Jim Brown's Interstate Highway Survival Guide
I've recently completed a cross country move from Chicago to Santa Cruz, and in the process, made more than a half dozen round trips between those two cities. While this listing is by no means complete, I'm sharing my experience with the dual intent of both making that trip more pleasant for others, and contibuting to the future success of these fine businesses. This list concentrates on quality restaurants and coffee shops that are easy to access from major Interstate Highways. Nearly all are individually owned, most take plastic, and all have reasonable accommodations for non-smokers.
In my travels, I've found the Tour Books of the American Automobile Association (AAA) to be an excellent resource for both food and lodging! Their strength is in their listing of the grand old restaurants that still exist in small and medium-sized towns that may be off the beaten track and hard to find. If you're going to spend any serious time on the road in unfamilar surroundings, a year's membership is well worth the investment to get this very useful set of books for the areas you'll be driving through. At least one third of the restaurants listed here came from one of these books. One caution though: don't trust them for closing times -- I've been burned more than once!
- Bakersfield, CA (CA 99) Panda Palace, On city streets (at intersection of Oak and Stockdale) next to intersection of CA 99 and CA 58. 114 Oak St. Oak runs parallel to CA99 on the east, Stockdale runs parallel to CA 58 on the north. On either highway, get off a mile or so before the intersection and follow the parallel city street. A very good and very inexpensive Chinese buffet. Open for lunch and dinner.
- Barstow, CA (I-15/I-40) Idle Spurs Steakhouse, 690 Old Highway 58, 760/256-8888 2.8 miles west of I-15 on Old AZ Rte 58 (old Rte 58 exit is 2.5 miles NE of where I-15 splits off of I-40) This grand old restaurant is hard to find and far off the beaten track, but well worth the effort. The décor and atmosphere are old west, the food and service are first class. It's easy to get lost finding it, and the sign is barely illuminated, but they've been either full or nearly full late in the evening on both of the off-season weeknights I visited it! The broad menu emphasizes steaks and chops, but also includes good seafood choices. There are good breads, salads, and desserts.
- Las Vegas, NV (I-15) M & M's Soul Food Café, 3923 W Charleston 702/453-7685 Exit NV 159 (Charleston), go west 1.8 miles From US 95, take the Valley View exit, go 1.2 miles south to Charleston. M&M's is on the SW corner of Valley View and Charleston. This friendly, unpretentious restaurant serves hearty Mississippi style breakfast (ham, pork chops, catfish, sausage, turkey link, corn beef hash) with Mississippi style potatoes, rice, or grits, eggs, biscuits or toast, from 7 am - 11 am for about $7! At lunch and dinner, expect a check of $15 - $20 for enough food to hurt yourself! No liquor.
- Flagstaff, AZ (I-40) Golden Dragon Bowl (Chinese Buffet), 2728 E Lakin Dr, US 89 (Country Club Dr) exit 201, go NE (across tracks), follow US 89 (Santa Fe Av) west 1.2 miles to Steves Blvd, then right one block. Almost everything good in Flagstaff is an overpriced tourist trap, but this delightful little Chinese buffet is an exception - very good and very inexpensive. Starbucks in a small shopping center on the right another couple of miles west, not very big sign.
- Winslow, AZ (I-40) Turquoise Room, located in La Posada Hotel 305 E 2nd St, 928/289-2888 On old Rte 66 in the center of town. Eastbound, take AZ 99 exit (exit 252), Westbound, take AZ 87 exit (exit 257). Old Rte 66 divides into parallel one-way streets; La Posada Hotel is on the s side of the eastbound street (2nd St). It's rare enough to find a gourmet restaurant this nice in a big city. To find it in this high desert town of less than 10,000 souls is almost unbelievable! The menu is nouvelle Southwestern, prices are reasonable considering the quality ($20-$35 per person w/o drinks), and the service is warm, friendly, and attentive.
