It might be nostalgia, it might be knowing exactly what you're going to get, or it might be that some convenience store food is just that good. Every region has its own local 24-hour grocers, but they all serve the same purpose, which is to provide everything you need and even a few things you don't. By the late 1940s, America had pioneered the concept of the convenience store, and running errands began to demand less and less actual running. Once neighborhood corner stores started popping up, making 20 pit stops for one shopping list became a thing of the past. Considering anything can be ordered with the click of a button today, it's hard to fathom the lengths people used to go to just to get a few things done. It wasn't until the 1920s that you could even grab your provisions and ice under one roof, and that was the dawn of convenience stores.
It all started when a bustling neighborhood ice shop started selling essentials, and the quick-service craze began. That small-time ice shop, Southland Ice Dock, went on to become none other than 7-Eleven. Convenience stores are celebrated for being accessible, but not typically for their gourmet cuisine. As it turns out, the non-essential items, like hoagies and cheeseburger bites, are what drive customers into certain quick-service stores nationwide. Convenience stores might just be the best fast food we can get our hands on. Not every convenience store is worth the stop, but these are.
7-Eleven is the convenience store-gas station hybrid that started it all. Not only does it have more locations than any other U.S. retailer, but it was the first one-stop shop to hold the title of convenience store and it kicked off a revolution in corner stores. All thanks to one savvy storefront owner who started selling essentials, 7-Eleven was born. Between Big Gulps and taquitos, the famed quick-service chain has something for everyone. The iconic name is in reference to the original hours — 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. — but today, many locations don't ever lock the doors. Extended hours aren't the only upgrade the company has seen over the years. A number of 7-Eleven storefronts are undergoing high-end expansions.
When it comes to 7-Eleven's food, the hot roller grill is where to feast your eyes. If glistening fried snacks like taco rolls and corn dogs catch your attention, then 7-Eleven is probably already a regular haunt. It may not be the best for your digestion, but at least it is easy on the wallet. The only downside is how quickly the hot items sell out, but not to worry, there should always be enough colorful Big Gulps and Slurpees for everyone. The 7-Eleven kitchen also prepares sandwiches, baked goods, and even salads for the refrigerated section, so there's always something tasty on hand.
There's hometown pride, and then there's Wawa pride. For those on the East Coast, Wawa is a cultural institution. With headquarters in Pennsylvania, the bulk of locations can be found in its home state as well as neighboring New Jersey and Delaware. Wawa was one of the first places to introduce the ease of self-serve kiosks which thrilled those on the go, often to the point of singing the catchy slogan "Gottahava Wawa." Some locals can't get their day started without a Wawa Sizzli breakfast sandwich, and who can blame them?
The deli has an extensive sandwich list, all of which can be navigated via touch screen without saying a word, but an Italian hoagie is an old standby. The gas station deli is so popular in Pennsylvania that Frank Reynolds belting out "Go download me a hoagie off the internet" in "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" couldn't be in reference to anything other than the famous Wawa. Sandwiches can be customized beyond imagination; packed with thinly sliced ham or crispy fried chicken, served on a soft brioche roll, or grilled to a golden brown. Its lengthy made-to-order menu includes a variety of hot dishes as well like mac and cheese, quesadillas, and chowder, making it nearly impossible to limit yourself to only one meal.
Cumberland Farms is often hidden away in a Historic New England-style building, making it as welcoming as grandma's house. While they have some super cheap pizza that curbs those late-night cravings, it's all about the slushie corner. Those machines are always churning out new flavors, but the fun lies in combining different flavors to create one new epic concoction. The more flavors added, the less it starts to resemble any notable flavor other than sugary ice, but something about it is addicting and keeps the entire East Coast coming back for more than just gasoline.
Cumberland Farms, or Cumby's as the locals will say, is the go-to late-night stop in more suburban New England regions. The convenience store really succeeds in the beverage department, as its coffee is on par with much more expensive coffee chains. For one dollar per (huge) cup, it's totally worth it. In New England, it's common to see most hands holding either an XL Dunkin Donuts coffee or one marked Cumby's.
QuickTrip may not look like much, with its minimal sign and unassuming storefront, but behind those doors is an assortment of delicious grub to be discovered. QuikTrip, or QT to those in the know, dominates Oklahoma, Texas, and dozens of nearby regions, with up to 1,000 locations. It has all the basics but ice cream and shakes are what really stand out, plus buttered pretzels sure to make any mouth water. Soft pretzels can be made at home, but it's hard to imagine them ever measuring up to those at QT. Also known for its hot roller grill, QT could go head-to-head with 7-Eleven when it comes to delicious greasy taquitos, but it would be a tough call.
