Fill ‘Er Up!

Roadside eateries around the state deliver no-fuss homemade goodness to keep your summer road trip on track.

Gourmet sandwiches, beet and feta salad, mixed olives and feta, and potato chips at the Market at Bellair.

Photography by Fred + Elliott 

You’ve been there before. On the road, car packed to the gills, windows down, headed to some kind of summer fun when hunger strikes. But the phalanx of fast food places lining nearly every major highway exit from Boyce to South Boston just doesn’t appeal. Yes, you want fast, but is this as good as it gets? 

Not by a long shot. We found 16 eateries around the state serving made-from-scratch food that is fast, hot and flat-out delicious. Tucked into gas stations, convenience stores and rustic roadside outposts, what these joints lack in looks they more than make up for in flavor—dishing up things like country ham potpie, crab cakes, pulled pork, and bologna and egg breakfast biscuits (a revelation), even tom yum soup and other authentic Thai dishes. 

So stop, get out of the car for a while, and enjoy. After all, the journey can be just as fun as the destination. 

Risin’ Smoke Barbecue

1312 W. Danville St., South Hill


Jeff Ress did not plan to open such a popular barbecue restaurant in South Hill when he began renovating an old convenience store along the combined routes of U.S. 58-Business and U.S. 1 during the first half of 2015. “It was kind of an accident. I actually was going to get in there and do the gas and the full convenience store,” says the 50-year-old Ress, whose first job while growing up in South Hill was—fortuitously—working at a barbecue restaurant. Just before opening last July, Ress was fortunate to pick up a barbecue smoker for a good price: “Then we just kind of basically switched gears right in the middle of renovating and built a full kitchen.” Ress has since shuttered his convenience store in favor of the flavor of Risin’ Smoke Barbeque, which still contains two Citgo gas pumps. The restaurant can seat about 50 diners, stopping for a breakfast brisket-and-egg sandwich on Texas Toast, or popping in for pork barbecue and a smoked half-chicken for lunch or dinner. “It’s just really, really taken off,” Ress says. “We have people coming from everywhere, and Clarksville is a really, really big market for us. It’s kind of grown really quickly and really spread-out.”—By Joe Tennis

Sting-Ray’s Restaurant & Exxon

26507 Lankford Highway, Cape Charles 


Housed in what was once a horse barn, Sting-Ray’s lures diners looking for succulent seafood—plus a tiger in the tank—on the southern end of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. “A lot of people say they wouldn’t eat toadfish, but they’re the best little fish in the world. They fry up, like, a little bit bigger than a chicken drummette,” says Sting-Ray’s manager for the past 30 years Mary Scott. “That’s a local’s favorite.” Sting-Ray’s also serves soft-shell crabs in the spring, plus fried flounder. “Our biggest seller,” says Scott, “is probably our fried crab cakes, as far as seafood.” Four Exxon gas pumps front the restaurant, along with a convenience store along Route 13, about five miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Openedin 1950 as the Cape Center Restaurant and Service Station, the 100-seat restaurant became known as Sting-Ray’s in the 1980s when it was owned by the late Ray Haynie. “Ray was the one who revamped the restaurant, totally,” says Scott. “He went to really upscale food and a really funky atmosphere.” Today, she says, “It’s the restaurant that we’re known for. People don’t say, ‘Hey, I’m going to Exxon to have dinner.’ They always say, ‘Sting-Ray’s.’”–By Joe Tennis

Wise Choice Convenience Store & Exxon

1751 Ashland Road, Manakin 


Some say this Exxon station and convenience store at the Rockville/Manakin exit off I-64 west of Richmond in Goochland County serves the best chicken tenders in the state, and the fact that they serve 800 pounds of them each week is a pretty good testament to that. But I’ve got one word for you: bologna. Any given morning starting at 5 a.m., when the doors open, you might hear, as a friend of mine once did, a patron order, say, a “bologna and egg biscuit with a piece of fish on top.” That’s right. The bologna is a big, thick, slightly smoky slab that goes well with just about anything, even fish. For a more conventional take, I opt for the bologna burger with lettuce, tomato, onions and mayonnaise, a side of old school potato wedges and fresh-brewed sweet tea. The griddle here first fired up nearly 30 years ago in 1987 for shift workers and semi drivers hauling rock from a nearby quarry, but Chef Cecil’s chicken—either fried or smoked—has long since become a mainstay on football Saturdays for anyone headed from Norfolk or Richmond to Charlottesville or Blacksburg. And regulars from West Virginia and Ohio stop here every year on their way to the beach.–By Dean King 