- Albuquerque, NM (I-40, I-25) Head for the area along Central Avenue the University of New Mexico. Central runs parallel to I-40, about 2 miles south. From I-40 eastbound, take the University Ave exit, go south to Central, then left (east) 0.3 miles. From I-40 westbound, exit 160 (Carlisle), south (left) 1.8 miles, to Central, then right. From I-25, take the exit for Central, go east about 1.4 miles. Following my nose, I found Green Jasmine, (120 Harvard SE), a nice little Vietnamese restaurant across the street from an even better expresso shop (Winning Coffee - 111 Harvard Dr SE 505/266-0000) that features home baked pastries, breakfast burritos, and free wireless internet. My return trip to the coffee shop the next morning netted me sweet rolls that were still warm! And if you don't like my choices, there are many other options!
- Amarillo, TX (I-40, I-27) Starbucks, (In an Albertson's Supermarket. Alongside I-40 at exit 66 at the SW corner of the intersection (Bell and Tiffany).
- Weatherford, OK (I-40) T-Bone Steakhouse, 1805 E Main, 580/772-6329 0.4 mile E of exit 82 on N access road. I had a very nice meal here after arriving just before closing time one Sunday evening.
- Sikeston, MO (I-55/I-57) Lambert's Café 2305 E Malone, Sikeston, MO 573/471-4261 From I-55, take US 62 Exit 67 from I-55 and go 0.5 mile W). Exit 67 is 1.3 mile N of junction of I-55 and I-57.
- Ozark, MO (I-44, s of Springfield, MO) Lambert's Café Highway 65 at Rte CC, Ozark, MO (15 miles S of I-44, 10 miles SE of Springfield, MO) 417/581-7655 Eastbound on I-44, take exit 70 (US 60 east) to US 65 S. Westbound on I-44, take exit 82 (US 65 S).
- Foley, AL (I-10) Lambert's Café Highway 59, Foley, AL 251/943-7655 (18 miles S of exit 44 from I-10 on AL 59)
- Lambert's Café is in that class of restaurants I lovingly call a "food factory" - well run busineses, with large dining rooms and kitchens that dish out excellent fare at low prices with fast, unpretentious service. Here, the broad menu features "southern white folks country cooking" at its best - catfish, chicken livers, meat loaf, fried chicken, pork chops, ham, country ham, steaks, and barbeque ribs entrees are supplemented by greens, sweet potatoes, fried potatoes, white beans, black eyed peas. Hot home made dinner rolls are dispensed by a young waiter who walks through the restaurant and throws them at customers. No liquor, cash and checks only. Most dinners cost less than $12; steaks and chops cost a bit more.
- Woodside, CA (I-280) Woodside Bakery 3052 Woodside Rd, 650/851-0812 Exit Woodside Rd, go 0.9 mile W. The restaurant is in a strip mall on the right side of highway. I've had breakfast here several times and enjoyed it. Moderately priced, pleasant indoor and outdoor setting, friendly service.
- Millbrae, CA (US-101) Hong Kong Flower Lounge 51 Millbrae (@ El Camino Real) 650/692-6666 Exit Millbrae Ave, go 0.5 mile W to the restaurant, which is in a large building on the SW corner of the intersection (and walking distance from the Milbrae BART/Caltrain station). This Cantonese restaurant has a very broad and authentic menu, both in the variety of food and cost! You can eat quite well here for less than $15, and you can easily spend five times that amount. The only negative is that their parking lot offers only valet parking (for a fee). On-street parking is quite limited.
- Winters, CA (I-505) Buckhorn, 290 Railroad Av 530/795-4503 Exit CA128, go 1 mile W to road 89 (Railroad Ave) then left (south) 5 blocks to The Buckhorn. Excellent steaks, chops, salads, full bar, good draft beer choices. Caution - they close early, even on weekends, and there's nothing else in town!
- Woodland, CA (I-5, I-80, I-505) Starbucks, On Main St at the west edge of Woodland. From I-505, take the CA 16 exit, go 8 miles east. (Note: CA 16 takes a hard left turn as it enters Woodland. Starbucks is at that corner.) From I-5, take the CA 16 west exit, then go 2.7 miles south (west) to Main St.
