Trip Report: Whoa Nellie Deli! (Lee Vining)

Fabulous food after a spectacular flight over Yosemite | By David Osborn

I’ve found a fantastic restaurant that lies at the end of a gorgeous flight.It makes a great trip for any meal of the day.From Livermore, fly east over Yosemite valley, make a few turns above Yosemite Falls or Half Dome, then fly over Tenaya Lake, Tuolumne Meadows, and finally over Tioga pass near the hulking flanks of Mount Dana to Mono Lake.On the western edge of the lake sits the 4000 foot long runway of the Lee Vining airport.Land and taxi back on the runway to park (there are chains at most of the 6 parking spaces).

From the airport look west toward Yosemite National Park, where you’ll see a building on the hillside with a green roof.This is the Tioga Gas Mart, a most unlikely location to find truly gourmet food.Walk roughly west on the airport access road until you reach US-395.Cross the highway and walk uphill a short distance on CA-120 (the Tioga Pass Road) until you see the Mobil Tioga Gas Mart (WhoaNellie.JPG), —you can’t miss it, with a huge trapeze contraption out front (the owner and his daughter apparently like to fly through the air without airplanes).

Once inside you’ll see the menu of the Whoa Nellie Deli (Menu.JPG), which serves a lot more than deli sandwiches.See their full menu and read a review here( is seating both indoors and outdoors.

The Kansas City Steak Caesar Salad is my favorite so far.Also pictured here (Dishes.JPG) are Herb-Crusted Pork Chops with a blackberry / cherry compote served with spaghetti squash, potato salad, and some wonderful French fries, and the Signature Chicken Caesar Salad Wrap.All are very tasty.The carrot cake for dessert is not to be missed, and one piece should be plenty for your party given the size of the main courses.

The view of Mono Lake from the restaurant is expansive (MonoView.JPG), and you can keep an eye on your airplane while you eat.In the other direction you’ll see snow-filled couloirs (YNPView.JPG) on the eastern edge of Yosemite National Park.

The flight takes about 75 minutes.Make sure you are comfortable with mountain flying.The runway also deserves some special mention.It is about 4000 feet long at 6802 feet elevation.And to make it even more interesting, the runway elevation is highest at the center, lower at the both ends.You can’t tell this when you’re in the air, but once on the ground, the runway looks much shorter than actual.This effect is most interesting on takeoff when it appears you are almost out of runway after 1500 feet—but then more asphalt comes into view. Calculate your density altitude and takeoff roll required, and gain altitude over Mono Lake before returning.

And enjoy the best food you’ll probably ever have at a gas station.


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