Road trips don't have to mean eating only at gas station convenience stores, though some are pretty amazing. America is full of noteworthy roadside restaurants, places that showcase some of the most memorable and unique regional cuisines the country has to offer. No promises that the menu items are all good for you, but here are 30 places where your road-trip pit stop will be anything but ordinary.
New Braunfels, Texas
Located just 1 mile from Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin lies the charming German-inspired town of New Braunfels and Krause's Café and Biergarten. The historic restaurant, originally opened in 1938, serves German specialties and South Texas favorites ranging from pork schnitzel and bratwurst with sauerkraut to blackened catfish.
While the drive from California to Las Vegas can often be filled with long stretches of lonely road and tumbleweeds, one of the few highlights worth noting is Peggy Sue's 50's Diner, located along Highway 15. Originally built in 1954 with just nine counter stools and three booths, the diner was reopened in 1987 and now displays the owner's extensive collection of movie and television memorabilia. As for the food, Peggy Sue's is known for homemade cooking served amid a backdrop of 1950s music. The diner also serves old-fashioned ice cream, malts, and sundaes.
Visible from the I-71, the Buckeye Express Diner is housed in a former train car. In addition to this unique detail, the restaurant is known for its selection of burgers, perch sandwiches, and classic diner fare. The portions are also on the large side, enough to be shared by two people or packed up and eaten as you continue down the road. And for those traveling with kids, don't miss the diner's play area.
Those driving along I-70 through Illinois can't help but notice the billboards advertising the Mile High Pie at Blue Springs Cafe. Located just off the interstate, the small café with blue and white checkered tablecloths features Midwestern comfort food ranging from baked lasagna to meatloaf and country fried steak. There's also chicken and dumplings, and fried walleye. The portions are large and the prices are low. But remember to bring cash, because the cafe does not accept credit cards.
Lambert's Cafe is known for its "throwed rolls" (which apparently means they're tossed to restaurant guests) and meals of epic proportions. Menu highlights include chicken pot pie, hot beef sandwiches, and golden fried chicken. Opened more than 70 years ago, Lambert's is also a place you'll find eclectic decor made up of antiques, old photos, and news clippings. Its Sikestown location is near the I-55 and I-57 junction.
A historic and charming roadside stand off the 202 Loop in Mesa, Jalepeño Bucks serves Arizona-style barbeque as well as a menu of new wave Mexican soul food. This food stop has attracted generations of locals as well as countless visitors who come for popular menu items such as the brisket and the pulled pork. And don't miss the off-menu items, such as the PB&J brisket sandwich. It's located amid a citrus grove that dates back to 1915, and after having lunch you can stock up on fresh fruit at the B&B Farm, also located onsite.
Just off Highway 161, Cruiser Cafe serves everything from half-pound burgers and crinkle cut fries to hefty Cruiser Scrambles for breakfast. There are even vegan options. Located along the route to Mount Rainier National Park, the cafe offers both outdoor and indoor seating and is a popular stop with those headed to hike or go cross-country skiing. Don't miss the dessert case.
A pub designed to bring the soul of Ireland to Norwalk, O'Neill's features juicy burgers, stacked sandwiches, corned beef, fish and chips, and beef stew. Opened on St. Patrick's Day in 1999 by the O'Neill brothers, this old-school Irish pub is located just off I-95 in South Norwalk (also known as the SoNo neighborhood.) In addition to Irish food, the pub is famed for its live music and Sunday brunch.
A place known for attracting sizeable crowds, some of the classics at Pierce's Pitt Bar-B-Que include the J.C. Special — a pulled-pork sandwich with barbecue sauce and homemade slaw. The Verdie Special, meanwhile, is a half pint of hearty Brunswick stew served with golden cornbread. The restaurant, located along I-64, also offers plenty of picnic tables outside, a great place to sit on a warm day and enjoy the meal.
Locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa
A restaurant dedicated to the American farmer, The Machine Shed was featured on the Travel Channel's Food Paradise for having the best breakfast in America. Known for its family-style meals, breakfast offerings include such titles as Hired Man's Breakfast, Farmer's Benedict, The Farmer's Daughter, and Cattleman's Breakfast. The hearty fare features Applewood smoked bacon, Angus beef, and more. There are also lunch and dinner options ranging from soups made from scratch to steaks, ribs, and pork. While there are multiple Machine Sheds, the Urbandale, Iowa, location is just off I-35, and the Davenport, Iowa, location is just south of I-80.