- Woodland, CA (I-5, I-80, I-505) Morrison's, 428 First St, 530/666-6176 Exit Main St W from I-5, go 1.5 miles west to 1st St, then left (south) on 1st 1 block. From I-505, take the CA 16 exit, go 10 miles east to 1st St, then right (south) on 1st St one block. (Note: CA 16 takes a hard left turn as it enters Woodland. Don't take that turn - instead, keep going straight through Woodland on Main Street. Morrison's main dining room is on the third floor (there's an elevator). The bar on the main floor has an abbreviated menu from the same kitchen, good draft beer choices, and is open later.
The seafood restaurant on 1st St a few doors before Morrison's is also quite nice.
- Auburn, CA (I-80) Edelweiss Restaurant 627 High St 530/885-1772 Exit Route 49, follow it south (toward Placerville) through town. The restaurant is on the right about 3/4 mile from the exit. This family-run restaurant restaurant served us a great breakfast, with a huge and very good omlette and some of the best home made fried potatoes I've eaten on the road.
- Reno, NV (I-80) Louis's Basque Corner, 304 E 4th, Exit Virginia St South, go 4 blocks S to 4th st, left (east) 3 blocks on 4th. Louis's is on the NE corner. This old family restaurant is a bit off the beaten track, and the best by far of all the Basque restaurants I've tried. Very good, very inexpensive.
- Reno, NV (I-80) Starbucks, There are others in Reno, but this is the easiest on/off, and the gas station has competitive pricing. Exit 10 (McCarren Blvd west). Go north at the exit. Starbucks is just N of the large gas station that is just NE of the exit. (There are two McCarren exits from I-80. The one you want is exit 10, on the west side of town; the other (exit 19) is on the east side.
- Salt Lake City, UT Avoid downtown hotels and restaurants. Instead, head for the NE part of town. Best Western, Italian, Japanese.
- Salt Lake City, UT Starbucks, (I-80, I-15) At intersection of 2100 S and 700 E. From I-80, take Exit 125 (700E), then 0.5 mile N. On NE corner. From I-15, go 1.5 mile E on I-80, take Exit 125 (700E) exit, then 0.5 mile N.
- Elko, NV (I-80) Biltoki, NV 535 follows the main street through town, paralleling I-80. Biltoki is at 4th and Silver, behind the Silver Dollar Casino. My favorite of the three Basque restaurants in Elko. The massive "chef's choice" dinner, served family style, typically includes beef tongue, grilled lamb chops, roast chicken, fried fish. Order a carafe of the house red wine to go with it. Expect a check around $25.
- Elko, NV (I-80) Expresso Stop, This very nice, but very small, expresso shop is on the south side of NV 535, a bit west of exit 303. There's also a Starbucks inside one of the casinos, but why go there when this locally owned shop is so nice?
- Laramie, WY (I-80) Westbound, exit 313 (US 287), follow it north into the center of Laramie. US 287 is 3rd St; 2nd St is to your left. Eastbound, exit 311(Snowy Range Rd), follow it east to 3rd St (US 287), then right a few blocks. Altitude Chophouse and Brew Pub is at the corner of 2nd and Grand; there is a cluster of nice restaurants between 1st and 2nd on Iverson. Coal Creek Coffee Co, a great coffee/expresso shop on Grand between 1st and 2nd, serves home made sweet rolls, freshly baked each morning, and opens at 6 am. For lunch (or a late breakfast) I like the health food style restaurant that is on the NE corner of 1st and Ivinson. There's a nice dinner restaurant at 2nd and Ivinson, also with freshly baked desserts.
- Ft Morgan, CO (I-76) Country Steak-Out, 19592 East 8th Ave 970/867-7887 exit 82, go south 0.4 mile to 8th Ave, then west 0.6 miles to the restaurant. This is a well above average buffet, with an exceptional selection of salads and other green things, as well as a good selection of meats and desserts. Open for lunch, limited evening hours.
- Kearney, NE (I-80) Whiskey Creek Steakhouse, exit NE 44, north of I-80 on E side of NE 44.
- North Platte, NE (I-80) Whiskey Creek Steakhouse, exit US 83, on NE access road.
- Both versions of this traditional, peanut shells on the floor, steakhouse offer decent steaks at good prices, with fast, friendly service. The peppercorn ribeye is a winner! The best draft is a Boulevard white beer (a Kansas City microbrew). An outpost of this small chain in Lincoln, NE is far off the beaten track and not worth the trip.