QTs are easy to come by in the South, which has encouraged them to become part of the morning routine for endless commuters. Gas station coffee is known to be sub-par, which is somehow part of the charm, but when paired with one of QT's legendary biscuits, it's actually palatable. The chicken and biscuits are another crowd-pleaser, but they hardly ever make it to the afternoon hours. The list goes on and on with QT's made-to-order deli menu, so there's no such thing as a bad order there.
Sheetz is another Mid-Atlantic convenience store chain and one of the most popular. Some may say that Sheetz is Wawa's rival in the crossover locations, while others will chuckle and assure anyone who asks that there is no competition. Sheetz is free to shine on its own in a few states Wawa hasn't touched ground in yet, like Ohio and West Virginia, but people stick to their favorites.
While similar to Wawa, as any quick grab-and-go food counter will be, Sheetz has some special treats that even Wawa can't offer. One Sheetz exclusive item is shockingly french fries, and we can't forget mac and cheese bites. They nail it with take-along, picnic-style foods like crisp sandwiches and pretzels aplenty. With flavors from cinnamon to jalapeno, there's a bold flavor for anyone's taste buds. They take it a step further with their pretzel rolls, which can hold just about any sandwich together, but the spicy chicken sandwich won't disappoint.
Baltimore folks will correct anyone who says Royal Farms with "RoFo," but not without an excited grin stretched across their face. The convenience store's sign boasts its motto of "world famous chicken" and that's the truth. Even the most loyal fried chicken lovers will swear by the crispy, fried perfection that Royal Farms dishes out at all hours of the night. Fried chicken comes in many styles, but somehow Royal Farms, a humble convenience store, does it best.
During post-bar hours in Baltimore, you'll find most people rocking a box of chicken rather than a purse. Fried chicken is a way of life in the area, and Royal Farms makes it simple to enjoy by tossing all the necessities in a box; perfectly crispy fried chicken, thick-wedged fries, a buttery dinner roll, and sauces galore. One of the huge perks of grabbing dinner at a convenience store is the laundry list of beverage options. Not to mention the candy, ice cream bars, and salty snacks that'll catch you at the register.
Texans will go to batty for Buc-ee's, and rightly so. The South has its fair share of gas stations and quick stops, but aside from a few golden gems, it's lacking when it comes to grabbing top-notch food at a moment's notice. This explains why Buc-ee's is such a showstopper, and often the first thing to pop out of a Texan's mouth when fanning over their home state. Despite rows of gas station pumps lining the parking lot, walking into Buc-ee's feels like stepping into a festival. Everyone is greeted with a mish-mosh of enticing smells, making it nearly impossible to pick between the sweet or savory route. This convenience store has one of the largest menus, but more importantly, one of the most unique, and all made fresh in-house. It has dozens of exclusive bites like Puffcorn Pops, Cosmic Pops, and Beaver Nuggets, the undisputed crowd favorite.
The famous Beaver Nuggets are magically soft and crunchy corn nuggets coated in a sweet, irresistible brown sugar caramel glaze. They're so adored by the community that the snack has even been blended into a regional craft beer. Anyone who has had them would likely drive hours for Beaver Nuggets, but thankfully they don't have to. The cult following has led to a dedicated online site, Texas Snax, "Where Buc-ee's Lovers Shop". The food is the main attraction, of course, but it's hard to resist the eccentric souvenirs and steadfast Texan pride Buc-ee's has to offer.
Casey's General Store
This Midwestern convenience store stretches down to the south and has plenty of food options to choose from, but the extra cheesy pizza is definitely the draw. Casey's gives gas station pizza an entirely new name, and the Midwest eats it up. Casey's has been a trusted pit stop since 1968, but it really made its mark when word of its piping hot, baked-to-order pizza spread. Today, Casey's has managed to climb the charts and become the fifth-largest pizza chain in the United States.
Unlike most gas station bargain pizzas, Casey's best pies are made to start your day, not end it. Egg sandwiches and donut bites are plenty delicious, but nothing seems to satisfy like a breakfast pizza. The classics are loaded with cheesy eggs and bacon or sausage, but there are no restrictions on toppings so the possibilities are endless. Most midwesterners will applaud Casey's for maybe not being the best pizza, but surely being the best pie you can order as you fill up your gas tank.
