The thing with rest stops is that you usually want to stay there for as little time as possible. That’s why most of culinary offerings along the turnpike are fast food. However, there are a few rest stops that stand out for a combination of their dining options, quirky sights (such as a reptile lagoon), and promise of a really good time. Here are the nine best rest stops for food in America.
Perhaps these restaurants are not the best places for food; rather, they’re the best places to just happen upon while you’re on the road. They’re not foodie destinations, in other words, but they are certainly the right restaurants to turn off for if you want a taste of America. We left out taco trucks and food stands, even though they are often some of the best spots for food along America’s highways, because they’re not places where you can rest, per se. The rest stops on this list are where truckers might go to stretch their legs and take their eyes off the road for a few hours. They have seats, bathrooms, and even entertainment.
We began by researching the best rest areas in America, without limiting our search to ones with good food. Once we narrowed down our list, we paid special attention to rest stops that are particularly remote, except for one or two that were too good to pass up — an alien-themed restaurant with some of the best ribs in the country, for instance. It was important that these rest stops had a mix of food and entertainment, because while good food is of primary importance, rest stops need more than just flavor to keep you around.
Eating contests are very popular at highway restaurants. For example, a roadside Amarillo steak house has a prize for any person who can finish a 72-ounce steak in an hour or less. Old-fashioned American comfort food is the default at many of these rest stop restaurants, because highways are as American as Kentucky fried chicken.
If you’re planning a road trip, it is always a good idea to make sure you optimize your route for your taste buds.
9. The Iowa 80 Truck Stop (Walcott, Iowa)
The largest truck stop in the world, Iowa 80 has a museum (about trucking), game room, movie theater, laundromat, barber shop, and, most importantly, more than just your usual fast food offerings (though they have those too). The 300-seat Iowa 80 Restaurant is open 24 hours a day and has a 50-foot-long salad bar and buffet, but you can also order items like club sandwiches, fried chicken, and ribs — and get them in heartland-size portions. It’s not Chez Panisse, but it might just be the closest you’ll get to it on this section of the highway.
8. Cookin’ From Scratch (Doolittle, Mo.)
Travel blogger Salena Lettera has been to 49 states and logged over a million miles in her car. She says Cookin’ From Scratch has some of the best food she has ever laid on her taste buds on: pan-fried chicken that is cooked piece-by-piece in cast-iron skillets, a massive pork tenderloin, and wild blueberry cobbler, for instance. It is also home to the “Rt. 66 King of the Road” contest, whose winners must eat a 66-ounce burger with nine pieces of American cheese and 1.5 pounds of French fries.