Chefs Anthony Hoff and Robby Bushman went hunting last year for a restaurant space to house their new fast-casual taqueria, and found the perfect kitchen in Parkland. It was cheap, pre-furnished, and hidden amid the humble ambiance of pretzels, gushing soda fountains and multicolored air fresheners of a Chevron gas station.
In October, Los Bocados marked its first anniversary as a gas-station restaurant on the northwest corner of Hillsboro Boulevard and State Road 7, serving build-your-own carne asada burritos, guajillo chicken quesadillas and citrus pork tacos. Diners eat on metal stools or a long, communal-style table, both near windows offering exquisite views of the gas pumps.
“You don’t come across gas-station food that looks and tastes this good,” says Hoff, who is also executive chef at Boca Raton City Fish Market. “It’s a great little space with low overhead.”
Call it convenience-store gourmet, a cut above the roller-grilled hot dogs and prepackaged cupcakes of indeterminate shelf life. Complete with restaurant licenses, more South Florida gas-station eateries like Los Bocados are drawing adventurous foodies and national visibility. For CNN’s travelogue series “Parts Unknown,” celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain visited Doral’s Pepito’s Plaza, inside an Exxon station, to try a massive hamburger called the Doralzuela. And South Florida’s best-known gas-station restaurant, El Carajo International Tapas and Wine, has been dished in Time magazine and Thrillist.
These dining spots are usually well-hidden, with little-to-no signage around the gas station, leaving visitors to stumble on them by accident. Those who do can discover a world of fine and fast-casual dining in a low-key place.
Fuel up at these seven gas-station restaurants across Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Paty’s Café, 1531 Marina Mile Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-404-3061 or PatysCafe.com
Inside a Sunoco on State Road 84, owner Michael Suarez re-creates his grandparents’ Cuban recipes with his girlfriend (and the café’s namesake), Patricia Moreno, and her brother, chef Alexander Moreno. The couple, former employees of nearby El Tamarindo Café, offers giant portions of chicken fricassee, a Cuban-style stew with roasted chicken drumsticks, potatoes, sweet plantains, a mojo creole marinade and a blend of red, green and yellow peppers. “When people think of gas-station food, they think it’s horrible,” says Suarez, of Miami Shores. “Our passion is our flavors. You try our food once, and that misconception about gas stations goes away.” Other hot sellers, Suarez says, include the grilled palomilla sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes and onions on a Cuban roll. The restaurant also delivers within a two-mile radius.
Direct from Philly, 1201 S. Military Trail, Deerfield Beach; 954-428-7035 or Fb.me/DirectFromPhilly
Philadelphia-style cheesesteaks are the domain of owner Stephen Rao, whose fast-casual spot inside a Chevron is hidden between a Wendy’s and a Burger King near South Military Trail and Southwest 10th Street. There’s no Pat or Ginos-style controversy here. Cheez Whiz and provolone are both offered in abundance, as is finely shredded rib eye and grilled onions piled into Amoroso bakery hoagies imported from Philly. On the side, clog your arteries further with Bomb Fries (bacon, ranch and cheese whiz) and the John Galt (named after a character in Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”), a half-pound of rib-eye or chicken with roasted garlic, peppers, pepper relish and American cheese.
One year ago, Boca Raton City Fish Market executive chef Anthony Hoff teamed up with the restaurant’s sous chef, Robby Bushman, to open this fast-casual taqueria in the bright corner of a Chevron gas station. The pair lease the space from three brothers who own the gas station. “It’s awesome. We get to work with a real-life TV show in front of us,” Bushman says of the flurry of gas-station drama that unfolds beyond the order counter. Last year, Bushman left his job at Boca Raton’s City Fish Market to open Los Bocados. The taqueria offers build-your-own burritos, tacos and quesadillas with fresh ingredients, often doused in four sauces, including crèma (sour cream, fresh lime juice, cumin powder), guajillo (sweet guajillo peppers) and smoky aioli. There are also Hongolitas (the chefs' own creation, a miniquesadilla with roasted wild mushrooms, Monterey Jack cheese, pickled red onion and sauces between two masa tortillas) and elotes, or Mexican street corn.
Super Arepa, 15801 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines, 954-240-8351; 9489 Sheridan St., Cooper City, 954-870-9118; 14417 SW 42nd St., Miami, 786-447-8626; MySuperArepa.com
The Maracaibo, Venezuela-based chain appears in several South Florida plazas and gas stations. Its greasy arepas are so overstuffed, the dough disappears under domes of white cheese. The portions are generous, with charcoal-grilled chicken, pork or sausage adding a smoky flavor, and each arepa is plated with grated cheese, pico de gallo and a house sauce (mayo, garlic, parsley). Also on the menu: chicken caesar salad, pastelitos and empanadas.
Owner Rosa Merlo opened Chikita’s eight years ago after noticing the scarcity of Venezuelan restaurants in West Palm Beach. There’s an order counter and no seating, Merlo says, with a 10-item menu that includes empanadas, arepas, chichas (a Venezuelan milk and rice drink) and pepitos, a grilled chicken or steak sandwich piled with cabbage, carrots, parmesan cheese, garlic sauce, avocados and potato sticks. “People love it here and don’t care that there’s no place to sit,” Merlo says.
Massive hamburgers distinguish this grab-and-go spot, notably the Doralzuela, a nod to the surrounding Venezuelan neighborhood: It’s a sandwich tower of ground beef, chopped grilled chicken and thick-sliced ham, topped with sliced avocado, a fried egg and a tumbleweed of potato sticks. (“It’s an engineering challenge,” Bourdain said on CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” gazing at the colossal sandwich. “I’m going to start crying.”) Salsa music blares onto Pepitos’ stone plaza, decked out with tables, umbrellas and palm trees. Pepitos, open until 4 a.m., also specializes in sweet corn cachapas, pepito sandwiches and parrillada mixta, a blanket of grilled chicken, ribbons of flap steak, covered in potato sticks, guasacaca (a Venezuelan guacamole) and creamy garlic ajo.
El Carajo International Tapas and Wines, 2465 SW 17th Ave., Miami; 305-856-2424 or El-Carajo.com
Past the Mobil gas pumps and through Mediterranean-style archways lies this European getaway, a wine cellar, bakery and cozy Spanish tapas restaurant owned by Richard Fonseca and his family. Some 2,000 wines beckon from a 24-hour wine shop, its gleaming bottles covering vineyards from California to the Mediterranean. Communal-style tables inside the tight (but not cramped) brick-lined dining room each boast an El Carajo menu wrapped like an ancient scroll. Once you try the crab-stuffed crepes, bacon-wrapped stuffed dates, paella, trout fillet and the Caldo Gallego (a Galician white-bean soup with smoked pork, sausage and Serrano ham), the attached gas station will seem like it’s in another country.