Whoa Nellie Deli

 Look for the sign near the junction of Highways 395 and 120 for a stop at the Whoa Nellie Deli ( whoanelliedeli.com )

Look for the sign near the junction of Highways 395 and 120 for a stop at the Whoa Nellie Deli (whoanelliedeli.com)

The Whoa Nellie Deli, a four-star restaurant located inside a gas station—yes, you heard that right—is an Eastern Sierra institution. Though it’s only been around for twenty years, the family-owned and operated Tioga Gas Mart is a destination for locals and visitors alike. Owned by Dennis Domaille, and now operated by his daughter, Denise, and her husband Dan (the couple have three children who you’re likely to see as the family lives on site), the restaurant/gas station is colloquially known as simply “The Mobil,” for the brand of gasoline they sell. However, the Domailles were searching for a name for the new eatery they were building to attach to the gas station. They ended up calling it the “Whoa Nellie Deli,” the story goes, because drivers coming down off of the incredibly steep Tioga Pass would slam on their brakes when they saw the new building. 

Local chef Matt Toomey rode up on a motorcycle shortly after the Tioga Gas Mart opened, said he needed a job, and the rest is history. Toomey now runs his own restaurant in Mammoth Lakes, but his signature dishes remain at the Whoa Nellie Deli—the famous Baja-style fish tacos (get both the mango and the ginger coleslaw), lobster taquitos, and wild buffalo meatloaf, among many others. The Kansas City steak Caesar salad is a local’s favorite, as is the BBQ chicken pizza, which is available by the slice. 

Probably the Mobil is best known for its signature mango margaritas, which can be purchased by the cup or by the pitcher (get the pitcher, you’ll want it) and sweeping views of Mono Lake. On Thursdays and Sundays, live music brings revelers from across the Sierra, especially when Tioga Pass allows West Siders and East Siders to come together after a winter of separation, since snow causes Highway 120 to close for months at a time. 

There’s also varieties of beer and wine available for purchase, images from local painters and photographers decorating the walls, and a quirky and fun staff ready to help you with your dining experience. Make sure you order the triple chocolate cake for dessert, and remember: don’t feed the seagulls!

The Tioga Gas Mart and Whoa Nellie Deli is open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. from the last weekend in April until October, 7 days a week. 

For more information and a music schedule, visit www.whoanelliedeli.com.

Sarah Rea is a freelance dirtbag-turned-journalist who has been living in the Sierra on and off for twenty years, with eight spent in Yosemite National Park and five in Mammoth Lakes. She likes dogs, rocks, good food and jumping into cold water.