Where and what should we eat across America?
April 11, 2015 10:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm going on a road trip from Boston to San Diego in June, and we want to find some fun places to eat--restaurants (from holes-in-the-wall to fancy), cafés, ice cream, food truck, foods found in only your town. Anything and everything goes! We've got time, so we can veer off our path, too. I can use the internet of course (and I will), but I would love to hear from locals who know stuff the internet doesn't (especially in smaller towns/rural areas). Here's our route. And a map is also attached

Boston to Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls to Detroit/Ann Arbor

Detroit area to Chicago

Chicago to Kansas City

Kansas City to Joplin, MO/ozarks

Joplin, MO, to Denver

Denver to Ouray area (CO)

Ouray area to Grand Canyon through Monument Valley

Grand Canyon to Vegas

Vegas to San Diego

And here's a link to a map of our trip.
posted by namemeansgazelle to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
If you're after good food, I cannot recommend enough rerouting through NM instead of CO. Just take I-25 south from Denver and swing through Santa Fe and Albuquerque then hop on I-40. New Mexican food is an absolute goddamn gem. I realize that this doesn't actually respond to your question as asked, but I gotta say it. I mean for real.
posted by Makwa at 10:45 AM on April 11, 2015 [14 favorites]

If you can swing by Grand Rapids, one of the best meals of my life was at The Chop House. While it's not particularly regional cuisine, the service, food and atmosphere was amazing. I have been lucky enough in my life to have had a couple of meals at 3 Michelin starred restaurants or by award winning chefs and this was as good if not better, maybe more so for being a huge surprise. Every single detail was impeccable. It is not cheap by Midwestern standards, but so very worth it.

If you swing by South Bend on your Detroit to Chicago leg I can also recommend CornDance Tavern, the owner breeds Buffalo so it's always on the menu, and they serve a dish called the "Sword of John Adams" which varies in content depending on what is in season, but is basically a meal served on a sword and is as tasty as it is dramatic looking, or try the Peruvian Hamhock.

If you do nothing else, if you've never had one get a Chicago style pizza & a wet Italian beef sandwich while in Chicago. I don't know place names to recommend anywhere in particular there, but I've never had a bad version of either by going to a place with a queue.
posted by wwax at 10:57 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

A good resource for weird local restaurants and the best in regional food is Road Food, if you don't mind doing a little digging.
posted by bcwinters at 10:57 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

We did a cross country rv trip and used the diners, drive-in's and dives websites as a dining guide. Guy is kind of a jerk but he has some great, off the beaten path, restaurants on his show and that's exactly what we were looking for. We ate amazing food at probably 12 different places and when we told them that we came because of the show, we made instant friends and usually got to sample a special or take a dessert with us for free. Such nice people. Just a suggestion, ymmv. Enjoy your trip!
posted by pearlybob at 11:10 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't know how much time you plan to spend in Niagara Falls, but the Flying Saucer is definitely worth a visit, both for the food and the cool googie-style atmosphere. It's been there since the mid-1970s (I remember going there with my family on vacations) and it's still going strong, with an expanded menu.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:21 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Go to a middle eastern restaurant in Ann Arbor, Dearborn, or Detroit. SE Michigan has the largest community of middle eastern people outside the middle east, so it is a competitive scene and the food is miles better than any other middle Eastern food ive had in the US. I lived in Boston and i know people love the food at The Middle East in cambridge; that will taste like garbage to you once you try Michigan middle eastern. Jerusalem Garden is the classic Ann Arbor place; Palm Palace is a strong Ann Arbor contender too. La Shish is the best in Dearborn, which is between detroit and AA on I-94. Harmonie Garden is my fave in Detroit. These are all kinda smaller and not right on the highway (except for Palm Palace) so if they dont fit yr plans, there are approx. 8,000 similar restaurants in that area, and if you end up at another-it will probably also be mind blowing and delicious.
posted by holyrood at 12:03 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

On your Chicago-to-KC leg, I recommend Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket, just off I-55 at Rt. 83 in Willowbrook. (It's on the old Rt. 66!) Great atmosphere and delicious food. Of course the chicken is the main thing they're known for, but the macaroni and cheese is soooooo delicious (and probably so bad for you!).

