20 places to eat along your Route 66 road trip
Traveling Route 66 is the classic American road trip. We’ve previously covered places to visit, now it’s time to talk food. There’s fancy big-city dining at both ends, with Chicago and Los Angeles anchoring the trail. In between you’ll find regional favorites, some of which have been there since before Route 66 was even a road, while other newer options are helping with the revitalizing of Main Street America. One brand doing what they can to save Route 66 is Mobil 1 and we’re big fans of their plans to help preserve this historic road and the small business that make it so unique. Starting August 25th, the motor oil brand rolled out its Keep Route 66 Kickin’ campaign. Included in the campaign are events planned along the route, a guide to Route 66’s small businesses, and advocating for drivers from all over to designate Route 66 as a National Historic Trail. The Mobil 1 campaign’s next stop is Oct. 15 at the Sky View Drive-In theater in Litchfield, Illinois, where the venue will try to set the world record of the most dogs at an outdoor movie screening.
If you’re thinking of taking a take trip down the famous trail, here are a few dining options to consider. Obviously with 8 states and 2,448 miles of (mostly) paved tarmac to cover, there’s every type of food you could want from tiny mom and pop diners to massive chains. Listed below are not necessarily the top-rated restaurants, but rather places Hagerty staff and readers have said are can’t miss locations to get your foodie kicks on Route 66 (with most falling under the “smaller gimmicky” gems, arranged by state).
Lou Mitchell’s Bakery and Restaurant
Heading west this is right at the beginning of the trail with a sign out front that says, “Serving the world’s finest coffee” (pretty sure you can’t lie about that). Breakfast is their specialty, but most impressive is the fact that since 1958 they have handed out free doughnut holes for all and free milk duds for women and children. Can we please get more restaurants in our lives that do that? They claim enough fresh eggs have been sold for breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s to go side-by-side more than a few times around the world. Nicknamed “the first stop on the Mother Road” many folks stop at Lou Mitchell’s for a good breakfast and a caffeine injection prior to heading off on their Route 66 adventure.
Cozy Dog Drive-In
Home of the original hot dog on a stick since 1946. The Cozy Dog owners were the first to figure out how to make a cornmeal batter that can go in a deep fryer. Originally called “crusty curs”, the name was thankfully eventually changed to “cozy dogs”. On your stop be sure to check out all the Route 66 memorabilia and gift shop.
Dell Ray Chicken Basket
Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket has been helping people get their “chicks on Route 66” since the 1930s. It started as a gas station counter that sold food, then got so popular they turned the car repair bays into a dining room and eventually in 1946 opened the full restaurant. They say they are serving the same basic foods since then, so you know it must be good. All their chicken is never frozen and marinated for 24 hours. After Guy Fieri visited them on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, they have had their recipe for ‘Colorado River of Cheese and Macaroni’ on Food Network’s website.
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
St Louis, MO
How many people knew that frozen custard has been around for over 90 years? That’s how long Ted Drewes has been selling it on historic Route 66. Ted’s concrete is sort of a frozen custard shake/malt that is served upside down. It was invented in 1959 and is still their most popular item. Ted Drewes has been featured on the Food Network in multiple shows.
Outside of St Louis is a great spot for breakfast since 1947. It’s what people may call a “greasy spoon” that has earned its reputation of churning out crispy-edged pancakes, burgers, and coffee for 75 years. The menu hasn’t really changed from the vintage fare they started with, a real example of retro dining. The town of Kirkwood has an annual Route 66 Cars and Guitars festival each summer that could pair well with a visit to Spencer’s.
Crown Candy Kitchen
St Louis, MO
Founded by Greek immigrants, this classic soda foundation is still run by their grandsons over 100 years later. They are known for their thick stacked sandwiches, homemade chocolates, and vintage decorations. If you’re in the mood for a good brain freeze, try their 5 Malt Challenge. Drink 5 malts or shakes in 30 minutes and they are free, plus you get a t-shirt (just a heads up, there are strict rules on you cleaning up your own mess “if” you get sick).
Uranus Fudge Factory
St. Robert, MO
It’s difficult to write this description without including a joke or two, but the location takes care of that for us. Everywhere you look there is a poop joke or pun, but that’s part of what makes this family friendly offbeat roadside attraction worth a stop. Unlike most of the locations on the list, this isn’t historic, and it’s not even a real town. It’s just a tourist attraction, but one with great fudge and ice cream.
The Old Riverton Store
Not really a restaurant, but rather a store on Kansas’ 13 mike stretch of Route 66 that has groceries, produce, flowers, and some great homemade sandwiches. It hasn’t really changed much since it opened almost a century ago, and that’s what it makes it so great. What used to be the owner’s residence connected to the store is now a Route 66 memorabilia gift shop.
