Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket
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Historic Route 66 Restaurants Worth a Pit Stop

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Rock Cafe
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The famous American highway Route 66, which ran all the way from Chicago to Santa Monica, was established in 1926 as car culture was taking over the nation. As more people started using the route for travel, restaurants and attractions along the way became destinations in themselves. Many restaurants and taverns that were opened in the heyday of Route 66 — or even before the route came to be — are still operating today. Here are some of the most interesting and long-lived restaurants worth a stop on the mother road.


Related: Route 66: Then and Now


Roy's Motel and Cafe
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Roy's Motel and Cafe

Amboy, California

Roy's started as a gas and service station in 1938, an oasis on Route 66 in the Mojave Desert. It soon grew to include a cafe and cabins for overnight rentals, and supported a small community of 700 people in the town. At its peak in the 1950s, it was operating 24 hours a day, but eventually fell into disrepair after Interstate 40 was built in 1972. The entire town — all 950 acres — was sold for $425,000 in 2005, and many buildings have been restored, including the iconic 1959 arrowhead neon sign that's the main attraction. Potable water is a problem here, so the cafe isn't operating, but you can still see the diner's counter, stools, and plenty of history inside. 


Related: 30 Beautiful Road Trips That Celebrate American History

Peggy Sue's 50s Diner
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Peggy Sue's 50s Diner

Yermo, California

The decor at Peggy Sue's 50's Diner is kitschy and over-the-top, like many other 50s-style diners. The difference is that Peggy Sue's really did open in 1954. Back then, it had nine counter seats and three booths and was constructed in part with railroad ties and mortar from the nearby railyard. At some point, it was closed, but reopened in the 1980s when it got most of its pop culture memorabilia. After a cheeseburger and shake, head outside to the Diner-saur park and its 10-foot tall metal dinosaur — and King Kong — sculptures.


Related: Charming Retro Diners in Every State


Del Taco
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Del Taco

Barstow, California

This is the oldest operating Del Taco location, a fast food chain that started when Ed Hackbarth rebranded his Taco Tia — a Glen Bell restaurant, of Taco Bell fame — and split from the company in 1964. That's not to say that it's the oldest, because the original one was demolished. But you'll find a wall mural of the history of the restaurant in the dining room here, and it's still one of the locations owned and operated by Hackbarth.


Related: Historic Fast-Food Restaurants Across America


Brianburger
John K. / Yelp

Emma Jean's Holland Burger Cafe

Victorville, California

Built in 1947, Emma Jean's is named for one owner's wife, who worked at the cafe as a waitress. It’s their son, Brian, who now runs the busy daytime-only diner. He was the one that the menu's "Briancakes" and Brian burger are named after, and that burger, with its thick hamburger patty, roasted green chiles, melted Swiss, and grilled sourdough crusted with Parmesan, is the main draw here. Though it's just made out of cinderblocks, the aqua building is photo-worthy.


Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
Travis C. / Yelp

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard

St. Louis, Missouri

Ted Drewes has been a summertime institution in St. Louis since 1930. It sells frozen custard, a treat that's denser, creamier, and just plain better than ice cream. The Route 66 location opened in 1941, and it still serves sundaes and concretes — that's like an extra-thick blended sundae served upside down — from walk-up windows that have long lines, especially in the summer heat.


Midpoint Cafe
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Midpoint Cafe

Adrian, Texas

Midpoint Cafe got its name because it's the geographic midway point between Chicago and Los Angeles on historic Route 66 — both cities are 1,139 miles away from the cafe. It was built in 1928 and expanded in 1947, and though it has changed hands and names many times over the years, it's been continuously operating. Flo's V-8 Cafe in the animated movie "Cars" was inspired by Midpoint, and you can sign your name on an old Ford parked outside. Don't miss the "ugly crust" pies, named because they might not look beautiful, but they sure taste good.


Related: Spectacular and Spooky Abandoned Roads Around the World


Ariston Cafe
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Ariston Cafe

Litchfield, Illinois

One of the longest operating restaurants on Route 66 is Ariston Cafe. The restaurant actually predates Route 66 since it was built on the road's predecessor, Route 4, in 1924. The business was moved to Route 66 in 1935, and it's been there ever since. Today you can order everything from Greek salad and nachos to halibut and patty melts on the menu in a casual setting with white tablecloths.


Related: The Best Hole-in-the-Wall Diner in Every State


Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket
Lay D. / Yelp

Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket

Willowbrook, Illinois

Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket has a quaint origin story. One day in the 1930s, two local farm women were at a gas station lunch counter and heard the owner talking about how he wanted to sell more food. The entrepreneurial women offered to teach him how to make fried chicken in exchange for buying his chickens from them, and the fried chicken was so popular that the restaurant expanded to a new building next door in 1946, the same one it's in today. Don't miss the corn fritters, fried chicken basket, or classic neon sign.


The Berghoff
Brad S. / Yelp

The Berghoff

Chicago

A legendary restaurant in Chicago, The Berghoff is one of the oldest restaurants on Route 66, and the oldest in Chicago. It first opened in 1898, and while there's been some temporary closures, it's still owned by the same family. During Prohibition, they started brewing root beer, and after Prohibition ended, the bar got Chicago's first ever liquor license which is still on display. You can still stop in and order the restaurant's German specialities, like sauerbraten, wiener schnitzel, and apple strudel. 


