Some of North County’s best food is being served up at the pump. Well, not exactly at the pump, but close by. Gas station food is the new foodie find, and it is especially appealing to a mom on the go. Multitasking is my middle name, so the opportunity to fill the tank, maybe zip through the car wash, and feed the kids quality food in one stop seemed too good to be true. And even more unbelievably, Ella was primed to try pump-side dining.
I was like “gas stations?” They have lunch and dinner? Then I thought, what fun!
Gourmet eaters in the know gave us the scoop on these three local finds, and believe me, there were no Slim Jim’s or Slurpees to be found.
Skewers Grill - 1060 N. El Camino Real, Encinitas (inside the Shell Station Market)
Authentic Persian food awaits at the Leucadia Shell. “Hidden” inside a mini mart for the past seven years, this little gem serves up skewers of chicken, beef and shrimp along with an array of Middle Eastern delights. The owner will gently (and occasionally forcefully) guide you toward the best choices, which on this visit was warm pita bread with homemade hummus and chicken skewers with rice. The tangy hummus had just the right amount of oil, and the chicken was juicy and perfectly spiced. But it was the herb rice that I will be going back for. I am generally not a rice person, but this basmati rice with the secret blend of herbs, was nutty, a bit sweet and something to remember.
Ella loved the kid-friendly food.
So Skewers, I can see why they are famous for their pita bread and hummus. The hummus looked really spicy because there was these little like red dots in it, but it wasn’t spicy at all.
Well I liked the plain rice and the chicken was really juicy and it was charcoal burned or something like that. And the pita bread was warm and soft and tasted delicious with the hummus.
I think the lady was really nice. They have been there seven years and I can see why. Best of all, they had a play structure for the kids next door! So when they’re waiting for their food they can go and play.
We can’t wait to try the gigantic shrimp wrap, which is rolled in a flatbread with lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber, cabbage, pickles, feta, mayo, oil and vinegar. We saw one being made, looked at each other and said, “Next time!”
El Pueblo, 820 Birmingham Dr., Cardiff (in the Cardiff Valero Station)
When I heard about 99-cent fish tacos at the Cardiff Valero, I felt it was too good to be true. Visions of Filet-O-Fish swam in my head. But, prodded along by a few friends, we stopped there for take out and stocked up on these bargain babies.
Wow! The fish was fried to perfection, tender and flaky. Not one but two corn tortillas wrapped around it, with cabbage, tomatoes and white sauce. Your standard, tasty fish taco. But for 99 cents. What’s not to love?
The fish tacos were 99 cents. Really? That’s just cool and they have an extra tortilla. And you can throw the extra penny in the fountain. I tried a bite but they weren’t really my favorites because they had a lot of veggies and a sauce thing. But the fish was really good, it almost tasted salty. I would order it just plain.
We also tried a chicken burrito for the low, low price of $4.29. I could only eat half at one sitting. The shredded white meat seemed to weigh several pounds, and Ella liked it because it wasn’t overly spicy, although you could sauce it up as desired.
For Ella, a simple bean and cheese burrito was $2.49 and again was eaten in two sittings. A kid’s menu is also offered with fries and a drink, but I’d recommend the a la carte and a skip of the French fries. It’s Mexican food, people!
The burritos have a lot of beans but they’re very good. Scrumptious. The tortilla kind of gets in your way when you’re eating it because there’s so much tortilla.
A real plus at El Pueblo is the fresh salsa bar that is clean and inviting and features little surprises like pickled carrots. I also took a peek into the kitchen, as I am always a little sketchy about Mexican food cleanliness. It was spotless and I was pleased to see fresh veggies all over.
You can sit outside and enjoy the hum of the car wash while you mow down, or get your order to go and feed an army for ridiculously cheap. I have also heard there is a “secret menu” here (a la In-N-Out)…please fill us in if you are in the know!
Moonlight Deli and Dogs, 350 Encinitas Blvd., Encinitas (in the Chevron Car Wash)
Encinitas deli aficionados have been raving about this place for years, and we’ve tried their awesome panini sandwiches several times while getting the car washed at the Chevron. You can even order at the pump while getting gas. So A&W Root Beer!
This time we went for breakfast. Their breakfast was standard fare…bagels, breakfast sandwiches and smoothies, as well as some fresh baked goodies. Nothing to blow you away, but tasty, reasonably priced food that will satisfy while your car suds up in the wash behind you.
My strong recommendation is the paninis. The Cuban and the Heaven—turkey, pesto, havarti cheese and red peppers on focaccia—is worth pulling in for.
Ella, on the other had, was sold on the breakfast.
Oh my gosh that was good!
The mango smoothies were a little like powdery but the good thing about them was that you could actually taste the mango in them. In some smoothies you can’t. I drank my smoothie in about five minutes but I didn’t get a cold headache. That’s another good thing.
We had a breakfast sandwich and that was delicious. It had bacon, cheese and eggs and it was made on bagel bread. I think the fact that it was made on bagel bread was different. It tasted like a lot of other breakfast sandwiches that I like. If I had to rate it 1-5 it would be a 5.
We are now truly pumped up about trying more of these little gourmet outposts. Forget convenience…we’d go even if the gas dries up!
I’ve already heard there is a crepe place and a coffee bar hiding out at other local gas stations. Do you know of other hidden gems of the pump?
And Ella is now a gas station food aficionado. About the experience, she says simply -
Don’t judge a book by its cover!