I just sent off a piece to Zester Daily on road food. It was inspired by my own long road trips from New Mexico to California, a great find in a gas station, and Elissa Altman’s blog (see www.poormanfeast) where she recently bemoaned the pitiful offerings available when driving between Hartford and Maine. Also, I noticed that the latest Sunset magazine was all about the great places you can eat on the road in the West, that is if you’re anywhere remotely near urban areas or on the coast. If you’re a traveler on 1-40 and 1-5 it’s a different story. It’s bleak, and there’s next to nothing out there. I’ve had a long time to find that out.
Over twenty years of driving back and forth between my home in New Mexico and my family’s home in Northern California, I’ve found places here and there where you can get a good cup of coffee, a decent breakfast, an okay meal or better. Even though I bring a cooler of food with me, I want to get out of the car at a certain point, stretch, and be in a room with people while eating a meal. Knowing a few good options is valuable. I’ve got my own little list, but I’m sure others do, too. I thought I’d start by naming my own resources and adding to them any others that readers want to contribute. This is about survival and happiness, not about finding a gourmet meal in the hinterlands that’s worth a special trip, though we could have that category too.
Your finds are welcome and they can be from anywhere, not just the West.
Macy’s on Beaver Street for great coffee and decent, even healtful food.
Brix Restaurant and Wine Bar on N. San Francsico St. (Downtown), for contemporary, farm-to-table and really good food! It’s small. Call first.
On the downtown strip that heads east, there’s a little coffee shop on the left where they make an excellent cappuccino.
On one of the cross streets there’s a large restaurant that serves a decent breakfast. And there are other places to eat as well. Lots of Mexican food.
My latest find is Oysters, a Mexican restaurant on Andy Divine Avenue, going south. It’s near a bunch of motels, which is how I know it. It’s hot, the fans creak and don’t do much to cool the place down, but the beer is cold and the people are nice. I wouldn’t order oysters in Kingman, myself, but can be happy with a standard cheese enchilada or shrimp tacos.
I’ve never found a place to eat, but I’m always happy in Needles because I’m finally in California. Anyone?
Ludlow, CA, on 1-40 (Population 10)
You might have to be pretty desperate, but there is a café at this gas-station crossroad. There’s only one and it’s an A-frame and it’s south of the freeway. The waitress wears a long gingham dress and you can’t tell if she’s 45 or 70. She looks pretty weatherworn, and she’s sweet. There’s a guy in an apron who walks around and chats with customers but who doesn’t do anything else apparently. The food is not as plastic as Denny’s, but the pork chops are like cardboard that’s been left in the sun. The last time we ate here we had to listen to “Big Dave” on his cell talk to a would be customer about dry docking his boat in LA during the entire time between ordering and the leaving. We had his conversation pretty well memorized by the time we left.
Why bother, you might ask? Because it’s in the middle of long hard stretch in the middle of nowhere, Barstow is next if you’re heading West, and you might just want to stop.
I’ve never found any place to eat in Barstow so I hope someone else has. Once when we stayed in a motel there we were told we couldn’t have any water because there was jet fuel in the city’s water supply. They loaded us up with bottles of water, but that also meant pretty choices in the local Mexican restaurant were pretty limited. Barstow is huge; there’s got to be somewhere to go. It’s just that by the time I get there I’m too tired to look.
Crossroads at Highway 58 and 395 (Kramer Junction)
If you turn north onto 395 and go a short ways, (matter of yards) there’s a Mexican café on the left that has the most amazing blue walls covered with photographs of food. It’s not that far from Barstow so you can go there for breakfast if you’re heading West. I love to eat there because of those walls, and also I know there’s nothing in Mojave.
The crossroads is intense with trucks coming, going and turning, gas stations, truck stops, and other restaurants, but none of them have these walls and photos.
Boron, Rt. 58
I’d bypass Boron if I have a long driving day ahead because there’s really no reason to go there, but for Domingo’s, which can be most welcome. The food is Mexican, it’s good, and as in Kingman, features some seafood, and Domingo, the man in charge, is there. Given the proximity of Edwards Air Force Base, there’s a good reason for the presence of all sorts of memorabilia from air and space events, photos of astronauts and the like.
Coalinga on I-5, Jaynes Travel Center
I was thrilled to find Baja Fresh in this quiet travel center on I-5. I’ve stopped there for fish tacos any number of times, not at they’re the best in the world, but because they’re good, and the salsas are fresh. On the wall is written in big, cursive letters, “No microwave, no can opener, no MSG, no freezer, no lard.” And it’s a strangely peaceful place.