Some Decent Places to Eat When You’re Driving Long Distances

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 Ray Ban outlet 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.

Flagstaff, AZ

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.

Williams, AZ

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.

Kingman, AZ

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.

Needles, CA

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 Gafas Ray Ban outlet 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.

Barstow, CA

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.

blue wall tacos

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 ray ban baratas 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.

15 comments to Some Decent Places to Eat When You’re Driving Long Distances

  • Thanks for the mention, Deborah. As I said, it’s heartening to know that Barstow really does exist and is not just a figment of this young boomer’s Mod Squad-fed imagination: Linc to Julie: I want to stop in Barstow for some pie. There’s supposed to be good pie in Barstow. Julie steps out of car, gets bitten by a rattlesnake while pie concession in Barstow is robbed by 2 hoodlums on the run from The Law. A chase ensues…..

  • Tracey Ryder

    Thank you for this post, Deborah! As someone who drives between CA and Santa Fe on the I-40 at least once a month, it’s really good to know these places exist! Don’t know why I didn’t ask you about road food years ago:-)

  • Deborah Riddle

    Fun post ! We have traveled cross country to family many times and I always enjoy the cultural changes from place to place . I love hearing overall clad farmers talk about their wives and the weather over coffee in the mid west,and the wonderful smell of deep damp forest ,mingled with the smells at the gas station stores in Northern PA … Cigars ,sauerkraut ,/ and spicy sausage . My favorite survival food in that area (,taking route 80 west to East ,)is the wonderful chunks of cheddar cheese cut off a 40 lb wheel
    ,and sitting out at room temperature ,under glass ,at every little convenience store.Always wrapped in paper 🙂 if you are lucky ,they might have summer sausage .

    We have met friends several times in Arbuckle Ca , an exit off I-5 , about an hour above Sacramento .A decent Mexican restaurant ,on an otherwise deserted street ,no problem with parking 🙂
    El-Mex-Kal 301 5th Street 530 476 3564 .It is our half way point , and chosen for convenience ,.but the quiet nature of the little town ,pleasant surroundings and relaxed feel has made it a favorite.

    • Thanks for the El-Mex-Kal tip – will figure out how to place it. I like the sounds of travels – summer sausage, wheels of cheese sauerkraut, even the smell of
      cigars. The cheese image is reassuring about life somehow, and especially that it’s at room temperature. Somehow can’t imagine this in my part of the world.

  • Oh dear, I see I left out a word in the Barstow part – “pretty lean choices” is what I meant to say if you have to cook your menu in bottled water!

  • Elissa – Yes Elissa, there really is a Barstow, but pie there? If this isn’t a joke, do tell me where! I adore pie on the road, about the only time I ever eat it.

  • Tracey – you must have some treasures in your little black book/i-phone. Any to share? Thanks for your response, and call sometime when you’re on this end!

  • Jessica

    I am also a native Northern Californian living in Santa Fe; thank you so much for this list! I haven’t gone back to visit relatives for a while, and now I don’t dread the trip quite as much.

    The Beaver Street Brewery in Flagstaff has decent wood-oven pizzas and is open late. Have you been to Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner in Kingman? I have stopped there a couple of times and thought it was okay. Just wondering how it compares to Oysters. Any thoughts on Bakersfield?

    • HI Jessica – great to meet another Northern Californian. Thank you for your comments – that’s true – The Beaver Street Brewery is good – There are a number of good places in Flagstaff- too many to list
      right here, but I’ll add that. I haven’t been to Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner in Kingman, but am glad to know of another place to go. Oysters isn’t great food – it’s just that it’s a soulful place and the owners are there. I’m sure
      Bakersfield has some interesting places if you looked. I usually just cruise through, happy to be heading homeward (either home), but I’ll bet there’s a treasure to two to be found. Maybe a Basque restaurant? Next trip I’ll check it out.

  • Carrie

    There’s a Mexican place – Plata’s – with two (three?) locations in Barstow – they make a mean zucchini burrito!

  • Carol

    We do Central Illinois to San Luis Obispo and back every winter. A couple of years ago we had a surprisingly good breakfast at Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner about 10 mi. or so east of Barstow. Our instinct is to avoid theme restaurants that have so many advertisements on the highway, but we needed breakfast and knew there wouldn’t be anything in Barstow. I had wonderful hashed browns–crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside and tasting like potatoes–and good over-easy eggs that tasted and looked fresh with nice dark yolks. My husband had oatmeal that was the old fashioned longer-cooking type–not quick cooking or instant. Maybe it was just the hunger, but we were pleasantly surprised

    • Carol – thanks so much for that tip. Good to know, and I would never guess that Peggy Sue’s Diner, which I’ve passed countless times, had such tempting offerings. For another place in Barstow, in case Peggy Sue’s is closed, see CArrie’s comment above.

  • Autumn

    If your ever going through kingman, you have to stop at the garlic clove or rednecks bbq pit. Best food

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