You Speak, We Listen — Readers Pick the Most Iconic Roadside Restaurants

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We missed some of your favorite pit stops last time, hopefully this makes up for it

Photo Modified: Flickr / Cliff CC BY 4.0

Crater Lake is just a couple of hours from I-5, and an ideal spot for lunch.

Yahoo Travel readers are the backseat drivers of the Interwebs — and we like it that way. A little over a week ago, we published a list of our favorite roadside restaurants in the U.S. And then the comments started rolling in, more than 100 of them, telling us all the great spots we missed. Everybody seemed to have an opinion. We even got an email from a Panama-based reader, David Rosenfeld, informing me that no list of roadside restaurants is complete without Denver’s Buckhorn Exchange. (David, you’re right. It does sound worthy of a stop! Maybe before going for cones at Little Man Ice Cream.)

As they say, there is no accounting for taste. But we love that, and the fact that you’re sharing your 2 cents here. So we decided to round up some of the beloved restaurants you told us about, from a Texas spot with a 72-ounce-steak challenge to a place where a cup of hot coffee still costs a nickel. They’re reader-tested and reader-approved.

The Buckhorn Exchange, near I-70, Denver

Opened in 1893 by Henry H. “Shorty Scout” Zietz (a colleague of Buffalo Bill), The Buckhorn Exchange still features a supper menu that would make former guests — from Theodore Roosevelt to Roy Rogers — salivate. The menu includes items like high-plains buffalo prime rib, peppercorn-crusted elk, and apricot glazed quail. 

Reader’s take: “The walls (and hanging from the ceiling) are covered with hunting trophies, antique guns, and autographed photos. It still has Colorado liquor license number one … and is always superb.”

Flo’s Hot Dogs, U.S. 1, Cape Neddick, Maine

Mainers cue up for two things outside Flo’s Hot Dogs, which has been owned by the same family since 1959 — the steamed hot dogs, served on warm buns with your choice of toppings, and jars of their housemade relish (so addictive it has its own eBay store). 

Reader’s take: “Iconic ‘roadside restaurants’ in Maine would be … Flo’s steamed hot dogs in Cape Neddick.”

Related: These Ain’t Your Grandma’s Motels: An Ode to the Roadside Motor Inn

Al’s Oasis, I-90, Oacoma, South Dakota

Set on the banks of the Missouri River, Al’s Oasis serves throwback fare (beef chislic with garlic toast) and stocks South Dakota-made products that make great souvenirs, from Lakota-grown popcorn to local yellow blossom clover honey. 

Reader’s take: “Buffalo burgers and 5-cent coffee.” (It’s true: A cup costs the same as it did when Al’s Oasis opened in the 1950s).

Swing Inn Cafe, I-15, Temecula, California

In a burgeoning wine country inland of San Diego, Temecula has become a must-stop travel destination. It’s top restaurant? According to one reader, Swing Inn Cafe. It’s been open since 1927, serves breakfast all day (like all good diners should), and has perfected American classics, from patty melts to onion rings. 

Reader’s take: “We drive every year from the Pacific Northwest to San Diego, and we make sure we drive through Temecula, California, on Tuesdays around noon. There is a little place called the Swing Inn that serves the best tri-tips over noodles for lunch. We regret when we miss it.”

The Big Texan, I-40 (near Route 66), Amarillo, Texas

Good news for voracious (and thrifty!) eaters: If you can down the Big Texan’s 72-ounce steak meal — complete with shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, and buttered roll — within one hour without breaking any of these rules, you get the whole thing for free. If not, you have to pay $72 — and forfeit a lifetime of bragging rights. 

Reader’s take: “The Big Texan in Amarillo is famous because of their 72-ounce-steak challenge, but my 18-ounce (¼ of the challenge steak) was great!”

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, two locations, St. Louis

Frozen custards with classic toppings (apple pie, pralines, tart cherry) have been luring sweet tooths to Ted Drewes since his father — also named Ted — opened the St. Louis company in 1931. Opt for the Cardinal Sin, which is topped with tart red cherries and hot fudge. 

Reader’s take: “No mention of Ted Drewes Frozen Custard in St. Louis? LOL!! Only open from spring until October, ALWAYS a line for the 10-15 counters, jam-packed after a Cardinals or Blues game. And 100% worth it!!!!”

Heid’s of Liverpool, near I-90, Liverpool, New York

Painted on the side of Heid’s of Liverpool is a diner that’s been open since 1917. It’s hard not to like, with a menu of throwback fare such as kraut hot dogs, beer-battered Atlantic cod, and fried pickle chips — best washed down with local Byrne Dairy chocolate milk. 

Reader’s take: “It’s a pure classic roadside eatery.”

Rocky & Carlo’s, Route 90, Chalmette, Louisiana

Founded by five Sicilian brothers and brothers-in-law in 1965, Rocky & Carlo’s is celebrating its 50th anniversary this weekend (after surviving both flood and fire over the decades). Don’t leave without a slice of the spumoni cheesecake. 

Reader’s take: “If you’re ever near NOLA, go to Chalmette 10 minutes east and stop in at Rocky & Carlo’s Restaurant and Bar (Ladies Invited) for some VERY local Italian-American food, just like ya mama-n-em used to make. Bruccioloni on Wednesdays is my favorite. Most people love the #$%$ Salad (you heard me right), and the poboys are great. All the food is wonderful, huge portions, and cheap.”

Related: The Best East Coast Ski Town Diners to Refuel Yourself

Lambert’s Cafe, Three Locations, Missouri and Alabama

You catch your own food at Lambert’s Cafe — well, you attempt to catch it. The red-suspender-wearing wait staff tosses the restaurant’s fresh house-baked rolls to guests, who promptly slather them in butter and sorghum molasses. (Proof of their deliciousness: Last year they made well over 2 million rolls.) 

Reader’s take: “For something different when you’re on the road, try Lambert’s, “The Only Home of Throwed Rolls.” There’s one in Sikeston, Missouri, and another one in Ozark, Missouri, and one in Foley, Alabama. Those are the only three I know of, and I think they are all still family-owned. It’s not exceptional food … just country cooking and a different atmosphere. And, yes, they really do throw the rolls.”

Crater Lake Lodge, near I-5, Oregon

Crater Lake Lodge opened 100 years ago overlooking the deepest lake in the United States (it’s nearly 2,000 feet deep — much deeper than the Empire State Building, at 1,454 feet, is tall). It’s an absolutely must-see detour, just a couple of hours from I-5, and an ideal spot for lunch: After a quick hike, treat yourself to a table by the window in the stone-walled dining room. 

Reader’s take: “If you are judging a good roadside restaurant by the view, then there is nothing better than Crater Lake Lodge. The food is ‘good’ but expensive, the view is priceless.”

And check out our original adventure travel series, “A Broad Abroad: A Taste of Miami.” 

 

 

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