Taking the Ultimate American Road Trip? Here's Where You Have to Eat

Taking the Ultimate American Road Trip? Here's Where You Have to Eat

Photo Modified: Flickr / Sarah Nichols / CC BY-SA 4.0

The car is packed, and you're ready to take the ultimate road trip. Seriously, we're talking a massive drive circling the contiguous United States, making 50 stops, each one at a national natural landmark, national historic site, national park, or national monument. That's one stop in each of the lower 48 states plus D.C. and an additional stop in California. That's big.

Acadia National Park, Maine

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A trip to Acadia National Park, encompassing much of Maine's Mount Desert Island, is as much about fresh, local seafood and wild Maine blueberries as it is hiking Cadillac Mountain. Take a midday lobster stew break at Jordan Pond House, the only restaurant in the park, which has been serving afternoon tea and popovers since the 1890s. Or head into the picturesque, romantic town of Bar Harbor, where the food never disappoints. Enjoy breakfast of blueberry pancakes or lobster eggs benedict at Café This Way, and later, grab an outdoor seat with a waterfront view for dinner at Stewman's Lobster Pound, where you'll find all the traditional ingredients — lobster, steamers, mussels, clam chowder, and blueberry pie, the official state dessert of Maine. Not to be confused with the official state treat, the whoopie pie

Elvis Presley's Graceland, Memphis, Tenn.

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When you’re driving up to Elvis’ Memphis mansion blasting “Suspicious Minds,” and you have your heart set on his favorite peanut butter and banana sandwich, make a pit stop at Rockabilly’s Burger Shop on the Graceland premises. Once that’s out of your system, it’s time for some Memphis-style barbecue and soul food. Rendezvous is the spot for pork shoulder, dry-rub ribs, and other quintessential Memphis barbecue, while Ellen’s Soul Food is a local favorite that adventurous non-Southerners will love. One more standard not to miss: Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken

Fox Theater, Detroit

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You may not be familiar with Detroit-style pizza, but if you're making the Fox Theater stop, that's what's to eat. Similar to Sicilian-style, this square pizza has a thick deep-dish crust, but is served with the marinara sauce across the top of the cheese. Detroit-style pizza's square shape and crunchy-yet-still-chewy crust comes from being twice-baked in a butter- or oil-brushed steel pan. The pans used to bake the first Detroit-style pizzas were often not pizza pans, but small industrial parts trays from auto plants. Stop into Buddy's, where it supposedly all started, for a cheese pizza — even New York and Chicago natives won't be disappointed. 

French Quarter, New Orleans

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Whether you roll into the French Quarter just after midnight or with the morning sun, your first stop is going to be Café Du Monde for café au lait and beignets. Their legendary 24/7 French Quarter original location serves no more than that, but is still the best way to start — or end — your day. But New Orleans has much more to offer than coffee and pastries. Try Cochon, just outside the Quarter, an OpenTable Road Trip suggestion, for Cajun- and Creole-inspired dishes like catfish courtbouillon, rabbit and dumplings, or an oyster and bacon sandwich. Stroll the cobblestone streets for a French Quarter pub crawl, hitting up Erin Rose, which has a great po’boy shop in the back, and Pat O'Brien's for the original Hurricane

Grand Canyon, Ariz.

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Make your reservations well in advance for Phantom Ranch Canteen. If you're sure you can make it, that is. An oasis situated on the floor of the Grand Canyon, the sole food stop below the canyon rim, it can only be reached on foot, by mule, or by rafting the Colorado River. Well worth it for their all-you-can-eat, family-style Hiker's Stew dinner — and you’ll want to share, considering six onions and a carafe of Burgundy go into it — between trekking the inner gorge. But don't forget: you hiked in, so you'll have to hike back out. 

Hoover Dam, Nev.

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En route from the San Andreas Fault, less than 10 miles from the Hoover Dam, just a quick detour off 93 will take you to Coffee Cup. Featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Boulder City's breakfast joint offers the Guy Fieri-tested pork chile verde omelette. 

Mount Rushmore, S.D.

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When you visit Mount Rushmore to behold the faces of four U.S. presidents carved into over 1,200 acres of granite, it's only fitting that you stop by Memorial Ice Cream for a "Monumental Scoop." Aside from his presidency and authoring the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson is credited with bringing the first written recipe for ice cream to the U.S. — and Memorial serves vanilla based off of TJ's original recipe from 1780. 

San Francisco Cable Cars, San Francisco

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San Francisco is the birthplace of everything from Mission Chinese to sourdough bread to steam beer, so when you come to ride the cable cars, there's a quite a variety of cuisine to choose from. Also an OpenTable Road Trip stop, try the daily-changing Mediterranean menu at Zuni Café, with brick-oven-roasted specials and possibly the best burger in San Francisco. Since no trip to SF would be complete without a food truck meal, The Chairman's pork belly bun and Senor Sisig's burrito are musts, both ranking in the top 10 of our list of the 101 Best Food Trucks in America. These trucks are on the move, so check their websites for locations. 

Statue of Liberty, New York City

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Hopefully, you’ve got a few days to spend in NYC when you’re visiting the Statue of Liberty. Even still, you won’t make a dent in the tens of thousands of restaurants, delis, and food trucks that make up New York City’s dining scene. Check out our NYC Restaurant Guide to find the best restaurants (six of the top 10 Best Restaurants in America are in New York, including Del Posto, also voted the best Italian restaurant in America). But here’s the quick roundup of traditional New York fare all visitors must try: Start your morning with coffee from Everyman Espresso and a bagel. Lunch is a mile-high corned beef sandwich at Katz’s. Head uptown in the evening — put your name on the hour-plus wait list at Serendipity 3, go across the street to Patsy’s for pizza, then come back and, if you're lucky, your name will be up, so you can squeeze in for a frozen hot chocolate or $15 ice cream sundae.

White House, Washington, D.C.

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While you're in our nation's capital visiting the national historic landmarks, hit up one culinary D.C. landmark: Ben's Chili Bowl. For an inexpensive meal or late-night eats, Ben's is a favorite of locals, celebrities, and even the occasional U.S. president, all of whom know to order the original chili half-smoke, a spicy, smoked, half-pork, half-beef sausage.  Looking for more upscale American cuisine? At the Red Hen, chef Michael Friedman serves up a seasonal menu of Italian-influenced American fare, like grilled octopus, salt cod brandade, and charred beef short ribs, in a cozy, rustic space, complete with wood-fired grill and leather-topped bar, where you can sip one of their orange wine selections. 

Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.

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Get the ultimate cowboy experience at Yellowstone National Park's Old West Dinner Cookout. After riding to Yancy's Hole on a horse or in a covered wagon, you'll find coffee brewing over the campfire. When the dinner bell rings, line up for steaks, potato salad, cornbread, and their signature Roosevelt baked beans, all the while listening to Western songs sung by their resident cowboy.