A photogenic favorite with road trippers, the Dairy Joy Drive-In, opened in 1957, offers small-town charm combined with delicious drive-in style fast food (fish and chips, shrimp baskets, wings, and hotdogs) as well as hand-dipped ice cream cones. There are also shakes, malts, and banana splits. The food can be taken to go or enjoyed on one of Dairy Joy's two patios. The restaurant is outside Aurora, along Route 30.
Operated by Peggy Rasmussen, who bought the cafe in 1975, Peg's specializes in mouthwatering breakfast and lunch meals featuring homemade food. The cafe is also notable for the thousands of photos on its walls featuring the restaurant's regulars. The tradition started after Mickey Rooney paid a visit to the cafe, and Rasmussen put the actor's picture on the wall. After that, customers joked they, too, were special enough to have their photos featured. Now generations of families come back to find pictures of loved ones.
Just a few blocks off of Interstate 40, travelers will find the Coyote Bluff Cafe, an eatery that has recognized by TripAdvisor and Amarillo Globe-News over the years for its memorable food. The cafe makes several varieties of burgers — a Dijon Swiss burger; a hickory burger; a California burger, and more. If you're bold enough, try the Burger from Hell, which features jalapenos and hot sauce. The steaks also get rave reviews.
Blink and you might miss tiny Helen's Sausage House located along Route 1 in Smyrna. A breakfast place renowned for its sausage (thus the name), Helen's is also famous for its scrapple sandwiches. For the uninitiated, that's a mush of pork scraps and trimmings, combined with cornmeal, wheat flour and spices. Any takers?
Named one of America's best classic diners by the Huffington Post, Wellsboro Diner focuses on serving classic dishes like roast beef sandwiches, burgers, and homemade soups. But its fresh baked pies and cakes have earned the diner a reputation for being a great stop along Route 6 for a delicious meal.
Saint Helena Island, South Carolina
As its name indicates, the Shrimp Shack is little more than a roadside hut along U.S. 21. But its small size aside, Shrimp Shack is known for having some of the best seafood in all of South Carolina (some would argue in all of the East Coast). Seafood lovers are big fans of this affordable and delicious hidden gem. Don't miss their shrimp burger.
Located just off Interstate 20, Farmview Market is a quick service, farm-to-table cafe where all food is sourced locally. There's also a specialty grocery, full-service butcher shop, and a seasonal open-air farmers market onsite. The cafe offers breakfast and lunch. Menu items include sandwiches, burgers, salads, and daily rotating specials. And Tuesday through Saturday, in addition to the regular menu, there's a Chef's Farm Table, which is a traditional meat-plus-three, Southern-style hot lunch. In addition, a pastry chef makes all desserts in-house daily, and there's a juice bar serving raw juices and smoothies. All of this, and there's also outdoor seating.
There are numerous memorable food stops to choose from along the Mississippi Gulf Coast's Highway 90. Among them is White Pillars Restaurant, which is located in an old beachfront mansion and features farm-to-table fare including Mississippi-raised meats and local vegetables. The menu changes with the seasons.
Berkeley Heights, New Jersey
A progressive American brasserie, Grain & Cane is an homage to the Connell family, who were once the largest non-governmental rice and sugar purveyors in the world. The menu features traditional family offerings with a contemporary twist and regional flare. Oysters on the half shell, sourdough pizzas, and a custom-grind burger are just some of the options. There's also craft beers, wine, and cocktails — all of which can be enjoyed amid a collection of vintage art and antique photographs from past Connell generations. The restaurant is just off the Phillipsburg-Newark Expressway.
Featured on the Food Network show "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives," The Mad Greek features eclectic, over-the-top Greek decor (think: faux plaster sculptures and columns) amid a California desert landscape. But it is the gyros and zucchini fries that have put this third-generation Greek diner, located along Interstate 15 near the Mojave National Preserve, squarely on the map for road trippers. And don't miss the Greek baked goods and milkshakes to-go.