Pops Soda calls itself the sodapop capital of the US with over 700 flavors of pop to choose from. How do you get that many you ask? With flavors like bacon, spaghetti, dog drool, unicorn yack, and alien snot… to name a few. It’s a little newer and shinier than the typical Route 66 restaurant, but the 66-foot illuminated soda bottle out front (the worlds largest soda bottle) certainly gives the place that familiar touch of kitsch! It’s neat to see at night, and while you’re there you can get a nice dinner with a strong selection of burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, salads, and home-style dinners.
Waylan’s Ku Ku Burger
Everyone talks about the hamburgers at this Route 66 landmark featuring a towering green and yellow neon sign bordered by a cuckoo bird in a chef hat. Since 1965 their juicy quarter pound Ku Ku burger that comes on a toasted bun with all the trimmings is still the main lure but be sure to try one of their classic malts, shakes, or soft serve ice creams. One of the original drive-in fast food restaurants along Route 66, it is now the only one left of the 200 KuKu’s in the US. Come for the nostalgia and stick around for the delicious burgers and frozen desserts. Plus, Miami has a great main street to cruise.
Opened in 1939 the Rock Café features German favorites, plus stuff like alligator and buffalo burgers. Named after the local sandstone used in its construction, this historic Route 66 location was visited by a Pixar research team in 2001 and upon meeting owner, Dawn Welch, began developing the character of Sally Carrera for the movie Cars.
The Big Texan
This massive 2 story restaurant is best know for its 72 oz steak challenge and walls covered in animal heads. To beat the challenge a person must consume 4.5 pounds of steak, and a roll, and a bake potato, and a shrimp cocktail, and a salad in under an hour. Should they succeed they get it free (otherwise it’s $72). Competitive eater Joey Chestnut did it in under 9 minutes, but was beat by 125-pound Molly Schuyler who ate all of that in just over 4 minutes. Don’t get too excited though, only 10,000 out of the 90,201 attempts to date have succeeded (11%). Fun fact, 50% of women that attempt it succeed whereas only 14% of men do. That is sort of the attitude of the Big Texan, big, elaborate, and kind of over the top. There’s tons to look at and do around the restaurant as you wait for your food like a shooting gallery and live rattle snake in the gift shop.
More than just a line on the road of Route 66, the MidPoint Café is the exact “geo-mathematical” center of Route 66 – 1139 miles from both Chicago and Los Angeles. If nothing else, stop by this Route 66 staple since 1928 for the photo op and gift shop. Plus, they put a Route 66 logo on a lot of the food they serve, and they have amazing huge home-made pie. Maybe best of all, this is the location that was the inspiration for Flow’s V8 Café in Cars.
Clowndog Hot Dog Parlor
Mobil 1 just visited this location and set the Guinness World Record for the most corndogs eaten in three minutes as part of their tour promoting the preservation of this historic road and the small business that make it so unique. What’s unique about Clowndog is the ability to build your own hot dog. They’re not just talking about regular topping options, but what they refer to as a “veritable freakshow of toppings” with over 50 to choose from. Ever wondered what a hot dog with fried eggs, pineapple, and sauteed spinach would taste like? Clowndog is your place. Luckily, they promise not to judge the combination of toppings you come up with. Of course they also serve their famous corndogs. Actually, most of the foods you love from the fair are all found here. Plus craft beer and even wine!
Loyolas Family Restaurant
Many movies and commercials have been filmed here including ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘Better Call Saul’, and ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’. More than a movie set, they have great breakfast, lots of spicy foods with red and green chiles, and are known for their sopapillas. The epitome of an excellent, classic New Mexico diner experience.
Mine Shaft Tavern
Madrid is the remains of an old coal-mining town from the 1830s with the whole town being owned by the mining company. In 1954 the entire town was for sale, but didn’t sell and it turned into a ghost town. The last 30 years have seen that slowly change with business like The Mine Shaft and people slowly coming back. Best known for their Santa Fe Green Chile Yak Cheeseburger, if you don’t like green chilis speak up, because they come on about everything. They have a 40 ft lodge pole pine stand-up bar, built for the miners enjoyment after a long day hunched over in the mines.
Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In
Mobil 1 recently visited this location for a Guinness World Record attempt on their tour to preserve and promote the Mother Road and its small businesses. The iconic eatery serves burgers, malts, and shakes and features quirky decorations like random toilets used as gardens along with some cool classic cars outside. The founder’s humor and showmanship can be seen in everything from the menu (“cheeseburger with cheese, and “dead chicken” are a couple options) to the outside (the neon sign out front reads “Sorry, we’re open” and the doors have handles on both sides, but only the left actually opens the door… or is it the right). While you’re in Seligman, be sure to check out the town as this is where the inspiration for the town of Radiator Springs from the movie Cars came from. It’s a town that embraces the Americana of yesteryear. Other favorites in Seligman include Roadkill Café and Westside Lilo’s Cafe.
