, TX apparently tries to keep the distinction straight via sales from the famous Slovacek’s and its cross-highway rival, the Czech Stop.

I have found that Texans are pretty serious about making distinctions between places and things. An animated map helps to keep things straight.

This, by the way, was filmed in Black’s BBQ in Lockhart, TX. I’ve been there numerous times. Highly recommended.

At any rate, in West, TX, both famous kolache bakeries sell gas along with the pastries. Exxon for Slovacek’s and Shell for the Czech Stop.

You can catch a glimpse of the pumps in this otherwise pastry-filled video that schools you on the difference between kolaches and their kloabasnek impostors.


What Else?

Now it’s your turn. It goes without saying that some critical gas station foods have simply been ignored here, so you need to fill in the blanks. I purposefully left out barbecue as in some ways its national footprint makes it the low-hanging-fruit of U.S. road foods. Plus, everyone has something to say about barbecue. We can all benefit from learning about good local barbecue that is accessible at curbside, so let’s hear it.

Or maybe there’s something more exotic out there. Like whatever was promised by this venue I passed in Maine a while back.

One can only imagine.