The Market at Bellair & Tiger Fuel Store 

2401 Ivy Road, Charlottesville

Twenty-five years ago, when Tiger Fuel Co. asked then-caterer Pat Pitts to run a gourmet sandwich shop inside a gas station, she knew she’d have to fend off perceptions about pre-packaged hoagies. She didn’t know that Bellair Market would become a beloved Charlottesville hangout that has spawned four other locations, feeding University of Virginia students dining on a dime as well as winery visitors making stops along Route 29. The market’s menu features 19 sandwiches—named after nearby attractions and priced around $7—plus daily specials and a sandwich of the month, often the suggestion of a regular customer. Pitts’ dill-infused herb mayonnaise lends moisture to Vie de France bread and zing to a suite of signature sandwiches, including the popular Ednam (ham, turkey, bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato), Farmington (ham, bacon, coleslaw, lettuce tomato) and Birdwood (peppery turkey, pepper jack cheese, avocado, onion, banana peppers), all assembled on-demand. “We are very fast at making sandwiches. We have a system,” says Pitts, who also serves pasta, potato and chicken salads made in-house. The shop opens at 6 a.m. daily (except for Sunday, when it opens at 8 a.m.) ready with biscuit-based sandwiches, and keeps serving until 11 p.m. Pitts says there are advantages to sharing a space with Exxon, whose prepaid credit cards can be used at the market. During UVA family weekends, many parents stop by to see where their students’ money is going. “Parents think they’re buying a lot of gas,” laughs Pitts, “but really it’s sandwiches.”–By Whitney Pipkin

The Trading Post & Shell

3017 Monacan Trail Road, North Garden 


Stop in at the Trading Post for hit-the-spot breakfast biscuits, barbecue, a creative list of sandwiches and a seasonal Friday fish-fry as well as a selection of sides like farmstead kimchi, cucumber salad and barbecue baked beans. Located on Route 29 in Albemarle County, the Post dishes up comfort food without pretension, and offers a strong craft beer, wine and tobacco selection, too. “I’m ex-Navy, and have traveled a lot,” owner Johnny Ekman says, explaining eclectic menu items like the lamb gyro—hickory or applewood smoked lamb, thin-sliced and tender, with chive-horseradish cheddar, chopped cucumber, red onion and tzatziki on naan bread. Ekman had just finished a six-year stint with a helicopter company in Saudi Arabia when he took the place over from his father 15 years ago. Don’t miss the Red Hill Slub—pork barbecue, onion rings and cheddar on a toasted sub roll.–By Ned Oldham

Haupt’s Country Store

11911 John Tyler Memorial Highway, Charles City 


On Route 5, between Richmond and Williamsburg, just east of Charles City Courthouse, this quaint roadside stop has been selling its goods since 1893—which makes it the new kid on the block. Across the street is Belle Air Plantation, founded in 1690. In more recent decades, a bank of drink machines has served up ice-cold sodas—RC, Sunkist Orange, and Nehi Grape—to thirsty drivers and cyclers in this hot and swampy neck of the woods, including those on the new 53-mile Capital Trail. From Wednesday on, the butcher counter inside sells everything from pigs ears and pigs feet to turkey necks, beef liver and homemade pork sausage, all for cooking at home. For those in need of readymade sustenance, including Charles City County sheriffs stationed nearby and the occasional armada of Harley riders out for a scenic tour, Haupt’s serves up thick-cut cheeseburgers, potato wedges, fried chicken and fried fish sandwiches with lettuce, tomato and a dollop of mayo.–By Dean King

Graves Grocery, Exxon 

1779 Rockfish Valley Highway, Nellysford


Tucked off Route 151 in Nelson County, on the outskirts of the town of Nellysford, is an unassuming two-story white frame house with black shutters and a red sign proclaiming that you have arrived at Graves Grocery. Inside, the place appears to be your average convenience store. But what you might not notice on first-glance is that mixed in with the usual suspects of chicken tenders, corn dogs and potato wedges is homemade fried chicken that is the stuff of legends. Angela, 60, and John Lim, 62, originally from Korea, are responsible for the culinary magic. And magic it is. The fried chicken is moist, flavorful and perfectly crispy. The secret according their daughter Sun Kim, is in the method and the fresh ingredients the couple use. They batter the chicken (Angela’s recipe) and cook it in a pressure cooker fryer. The result is something special. And if it couldn’t get any better than this, the Lims are also famous around here for breakfast biscuits.–By Aynsley Fisher

Blue Ridge Pig

2198 Rockfish Valley Highway, Nellysford


Just outside Nellysford, a larger-than-life pink pig keeps watch on the comings and goings of Route 151 from its perch high atop the sign announcing your arrival at the Blue Ridge Pig. “Rustic and sophisticated smoked meats and sandwiches” are this place’s specialty. Don’t be fooled by the unassuming exterior—it is definitely rustic, but once you make your way through the screen door, you’ll find a counter behind which lies the small kitchen where owner Charles “Strawberry” Goodwin, 69, has been making his barbecue for 17 years.