Mr D’z Route 66 Diner
Mr D’z serves classic diner food in plastic and chrome booths surrounded by vintage Americana. Basically, exactly what you are looking for if you want to step back in time at a Route 66 diner. Bring some change for the jukebox and be sure to order a homemade root beer float. Bonus, a lot of car shows are held here so hopefully you can time your visit alongside one. And if you care about this sort of thing, Oprah ate here and gave it a thumbs up.
Roy’s Motel and Café
The tiny town of Amboy is referred to as a living ghost town and quite a site to see in this remote area of the Mojave Desert. The café and its famous sign were inspired by the atomic and space ages. Ok, to be fair this one is a stretch to call it a “café” as they currently only do light snacks and cold drinks. The current owners plan to add more food options while maintaining the “weathered look” of Roy’s in the future.
Emma Jean’s Holland Burger Café
Known for their biscuits & gravy, this diner from 1947 keeps their menu simple and is popular with truckers. Twice featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, this is also the first spot Uma Thurman wants to go to when she climbs out of the grave in Kill Bill 2. Enjoy yourself a Holland Burger in this old-timey setting.
Newport Beach, CA
Located on the water near the end of Route 66 is a unique seafood restaurant. There are charter fishing boats next door you can take advantage of, then return to the Bluewater Grill with your catch and they will cook it for you. Along with some fries and coleslaw, the beer-battered recipe they use is quite popular. Didn’t bring anything with you to cook, they have their own swordfish harpoon boat they get fresh fish with each day you can order. You can even dock your own boat right at the restaurant. Don’t worry, there are non-seafood choices as well.
No list of Route 66 eateries could be fully comprehensive because there are so many fantastic places to stop along the way. Hopefully this list gave you some ideas and potential destinations as you plan your stops. If you’re trying to find some independent businesses to visit along the route, Mobil 1 put together a list of them all in one place to get you started. Let us know about some of your favorite Route 66 diners in the comments below! Which places should you prioritize on your next trip down Route 66?
In case you’re interested, Route 66 News did a poll and came up with a list of the top 20 restaurants along Route 66. Here is what they found.
20. Comet II Drive-In, Santa Rosa, New Mexico.
19. Crossroads Diner, Mount Olive, Illinois.
18. POPS, Arcadia, Oklahoma.
17. 66 Diner, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
16. Turquoise Room in La Posada, Winslow, Arizona.
15. Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In, Seligman, Arizona.
14. Whirla-Whip, Girard, Illinois.
13. Green Chile Kitchen on Route 66, Yukon, Oklahoma.
12. Cattleman’s Steakhouse, Oklahoma City. Oklahoma
11. The Chili Parlor, Springfield, Illinois.
10. Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, Kingman, Arizona.
9. Weezy’s Route 66, Hamel, Illinois.
8. Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, Texas.
7. Golden Light Cafe, Amarillo, Texas.
6. Missouri Hick Bar-B-Que, Cuba, Missouri.
5. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, St. Louis.
4. Old Log Cabin, Pontiac, Illinois.
3. Cozy Dog Drive-In, Springfield, Illinois.
2. DeCamp Junction, Staunton, Illinois.
1. Ariston Cafe, Litchfield, Illinois.
First time I went to New Mexico (1972) the steak at the Big Texan was 60 ounces. Next time I went in 1985 it was 72 ounces. A couple of years later it was 96 ounces. I figured the increases were because too many people were finishing it in the hour.
…..or maybe the cattle just got larger. 🙂
Or, maybe because Americans just keep getting larger.
Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, TX is a very interesting stop.
Mike and Rhonda’s The Place in Flagstaff. Their motto is “If it ain’t fried, it ain’t food”
DJ’s Wild West Junction Williams Arizona.
Westside Lilo’s Cafe, Seligman. Great for breakfast; fast service, larger tables available if you want to dine with friends. Adequate parking. Located on the west end of town. ’38 Chevy coupe (highly modified beneath the bone-stock original body); ’67 Chevy C10 stepside truck; original and stock throughout.
As a (mostly) lifetime residentI agree with your Missouri picks. I’d add Eureka MO as a small town “must” as you move west from St. Louis. Their Chamber of Commerce has created a full calendar of events for locals and travelers.
Their Main Drag has a nice variety of restaurants (we like Joe Bocardi for Italian) and a great little coffee shop (La Finca Coffee). It’s also the home of Six Flags over St. Louis.
Happy to say that I have been to nine on the main list, and eight on the Route 66 news poll. Farthest west was Mr. D’s. Next time on 66, I hope to hit Roy’s and others!