JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Chances are, you don't think of gas stations as a place to grab a freshly cooked meal.
"What do you think of when you think of gas station foods," I asked my co-worker Erica Santiago.
Almost immediately, she replied: "Sketchy hot dogs."
Her reply likely matches the same reply as many: On-the-go junk food like "sketchy hot dogs," questionable tacos, overcooked pizza, bags of potato chips, soda and beef jerky: the only viable meat source available.
But what if I told you that gas stations could be a place to pick up your next freshly cooked meal?
For my latest First Coast Foodies video, I reached out to our viewers on social media and asked them to 1) Tell me a gas station that serves the best food and 2) Tell me what food to try.
Instead of going by myself, I asked Erica to join me. Turns out, she has never had gas station food before (not even those sketchy hot dogs)!
Here's what we found:
1. Mac and Cheese at Wawa
Are you surprised that all of you suggested Wawa? I'm not. Wawa has built a successful reputation for being more famous for its food than it is for its gas!
Though Wawa is popular for its sandwiches, one lone viewer suggested trying the mac and cheese.
Erica decided to try the mac and cheese. Instead of getting it plain, she chose the "apple-smoked bacon mac and cheese" option.
"I like it, it's good, it's fresh," she said immediately after she tried it. "It's hot. The bacon is nice ... It could use more bacon. I'm a bacon lover."
Instead of the mac and cheese, I decided to try one of their famous sandwiches. I opted out of getting a traditional sub and instead ordered a meatball sub because earlier, I saw a photo of a delicious meatball sub smothered in marinara sauce right at the entrance.
Much to my dismay, the sub looked nothing like the photo. There was barely any marinara sauce, which worried me because I thought the meatballs were going to be too dry like most sub shops. The cheese was also chunks of parmesan instead of provolone, which I didn't request at all.
Still, I took a bite. To my surprise, it was one of the juiciest meatball subs I've ever had. The meatballs were far from dry and my guess is that it's because they cooked the meatballs in the marinara rather than douse it on last like most sub shops. The parmesan was also a surprise, making the overall sub remind me of spaghetti -- just minus the noodles.
Next time, I will be back to try a famous traditional Wawa hoagie.
Applesmoked Bacon Mac and Cheese: $5.89 plus tax
Meatball hoagie: $3 plus tax
2. Cuban Sandwich from Daily's Dash
Because viewers only suggested Wawa, I had to turn to Yelp for the other recommendations. A top suggestion included Daily's Dash.
Several reviews said Daily's Dash had some of the most "excellent sandwiches, soups and salads" in town. One man described it as a "hidden gem." Ingredients are fresh and meals are made to order. It even has gluten-free and vegan options, according to a review.
What really intrigued me about Daily's Dash, especially the San Marco location, was that it reportedly had "one of the best Cuban sandwiches in town," despite being located down the road from an actual Cuban restaurant.
We ordered the sandwich and unwrapped it. Immediately, we both noticed that the bread was hard pressed, the meat appeared carved instead of pre-packed and the cheese was melted.
"It looks legit," I said.
Erica took a bite. Almost immediately, you heard the bread crunch.
"I lived in Miami for a long time and Cuban sandwiches are a thing there," Erica said. "I would say this is pretty close to what I would get in Miami. I'm not going to say it's an authentic Cuban sandwich, but the components are there. It's pretty good."
Then, it was my turn.
Aside from the fresh meat and perfectly toasted bread, what stood out to me was the mustard. Turns out, Daily's Dash used datil pepper mustard to top off the sandwich. For those who don't know, datil peppers are mainly produced in St. Augustine. Though they tend to be classified as "very hot" on the heat scale, the mustard perfectly canceled it out to the point where it was still spicy, but not enough to make me scream for water and overtake the whole sandwich. I would even say the datil pepper mustard was a little sweeter than I expected. As a person who isn't a fan of spicy mustard, this was worth trying!
Cuban sandwich: $6.49 plus tax
3. Tamales from Gate Gas Station
Last on the list was Gate, another gas station highly recommended on Yelp aside from Daily's Dash and Wawa. Several folks said they enjoyed their hot food selection, including their tamales. One woman even said they had some of the best tamales in town.
Growing up in Arizona and being a huge fan of Mexican food, I knew I had to give these tamales a shot. For all I knew, they could have been a hidden secret!
When we arrived, we saw that Gate offered two different flavors of tamales: chicken and beef. We were only able to try the chicken tamales because the beef was completely sold out! I took this as a great sign that these tamales were a hit.
We unwrapped the tamale and it looked and smelled authentic... until we cut into it. Immediately, we were greeted with chunks of chicken in green sauce. Though some of the best tamales I've ever had were made in red sauce and had pulled chicken, I kept an open mind.
"It tastes like something you could get from like the grocery store and like you heat it up," Erica said after she bit into it. "But it's not bad, though. Like, I actually like it."
I agreed with her.
After biting into it, the tamale reminded me of the frozen tamales I tend to buy from Trader Joe's. The corn dough tasted authentic and the chunks of chicken didn't hinder the taste. But it still didn't compare to some of the more delicious and flavorful tamales I've had.
Overall, I thought it could have used some more sauce and in an ideal world, be offered as pulled chicken because not every bite consisted of meat. It is great when you're on-the-go and for only $1.49, you're getting what you paid for.
(If you want delicious authentic tamales, I recommend you either try Mi Veracruz, El Potro or the local chain Cantina Louie.)
Chicken or Beef Tamale: $1.49 plus tax
Melissa Guz is a digital content producer for First Coast News and creator of First Coast Foodies. If you'd like to reach out to her to recommend a restaurant, you can either email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Twitter (@mguznews) or follow the First Coast Foodies Facebook page or Instagram page.
Erica Santiago is a digital content producer for First Coast News and creates art and music content. You can follow her on Twitter at @erica_s_news.