Goodwin’s barbecue is legendary. So much so that he has been featured in the Washington Post and Maxim magazine, and visited by TV host Anthony Bourdain and other celebrities. His secret is no secret really. You can smell it in the air—it is the unmistakable smell of hickory smoke wafting from the smokehouse that sits out back. The meats are moist and smoky; the potato salad is packed with flavor (think dill and mustard); and the limeade is tart and cool. Ask Strawberry what his favorite thing on the menu is and he’ll say the pork barbecue. “Every one I eat still tastes like the first one.”—By Aynsley Fisher 

Owen’s Market & Marathon Gas

9741 E. Lynchburg Salem Turnpike, Goode


Owen’s Market and Truck Plaza, located on the Lynchurg-Salem Turnpike (Route 460) in Goode, is well situated for pit stops en route to Peaks of Otter, the Bedford D-Day Memorial and Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. Pump your gas, then head inside to the deli counter at the back of the store, where the menu offers a homey selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner items. Ed Owen, whose father founded the business in 1943, says the beef tenderloin biscuits made from scratch each morning are a breakfast favorite: It’s not unheard of for there to be a line when the doors open. Later in the day, people come from as far away as Roanoke for chicken marinated and then coated in a seasoned breading. “There ain’t no chicken around that can touch it,” says Owen. Take your food to go or grab a spot at one of the tables up front, where you’ll find a friendly mix of locals, truck-drivers and tourists.–By Ellen F. Brown 

Tangent Outfitters

201 Cascade Drive, Pembroke

If you find yourself in the New River region near Pembroke in Giles County, you’ll probably be needing one of three things: gear, gas or grub. Lucky for you, Tangent, on Route 460, has you covered. There’s something for everyone here—fly rods, fuel, outdoor apparel, beer, chainsaw sharpening, kayak and mountain bike rentals, top river and trail guides, and, yes, delicious eats. Located in the back of the store, the cozy Cascade Café is as versatile as the rest of the place, featuring everything from burgers and dogs to pizza, subs, soup and salad. Great days in the gorge start with the Eggleston, a breakfast croissant loaded with bacon, eggs and cheese. Of the more than 50 boutique sandwiches, the New River Gorge, a triple-decker club with ham, turkey, bacon, Swiss and red onions, is a local hero. The Native, a turkey, bacon and Swiss melt with spicy mustard and pickle juice on a toasty croissant, hits the spot on a chilly day, and the well-seasoned Lean and Mean veggie special with spinach, onions, banana peppers, two cheeses, vinegar and oil, would make Euell Gibbons lick his lips. Feeling self-indulgent? Wash it all down with one of the café’s thick and tasty ice cream shakes.–By Dean King 

Bean’s Barbeque

117 S. Main St., Edinburg 


If it’s serious barbeque you’re after, head for Bean’s on Route 11 in Edinburg between Staunton and Winchester. From I-81, take exit 279 into town to the big red lift-door of a circa 1900s car repair garage turned firehouse in 1951. When Edinburg native Justin Davis, 39, transformed it into Bean’s Barbeque in 2009, he brought his own smoke and fire. From 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, Davis fills two colossal smokers with fresh meat atop hickory logs. The 900 pounds of pork shoulder and 170 racks of ribs from a nearby Shenandoah Valley butcher rarely make it to closing time, but any that does is frozen and later added to beans laced with a variety of Justin’s five homemade sauces. On Thursdays, besides the pork, Justin smokes beef brisket and Andouille sausages. (Most of it is already promised, so plan to order ahead.) The pulled pork sandwich is so enormous many wonder if they can finish it. But after the first eye-rolling moist and tender bite, most seem to find a way.–By Paula Kirby