Related: Oldest Restaurant in Every State


McDonald's Museum
Claudia V. / Yelp

Original McDonald's Museum

San Bernardino, California

McDonald's started out as McDonald's Bar-B-Q in 1940 before changing the menu to include burgers and fries and dropping the Bar-B-Q in the name in 1948. The original building is gone, but on the same Route 66 spot is the McDonald's Museum, a homage to the chain's early years before Ray Kroc. It's owned by Juan Pollo Restaurants, a small local chicken chain whose owner has an affinity for fast-food history.


Related: 76 Attractions to See While Driving Across the Country


Cozy Dog Drive In
Aashish J. / Yelp

Cozy Dog Drive In

Springfield, Illinois

Known almost as much for its adorable hot dog couple logo as its corn dogs, the Cozy Dog Drive In has been in operation since 1949. Original owner Ed Waldmire developed the cozy dog while in the Air Force, and opened the restaurant after being discharged because the corn dogs, with batter that actually stuck to the hot dog, were so popular. They only cost 15 cents originally, and today they'll still only set you back less than $3. 


Related: Hungry? These Roadside Restaurants Across America are Worth a Detour


Mitla Cafe
Tim S. / Yelp

Mitla Cafe

San Bernardino, California

Established in 1937 by Lucia Rodriguez, Mitla Cafe is historic in its own right, but it's more famous for who it inspired. Glen Bell had a hamburger stand across the street from the wildly popular taco-slinging spot, and got his way into the kitchen by befriending the staff. He copied the crispy tacos dorados that people lined up for in his new venture, Taco Bell, in an age-old story of appropriating minority cuisine. The original Milta Cafe is still going strong, run by Lucia's grandson and great grandson, and still serves the infinitely better version of the crisp ground beef taco.


Related: Live Más: Spicy Secrets Behind Taco Bell's Success

Western View Diner and Steakhouse
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Western View Diner and Steakhouse

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Opened in 1937, you'll still feel like you're walking back in time when you step into the Western View. Its retro diner interior isn't original, but it's cozy and welcoming. The mosaic tile on the wall behind the register area is original, though, so keep an eye out for it. The cuisine served includes diner favorites, steaks, New Mexican, and Greek, thanks to a succession of Greek owners. Don't miss the homemade biscuits and gravy, breaded steak fingers, or the savory stuffed sopapilla smothered in red or green chile. 


Sycamore Inn
Jasmeer O. / Yelp

Sycamore Inn

Rancho Cucamonga, California

The restaurant now known as the Sycamore Inn has an incredibly long history, dating all the way back to the mid-1800s when an inn and tavern was built by "Uncle" Billy Rubottom on the Santa Fe Trail, which eventually became Route 66. The building that currently stands, along with its name, dates to 1920, and it's been a popular stop for travelers as well as celebrities since. It's an upscale spot that serves steak, oysters, and a large wine list in its chalet-style two-story wooden building. 


Maid Rite Sandwich Shop
Lance C. / Yelp

Maid Rite Sandwich Shop

Springfield, Illinois

Not to be confused with the Maid-Rite chain, this Maid Rite Sandwich Shop opened in 1924. It claims to have the first drive-thru window in America, and while those claims are hard to verify, it makes sense that it would be located on Route 66. It serves Americana on a bun, but not in the form of a hamburger. Instead, it serves a popular item in this part of the Midwest: the loose meat sandwich. It's like a sloppy joe but without the sauce, so it's more like a sloppy hamburger with mustard, pickle relish, and onions.



Rock Cafe
Patrick O. / Yelp

Rock Cafe

Stroud, Oklahoma

Rock Cafe has survived some serious setbacks since it opened in 1939. In 1999, an F3 tornado ripped through the town and damaged the iconic neon sign. Then in 2008, a fire destroyed everything but the four outer rock walls and Betsy, the 200-pound griddle that had been in the kitchen for 75 years. Betsy was restored — as were the walls — and she's still used to cook up Buffalo burgers and chicken fried steaks. The "Cars" character Sally Carrera was modeled after Rock Cafe's owner, Dawn Welch, a tireless advocate for Route 66.


Luna Cafe
Joe T. / Yelp

Luna Cafe

Granite City, Illinois

Luna Cafe, a small restaurant that opened in 1924, has an interesting history for one main reason. Al Capone used to meet with local mobsters at the restaurant after driving down Route 66 from Chicago, and it was reportedly one of his favorite hangouts. He may have enjoyed the supposed illegal gambling operation in the basement, or the illicit entertainment that allegedly took place upstairs (legend has it that the red cherry on the sign would light up during those times). Now it's a local dive bar.


Jamil's Steakhouse
William Randolph B. / Yelp

Jamil's Steakhouse

Oklahoma City

In the early 1900s, Lebanese immigrants came to Oklahoma to work in the oil fields. They brought their cuisine with them, of course, and a number of Lebanese supper clubs popped up, including Jamil's Steakhouse, which opened in 1964. The menu is an interesting mix of expensive steakhouse eats — we're not far from the Oklahoma capitol — Southern, and Lebanese fare. Every entree comes with an assortment of appetizers, including tabouli, hummus, stuffed cabbage, fried bologna, and a baked potato for an incredible mix of cultures.


Sultana Bar
Robert S. / Yelp

Sultana Bar

Williams, Arizona

Open since 1912, there's a lot of history packed into Sultana Bar. There's tunnels under the building which were rumored to have been for running drugs, but most definitely were for hiding booze during Prohibition. There's a passageway to the former theater next door that used to screen silent films, and a police chief was murdered by a drunk patron in the bar in 1947. That, along with animal mounts like the cougar behind the bar, gave the tavern an air of intrigue and edginess that has never really gone away.


Related: 30 Historic Dive Bars Across the Country