Further down I-55, you can stop at the Dixie Truckers Home, one of the oldest truck stops in the USA, if not the oldest. I used to go to conventions in Springfield frequently and this was my favorite place to stop for a meal en route.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:04 PM on April 11, 2015

You could make a stop at Anchor Bar in Buffalo, birthplace of the buffalo wing!
posted by imalaowai at 12:10 PM on April 11, 2015

Are you doing Niagra to Detroit via Canada, or via New York/Pennsylvania/Ohio?
posted by zug at 1:13 PM on April 11, 2015

on preview, I missed the map. Sorry bout that.

Detroit has amazing middle eastern food and coney dogs, I don't have a specific restaurant unfortunately.
posted by zug at 1:14 PM on April 11, 2015

In San Diego you should definitely try Lucha Libre.
posted by zug at 3:49 PM on April 11, 2015

Regarding Chicago deep dish, Lou Malnati's is my personal favorite!
posted by kylej at 4:34 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you take a slight southern detour from Joplin, through NW Arkansas and over to Tulsa you can have some most delicious Thai at A Taste of Thai in Fayetteville, AR for lunch, followed by an equally or even more delicious dinner of steak and Lebanese appetizers (tabouli, hummus, cabbage rolls, all delightful), and a bit of BBQ at Freddie's in Sapulpa, OK just outside Tulsa.

I really enjoy the drive from Tulsa west out 412 to New Mexico. Much better than Kansas, although there are tolls involved.
posted by wierdo at 6:12 PM on April 11, 2015

This isn't a secret unknown hole-in-the-wall or anything, but Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor is a great place for food lovers. It has a nice outdoor patio where you can take your fresh bread and dipping oil or ginormous sandwich and bask in the sun.
posted by Miko at 8:02 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

You have to eat at Gates BBQ in Kansas City! Try the burnt ends.
posted by apricot at 8:21 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, Jane and Michael Stern of Road Food fame have some great articles in Saveur. I'm planning on mining them on my next cross country trip.
posted by apricot at 8:24 PM on April 11, 2015

In the Finger Lakes of New York, pick up some wine. (Suggestions here and here.) Then in Rochester, eat garbage plates. If the timing is right, stop by the Public Market for empanadas, among many other snacks & provisions. In Buffalo, eat beef on weck from Charlie the Butcher.
posted by knile at 10:23 PM on April 11, 2015

Vegas secret hole-in-the-wall is the NYC-style pizza parlor hidden within the Cosmopolitan. It's not advertised, there isn't a sign or anything, but if you can't find it, ask one of the staff, they'll lead you to a long hallway that ends at the pizza place. Delicious.
posted by alchemist at 5:52 AM on April 12, 2015

On the way to Ouray, stop in Ridgway (about 15 miles north, you'll drive right through it) and go to Thai Paradise. It's seriously some of the best Thai food I've ever had and the family who runs it are so nice and friendly.

Then head on to Ouray and have dessert at Mouse Chocolates.

Have a great trip!
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:31 AM on April 12, 2015

We eat at the hole-in-the-wall (but not cheap) Lotus of Siam whenever we visit Vegas these days. Here's a link to a very enthusiastic article complete with a slideshow of suggestions about what to order. I recommend the drunken noodle sea bass, OMG delicious.

While you're passing through the very large San Diego county, if you are in the mood for traditional sushi, I definitely recommend sitting at the sushi bar at Samurai in Solana Beach. For Irish fare and live music, you could stop by O'Sullivan's in Carlsbad or The Field - literally shipped over from Ireland - in the Gaslamp quarter. We love Cafe Athena in Pacific Beach for Greek. If you're looking for a unique drinking experience, we may have some freshly brewed saké available in our tasting room in San Marcos, depending on when you arrive (we have a small sample batch right now, but we're ~2-3 months out from our next, larger batch).

I'm afraid I don't have much to recommend in the no-man's-land and rural areas after you pass through Vegas. We're still working on that for ourselves.
posted by moira at 10:56 AM on April 12, 2015

If you take US93 south out or Vegas towards Kingman, you can pick up old 66 there and stop for lunch in Oatman, an old mining town with a couple of decent enough restaurants. And wild burros!
posted by wierdo at 1:01 PM on April 12, 2015

Famous Lunch in Troy, NY is more or less on the way from Boston to Niagara Falls. It is one of the best, cheapest hot dog stands around. They serve mini dogs for under $1 a piece. Grab 4-6 and and RC cola! This is a lunch counter that hasn't really changed in 60 years.
posted by soy_renfield at 1:19 PM on April 12, 2015

Also, on the way through Four Corners, Swingin' Steak is one of the more surreal dining experiences you can have. It is also the only thing for miles.
posted by soy_renfield at 1:22 PM on April 12, 2015

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