On your next road trip, stop by these converted gas stations for a very different kind of fuel.
Gas stations function as essential refueling stations, both for your car and for yourself (thanks to their grab-and-go while on the road snacks and coffee). But they’ve never been known for their food—until now. Across the country, former gas stations are being reclaimed and converted into worthwhile restaurants and bars. From casual spots for brisket sandwiches in Kansas City to lobster in Long Island, New York, many of these establishments have incorporated remnants of their gas station past. So rev your engines and set out to explore these seven spots that are well-worth a pit stop on your next road trip (even if you’ll have to top off your car’s tank somewhere else).
In Denver’s Lower Highlands neighborhood, Root Down is located in a retro filling station that oozes midcentury design. For decor, chef Justin Cucci combed Craigslist and eBay for vintage finds, like the displays of rotary phones and 1950s-era recipe clips, which paper the walls in the bathrooms. U.S.-made Knoll dining chairs in a rainbow of colors were sourced from schools and offices. The globally inspired menu includes Colombian arepas, Rockfish Tom Kha, and Three Chile Chicken, as well as vegetable-focused dishes like red-rice risotto and stuffed kuri squash. Notably, the produce is plucked from two on-site gardens, as well as from local Colorado farms.
MBAR, in Connecticut’s waterfront town of Mystic, was converted from a gas station in 2016 and is now a café, restaurant, and wine bar. This is the second restoration project from owners Michael and Merrily Connery—they previously turned a former World War II airfield into their Saltwater Farm Vineyard, a 10-minute drive away. You can order a seasonal flight at MBAR to get a taste of their wines, but there’s also a full list of wines, beers, and spirits, as well as specialty coffee and tea drinks like an Oatmeal Cookie Latte or the Chocolate Chai. Chef David Pottie uses seasonal ingredients from local purveyors to create dishes ranging from artisan charcuterie boards to delicious short ribs served with creamy polenta, kale, baby carrots, and a house-made demi-glace.
Joe’s Kansas City
Kansas City, Kansas
Opened in 1996, Joe’s Kansas City operates out of a former Sinclair gas station and was crowned one of the “13 places to eat before you die” by Anthony Bourdain. The barbecues are fired up with Missouri white oak—the same wood that whiskey distillers use to make the barrels that store and age bourbon. Try the sausage made in Joe’s own smokehouse or the restaurant’s signature dish, the Z Man sandwich. Made with brisket and provolone and topped with an onion ring, it’s named after local sports radio station owner Mike “Z-Man” Zarrick, who designed the sandwich back when Joe’s first opened.
Wildwood Market, set in a former Sunoco in Indianapolis’s quirky Fountain Square district, still evokes a gas station ambience with garage bay doors, a concrete floor, and cinder block walls. There’s even part of an old tire and tool rack hanging from the ceiling, which is now used to display spices for sale. The menu includes rotating baked goods, soup and salad, and sandwiches. The market posts its daily sandwiches on Instagram—and locals know to head there fast as they tend to sell out before the lunch rush is over. One recent concoction: a sandwich made with duck confit, Camembert, caramelized shallots, baby arugula, Dijon mustard, and figs on a buttered brioche bun.
PJ Lobster House
Long Island, New York
PJ Lobster House was repurposed in 1995 from an old gas station that had been deserted for more than 10 years to a fish market in Port Jefferson, Long Island. Owner James Luciano started working for the fish market in high school, and throughout his college career, he helped transform it into a full-service seafood restaurant. He then bought out the former owners at age 22 in 2006. The casual dining venue has an all-wood interior and receives fresh seafood deliveries every day from Long Island Sound fishermen. The patrons are mostly locals, and you’ll see them chowing down on everything from large lobsters to snow crab legs.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
This former 1929 Texaco gas station in OKC’s Uptown District was originally run as a speakeasy—you’d fill up your tank and get a key to a secret whiskey cabinet in the bathroom. Today, it’s the Route 66–themed The Pump Bar, located just off the iconic highway. In 2014, owners Ian and Hailey McDermid took over and added a large outdoor patio with firepits outside the roll-up bay doors. Try one of The Pump’s 700-plus original cocktails created over the years, like the Pussycat (bourbon, grapefruit juice, honey syrup, and grenadine) or the Haterade (mango pineapple vodka, blue curaçao, and glacier freeze Gatorade). They serve brunch and dinner here too, with hearty dishes like chorizo benedict and bison frito pie.
The first thing you’ll see when you pull up to this still-operational gas station is the “Eat Like a King” black-and-white mural of Elvis Presley—a homage to the local legend who was born and raised near King Chicken Fillin’ Station in Tupelo, Mississippi. Executive chef Mitch McCamey bought the gas station when it was up for sale and opened the restaurant in March 2018. Both are located in the former Belden Cash Grocer building, which also houses the longest-running convenience store in Lee County, Mississippi (since 1944). Swing by for the southern fried chicken, smoked chicken, and burgers. On Saturday mornings, opt for the TCB brunch—it’s a nod to Elvis’s signature saying, “taking care of business,” and includes options like chicken and waffles and loaded chicken biscuits.