Allsup's is another Southern chain that residents would be lost without. It has that small-town energy despite having over 300 locations in more than a hundred cities, mainly across West Texas and New Mexico. That hometown feel is likely rooted in its humble beginnings, having been founded by husband and wife duo Lonnie and Barbara Allsup in 1956. The camaraderie over Allsup's is understandable given it's one of the few convenient options within smaller regional towns, but it's not just about the limited choices. It's about the meals.
7-Eleven may always be stocked up with spinning taquitos on the grill, but nothing compares to the Tex-Mex delights Allsup's is known for. The hot food corner whips up some of the best chimichurris and outstanding fried burritos that are rather legendary. Apparently, deep-fried burritos were a random act of desperation from a bored sales associate shilling old burritos, but the tasty bites were ultimately Allsup's first step to success.
Not to be confused with QuikTrip, this Wisconsin-based convenience store chain starts with a K and would win in a breakfast sandwich contest. If the differing menus aren't enough to keep things straight, the company has an alternate store name, Kwik Star, in Illinois, Iowa, and South Dakota to avoid confusion with nearby QuickTrip locations. With hundreds of locations, staying consistent is no easy feat, but Kwik Trip succeeds. The gas station brand managed to secure a spot on USA Today's Top 10 list, praised by customers for its unmatched snack selection and fresh coffee, but we know the breakfast options are the real reason folks keep coming back.
Kwik Trip has a huge made-to-order menu with novelty bites like corn dogs and mac and cheese pizza, but above all, Tornados. They are essentially taquitos and are a popular grab-and-go option with dozens of fillings to choose from, ranging from steak and cheese to French toast. While Kwik Trip offers its Tornados for every meal of the day, the breakfast versions are the way to go, maybe even alongside a signature Kwik Trip waffle bun breakfast sandwich.
As one of the few quick-service food leaders in the Western U.S., Maverik really leans into its roots. According to the convenience store's motto, Maverik is "Adventure's First Stop" and boasts itself as more of a club than just a store. The shelves prove so by being stocked with outdoor gear and a huge variety of imported coffee to get things moving. Both the gas station and bold beans "fuel adventure," but the food menu is where the real exploration can begin.
Maverik's freshly prepared food brand, BonFire Foods, tastes as if it's been magically infused with flavor. Unwrapping a Bonfire breakfast burrito takes finesse, as it could unleash a tumbling tater tot freefall if not carefully performed. In addition to crispy potatoes and cheese, BonFire burritos can be packed with sausage, ham, or bacon, but there's no need to narrow it down to just one.
It's shocking that Stewart's Shops can even dub itself a convenience store when it's churning some of the most delicious ice cream in the U.S. It's a true ice cream parlor, with soda pop and all, gracing upstate New York and surrounding Vermont cities with its precious decor and showstopping sweets. As one would guess from just one step into Stewart's, it is a family-run and has been since 1917. The family behind the convenience store has always aimed to serve the areas that didn't have easy access to the big city, and they ultimately made a name for themselves.
The intricate history of Stewart's Shops is part of the charm, providing New York State with decades of cultural significance, but it's the quality that's put the brand in so many stocking rooms. As amazing as the ice cream is, the beverages could be on par. In Stewart's Shops, flavors abound, and that goes for both ice cream, soda, and dairy refreshers. Cream soda and citrus pop are old standbys, but fun creations will always be on the menu. Stewart's promotes itself as the "home of flavors" for a reason.
Stewart's Shops satisfies sweet tooths all over the region, but the kitchen's savory options can also please any palate. Nothing compares to the BBQ pulled pork and spicy fried chicken, especially served on their signature butter rolls. The hot dog bar also can't be forgotten. It leaves plenty of room for innovation, with unlimited toppings and condiments are your disposal.
High's Dairy Store
High's Dairy Store might be a smaller retailer, but its following would suggest otherwise. As another Maryland and Pennsylvania chain, fried chicken meals are, of course, a hot menu feature. Although, given the name, it is no surprise that ice cream is the main attraction at High's Dairy Store. With 60 locations scattered throughout the Mid-Atlantic, High's has become a household name in the area ever since it was introduced back in 1928.
While it may be labeled as a convenience store, High's is all about the best of the best when it comes to ice cream; top quality cream, milk, sugar, you name it. Given the business was once the largest ice cream parlor chain in the world, it seems fitting High's takes such pride in its frozen treats. All slow-churned from scratch, the artisans never stop getting creative with flavors. They mix in anything from crunchy bites like chocolate-covered pretzels to creamy caramels and fresh fruit. For those who prefer to sip their ice cream through a straw, High's milkshake station will be the place to start. The perfectly creamy shakes really hit the spot but, even better, the creations are up to you as the crew is open to mixing and matching any flavors.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.