Cook’s Exxon & Country Store

446 W. Reservoir Road,  Woodstock

Chain restaurants are legion at exit 283 on I-81 in Woodstock, but hungry locals know to go to Cook’s Exxon and Country Store at the top of the ramp. Owned and operated by the Cook family since the early ’60s, these Shenandoah Valley natives do it all—they’ll pump your gas, fix your car, and serve you their signature made-from-scratch country ham potpie. Anna, the cook, prepares a whole Virginia ham, pulls it apart, then simmers potatoes and dumplings in the ham broth. A pinch of parsley suffices for something green. No one is sure who created this hearty recipe, but some claim it arrived with the region’s German settlers, the Cooks among them. All sandwiches and salads, including potato, chicken, tuna, egg, macaroni, and a vinegar-based pasta salad are made fresh. If you’re lucky, Anna will have just-made coleslaw on hand. But like the potpie, it shows up when Anna feels the time is right. No one is sure what the trigger is, but when both appear on the menu on the same day, you’ll feel like you’ve hit the jackpot. Fried chicken lovers will be glad to know that Cook’s is a Krispy Krunchy Cajun Chicken venue, but its other offerings—like Virginia wines and local food products—are purely Shenandoah Valley.–By Paula Kirby

Britt’s Service Center

309 N. County Drive, Wakefield 


Chief among the things held sacred at this community gathering spot on Route 460 in Wakefield, between Petersburg and Suffolk, are the Tar Heels, the Stars and Stripes (flying overhead 24-7) and Smithfield’s Gwaltney red franks, which the Britt family has been serving up, with or without chili, for more than four decades. Longtime owner, Winston Britt, who passed away last March, served in the Air Force for 24 years and as mayor of Wakefield for 21 years, but he was a Tar Heel fan for more than 55. The place is now owned by his wife, Judy, and run by a son, Chuck. How big a fan was Winston? He once put a black sheet over his gas pumps after the Heels lost in football to N.C. State. Across from the popular Virginia Diner, two billiards tables dominating the action inside, Britt’s keeps its menu sweet and simple, using state-of-the-art technology—from five decades ago—a classic steaming cabinet to cook its plump pork-beef-chicken hotdogs and heat the buns without drying them out. Patrons devour more than 2,000 of these classic dogs here every month. Judy likes hers with mustard, onions and chili. Some will top that off with coleslaw. Any way you do it, you’ll spend less than $2 for a hotdog.–By Dean King

Thai Pan & Liberty Gas Station

2 Harrison St. SE, Leesburg


Walk into the Liberty gas station on the edge of historic downtown Leesburg and you are confronted with the tight, fluorescent-bright, aesthetics-be-damned space of an old-school convenience store. Smokes, Drumstick ice cream and 40s of malt liquor are all within easy reach. My advice: Move along, quickly. When you do, you’ll find a nondescript door to the right that ushers you into a vastly different world. There you will find warm colors, comfortable seating, light Thai jazz (it exists) and Thai food as good as any in northern Virginia. This is Thai Pan Restaurant, an oasis amid gas pumps and junk food that, while already a local legend, has earned new plaudits under its gifted chef and owner, Souphak Sandara. The standards are all here: pad Thai, drunken noodles, tom yum soup, kra pow, and all variations of curry. Sandara, who bought Thai Pan last March, brought with him serious culinary chops from his previous jobs as sous chef at both the Four Seasons Hotel and Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C. All of Sandara’s ingredients are brought in fresh daily, and nearly all of his recipes “are more lively and flavorful” than before, he says. His claims aren’t the empty hyperbole of a new owner either. Sandara’s dishes are indeed special—bright, fresh and complex.–By Robert Nelson    

Moore’s Country Store

6963 Richmond Highway, Lynchburg


In Lynchburg just off of 460 near the James River, this unassuming family-owned-and-operated country store has been dishing up lip-smacking home-cooked meals to locals and travelers alike since 1926. Many patrons remember their grandparents treating them to the penny candy still offered at the counter, where large jars of pickled pigs’ feet and pigs’ knuckles preside. And who can forget their first bite of the store’s “world famous” spicy chili, slathered over a succulent red hotdog? Be forewarned: These chili dogs pack a punch and are best consumed with a bottle of soda and a side of slaw. One aficionado recalled driving there late at night all the way from Richmond to eat chili dogs and drink Brownie Chocolate Drinks (a former Yoo-hoo competitor). “We still stop after ALL football games regardless of the hour we pass through Lynchburg,” says another Richmond-based Moore’s diehard and Hokie fan. ”We can also count on Bryce [their son] to text and ask us to bring home six dogs for him, which they package up with the chili, slaw and onions on the side.” If that doesn’t get your taste-buds watering, the menu is teaming with other home-cooked options, including burgers, fried chicken, barbecue and steam-heated biscuit sandwiches that some describe as “heavenly.” Driving on 460? Keep your eyes peeled for the modest brick building with a large tree growing straight through the roof—literally.–By Dean King

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