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Road Food Surprise

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Photo by Greg Thilmont

This fresh, stacked chicken salad sandwich on thick sourdough came from -- wait for it -- a gas station.

Driving up U.S. 93 to destinations like Cathedral Gorge State Park and Great Basin National Park, vacationers can be forgiven for whizzing past the Green Valley Grocery/Shell Station combo in tiny Ash Springs, a ranching hamlet situated some 100 miles north of Las Vegas. With its unremarkable exterior, on-the-go dining options could easily be assumed to top out with forlorn hot dogs spinning on a roller grill. However, pulling over and stepping inside reveals an unexpected menu of diverse roadside munchies in the picturesque Pahranagat Valley. Starting in the morning, the store offers numerous hearty breakfast items like griddled eggs with bacon, biscuits and gravy, and a chicken-fried steak sandwich. On the sweet side, there are waffles with strawberry topping and whipped cream to be forked into, too.

It’s at lunch, though, where the menu shines. Sure, there are classic selections like a green chile-topped Ortega burger with a side of savory potato wedges — my nicely presented first experience at the eatery. But there are also surprises like a roast beef melt with provolone, grilled onions, and peppers. Or how about a whole BBQ-ranch chicken pizza? A quesadilla? A few egg rolls?

From there, more off-the-wall items entice, like ravioli, cheese-potato balls, and cheese curds. There's even cheesecake-stuffed chimichangas for dessert in the desert. Of course, there are truck-stop standards from loaded nachos and bean-cheese burritos to chicken wings and chili dogs. And don’t pass up banana splits or milkshakes in flavors like PB&J and blueberry.

On my most recent visit, I opted for a fresh-made chicken salad sandwich (with slivered almonds in the mix) served on thick sourdough bread with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, onion slices, and yellow mustard for condiments. It made for a bright and colorful early lunch after spending an inky-dark night observing the lovely NEOWISE comet from the even tinier settlement of Rachel along the nearby Extraterrestrial Highway. Are the edge-of-the-Mojave oasis' offerings gourmet delicacies? No, but they surely surpass epicurean expectations for truck-stop snacking, and beat Hot Pockets and Slim Jims any day. Plus, the dual store’s staff puts a lot of care into the cooking.

You can find countless other culinary surprises around the region if you keep your eyes open. If you’re hitting the road this fall to flee the quarantine blahs, consider these other jaunts with exceptional eats.

A Taste for Adventure: In our May 2018 issue, we hit the road to find great food in surprising places, including steaks in Tecopa, veggie cheeseburgers in Shoshone, Calif., great coffee in Pioche, and Italian fine dining in Kanab, Utah.

Epic Day Trips: Got just a day to get away? These epic runs to Laguna Beach, Palm Springs, Zion, and Flagstaff are filled with fun eats to fuel your tank. 

Phoenix: It’s more than just Vegas minus the Strip. Food, culture, and sophisticated cocktail options abound.

The Salton Sea: The gorgeously bleak body of water is orbited by tiny motels, off-the-grid social collectives, sprawling art installations – and quirky diners and eateries to feed your curiosity.

Riverside: Lazy-Sunday wine-tastings and culture-crawls await in this oft-overlooked Cali town.

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