- Omaha, NE (I-80) There's a cluster of good restaurants and expresso shops along the river in downtown Omaha. From I-480, take the 14th St exit, go south five blocks and left (east) two blocks.
Because I lived in Chicago for 42 years, I know a bit more about the restaurants there, and can offer this more expanded selection of some of my favorites that can be accessed relatively easily by those travelling the Interstates. Virtually all offer minority ethnic cuisines -- after I've driven halfway across the country, I'm ready for something different. I've omitted a few where parking is next to impossible. To find those listings (minus driving directions), see the link to Chicago restaurants on my website.
- Northfield, IL (Chicago N Suburb) (I-94) Starbucks, 1 block W of Willow Rd exit
- Chicago, IL (I-90, I-94) Peet's Coffee, Exit North Ave (2 miles N of Loop), go E 0.6 miles. In shopping center on left. Better than Starbucks.
- Chicago, IL (I-90, I-94) Sam's Wine and Liquors, Exit North Ave (2 miles N of Loop), go E 0.6 miles to Sheffield, then NW 2 blocks (behind "Best Buy" store). Great selection of beers, wines, and liquors at good prices. No relationship to the discount chain based in Arkansas.
- Skokie, IL (I-94) New York Bagel and Bialy, (10 miles N of Chicago Loop) Exit 39 East from I-94, in a little strip mall in the second block east of the highway, on the left. The best bagels west of New York City (and the only decent ones in metro Chicago), very fresh, very fast service. Carry out only, cash only.
- Chicago, IL (I-90, I-94) Salpicon, 312/988-7811 Exit 49a (Division St) and go 1 mile East to Wells, then North (left) 2 blocks. This family run gourmet Mexican restaurant is inspired by the much better known Frontera Grill, and many locals think it's better! It's also much quieter and less crowded than its model, and so far, I've never had to wait for a table. During one of our visits a few years ago, master chef (and jazz fan) Charlie Trotter was entertaining a visiting chef from Spain at a nearby table. Need I say more? Non-smoking, and with an excellent wine list. Dinner only, except also lunch on Sunday.
- Chicago, IL (I-90, I-94) Cafe 28, Exit 44B (Irving Park Rd), 3 miles East at 1800 West Irving Park Rd 773/528-2883 This friendly, family-run neighborhood restaurant features fine Cuban and Mexican cuisine. We especially like the steak and fish entrees, consistently excellent treatment of vegetables, and the delightful selection of appetizers. Until recently, they had no liquor license, so you had to bring your own beer or wine. Now, there's a full bar with good beers and a nice wine list,. The only downside to this otherwise well run restaurant is the wildly excessive noise level -- you'll need sign language to carry on a conversation in the main dining room -- insist on the newer dining room (furthest from the bar), or duirng the summer months, the outside dining area. Non-smoking. Expect a check in the $30 per person range for food only. The wine list is moderately priced. Open for lunch and dinner.
- Chicago, IL (I-90, I-94) Cho Sun Ok, Exit 44B (Irving Park Rd), go 2.5 miles East to Lincoln, then North (sharp left onto the diagonal street) three blocks to 4200 N. Lincoln Ave 773/549-5555, 348-9409 Korean barbeque and home cooking doesn't get much better (or cheaper) than in this tiny storefront, with the same owner for at least the 20 or more years we've been visitiing it. Take a party of four or more and cook at your table. Excellent kim chee in multiple varieties and flavors (cold vegetables pickled in hot spicy brine). It's hard to pass up the Dyae gi gui (grilled strips of spicy marinated pork) -- but then there's the excellent Duk man du (Korean dumpling and rice cake in mild delicate soup), or Bi bim bap (rice topped with spicy sauce, beef, variety of vegetables and fried egg) which my wife nearly always orders. It's hard to spend more than $12 per person here without having to carry something home. Open 7 days for lunch and dinner.