Benson, North Carolina
Featuring pulled pork, brisket, turkey, ribs, and chicken, as well as classic barbecue sides such as slow-cooked beans, green beans, collard greens, and jalapeno mac and cheese, Redneck BBQ Lab is a Southern gem located off I-40. Just a little south of Raleigh, the restaurant is owned by Jerry Stephenson, who will be competing in the upcoming season of "Chopped: Grill Masters," on the Food Network. And the Redneck Scientific team, which operates the restaurant, has earned 20 grand championships in the Kansas City BBQ Society competitions.
A cozy eatery off of I-15, Goody's Family Restaurant serves diner-inspired dishes at reasonable prices that attract locals and travelers alike. Popular choices include the hearty biscuits and gravy, burgers, and barbecue sandwiches. And be prepared to leave with your belly full, as Goody's is also known for its large portions.
West Nashville, Tennessee
The latest concept from acclaimed pit master Pat Martin, Hugh Baby's is a fast-food burger and barbecue shop that aims to offer a simple yet delicious menu. The restaurant prides itself on quality, hand-prepared items: The beef is ground onsite, the fries are hand-cut, and the milkshakes hand-spun in house daily. On Fridays you will find Hugh Baby's serving its famous Slugburger, a deep-fried creation made of ground pork and soy meal and served with pickles, chopped onions, and mustard. The West Nashville location is just off I-40.
Auburn, New York
A brewpub in an industrial-chic space, Prison City Pub and Brewery serves a variety of craft brews and new American bites. The restaurant is most well-known for its Sunday "Beerunch" featuring dishes such as sweet potato and sausage hash, beer pancakes, and Beer-mosas. The brewery's most well-known products are its Cherry Poppins and Cool Hand Cuke, along with fan favorites such as Puff Puff Shiv — a brown ale dosed with 50 boxes of Cocoa Puffs cereal. And don't miss the beer mussels or the bangers and mash. You can find Prison City Pub & Brewery right off of Highway 20.
Less than 1 mile off Interstate 81 is the Woodstock Garden Cafe. It is located in the Fort Valley Nursery, offering an ideal respite from traffic jams and cramped cars. Stretch your legs among the flowers and trees and then sit down for a memorable meal. The menu includes sandwiches, salads, soups, and flatbreads, all made from locally sourced ingredients. There's also a coffee shop onsite known for its desserts. And on Friday nights there's an extended happy hour from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. as well as a special Friday night menu.
Brooklyn Park, Minnesota
A classic burger joint, Wagner's will whisk you back to a simpler time. Located just off of Interstate 94, the Brooklyn Park drive-in has been serving food made from scratch for more than 35 years. Menu items include gourmet hamburgers, chicken tenders, chili dogs, and homemade soups. There are also root beer floats, shakes, and malts. Customers can order from their car and then have the meal delivered and hung on the window. There's also picnic tables onsite.
Long Key, Florida
Specializing in island food such as gator bites, conch fritters, and tuna wasabi, the Lobster Crawl also serves a long list of lobster dishes (naturally), ranging from lobster kabobs to lobster Rangoon and lobster Portofino. For seafood lovers everywhere, this is one stop not to miss when traveling along Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys.
The retro-hip neon sign outside of Spencer's Grill is reason enough to stop and visit this fixture along historic Route 66. The iconic diner has been in business for 70 years and is considered by some to be one of the best in the country. Spencer's is famous for its own take on scrapple, which involves a patty of grits and sausage dipped in pancake batter and fried, after which it's topped with sausage gravy. Popular lunch choices include quarter-pound burgers, cheesesteak, and seasoned fries.
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania
Everything served at Hank's is home-made. The restaurant, located in the famed Brandywine Valley at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 100, includes numerous Hank's specialties that have become customer favorites over the years, such as homemade sticky buns, hot turkey sandwiches, the meatloaf special and the shiitake and cheese omelets. The busy little diner, a favorite of famed painter Andrew Wyeth, who lived nearby, has been recognized with a variety of awards and publicity over the years including from The New York Times and Gourmet Magazine.
Serving up fresh, hand-pattied burgers, homemade onion rings, hand-battered Alaskan fish, and other classics, Gordy's Hi-Hat has been open since the 1960s and has been a hot spot adored by locals and a favorite for travelers headed to their cabins and the lakes in northern Minnesota and Canada. Located near MN-33, the family-owned eatery also hosts an annual curbside classic car show.