- Chicago, IL (I-90, I-94) Red Apple, From I-90, Exit 82 (Nagle), go 1 mile north on Nagle to Milwaukee Ave (diagonal street), then left 2 blocks to 6474 N Milwaukee Ave. From I-94 Westbound, Exit 41A (Caldwell), go northwest 1 mile on Caldwell to Devon (soft left turn at 3-way intersection), then West 1 mile on Devon to Milwaukee Ave (soft right turn at 3-way intersection), then north two blocks to the restaurant. Sorry, there's no easy way to get there from I-94 eastbound. 773/763-3407 http://www.redapplebuffet.com This Polish smorgasbord may be the best food bargain in Chicago. For about $6 at lunch and $8 at dinner time, you can eat far more great Polish home cooking than any human should. The emphasis is definintely on meats and meat-based stews -- turkey, chicken, beef, and pork are the mainstays -- with potatoes, steamtable vegetables and cold vegetable salads. Except for some ok blintzes, deserts are nothing special, ordinary green salads are best eaten elsewhere. Vegetarian choices are limited to the salads. There's a good no-smoking section and a full bar. There's free parking behind the restaurant and on the street.
- Chicago, IL (I-90, I-94) Hop Leaf Restaurant and Bar, 5148 N Clark (3 doors south of Foster Ave) 773/334-9851 From I-94 eastbound, Exit 41c (Cicero Ave), turn left (east) at the first traffic ligtht (Foster), go East 4 miles to Clark. From I94 westbound, exit 42, turn left (east) at the top of the ramp, go 4 miles to Clark. From I-90 eastbound, exit 82C (Foster/Central), turn left at the exit, then right at the next stop sign (Central), then left at the next light (Foster). Follow Foster five miles to Clark. From I-90 westbound, exit 83 (Foster), go right (east) 5 miles to Clark (Foster jogs 1 short block to the right a few blocks east of I-90). This family-run establishment began as a top quality neighborhood bar about five years ago. In 2003, an equally good restaurant opened. The bar specializes in Belgian ales -- nearly a dozen are usually on draft -- as well as another dozen or so top quality American and Canadian brews. If that isn't enough, there are scores of other good beers in bottles, and the wine selection is also quite good. The bar, a very popular nieghborhood hangout, requires an oxygen mask to contend with the tobacco smoke. Hold your breathe, and walk straight back to the restaurant, which is completely non-smoking. There, you will find a delightfully eclectic menu that focuses on Belgian cooking. The menu varies throughout the year, and there are daily soup and entree specials. The sandwiches, served on a hearty dark rye, are really special, make a fine meal. The steamed mussels are also a specialty. Both are served with a generous helping of what may be the best french fries in Chicago! Appetizers and entrees typically include at least two options each for fish, duck, chicken, beef, vegetables, and seafood. There are always three interesting salads, and for dessert, a delightful plate of gourmet cheeses, with a selection of bread, nuts, and fruit, that compliments them. This is my wife's favorite restaurant, and she doesn't even drink beer!
- Chicago, IL (I-90, I-94) Dorado, 2301 W Foster 773/561-3780 (Follow the directions for Hop Leaf, but watch the house numbers and stop one mile closer to the highway This delightful restaurant has been open less than a year, and is already full on almost any night. The menu is Mexican, but with a decidedly French accent. The menu has good options for beef, pork, fish, seafood, and vegetables, and the more adventurous you are, the more you'll enjoy it. There's no liquor license, so BYOB if you want it. The Irish bar across the street has a barely acceptable selection of beers, at moderately high prices.
- Chicago, IL (I-90, I-94) Podhalanka Polksa Restauracja Four blocks west of the Division St exit (49A, 1 mile north of the Loop) at 1549 W Divsion Ave (at Ashland/Milwaukee Av) 773/486-6655 This family run Polish restaurant opened nearly 20 years ago in a space previously occupied by a workingmen's bar. The bar is now a lunch counter, there are a dozen or so tables, and there's no liquor license. From the outside, it still looks like a bar, and you'd pass this place 99 times out of a hundred. Lucky for us, a friend who lives in the neighborhood turned us on to it a half dozen years ago. The traditional homecooked Polish food is plentiful and cheap. There are always several very nice soups, as well as a good selection of meat-based dishes, and traditional salads (relishes, krauts, pickled vegetables, etc.). Vegetarians should look elsewhere, but meat eaters will love it!
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