Hate flying? Take a road trip.
More Americans are hitting the road for their vacation, and 70 percent of travelers are motivated to vacation to experience new cuisine, a jump from 51 percent in 2014, according to MMGY Global’s Portrait of American Travelers study. Also, a recent survey by Booking.com found that more than half of American travelers surveyed (51 percent) said they pick a destination for its great food or drink.
With that in mind, if you’re hitting the road this summer, check out these seven notable restaurants that are destinations unto themselves and worth stopping at for a meal — and perhaps a restaurant selfie.
If you’re going to Mount Rushmore…. Wall Drug, Wall, South Dakota
Off I-90, Wall Drug is a restaurant landmark near Badlands National Park (about 8 miles south) and Mount Rushmore (76 miles west).
Wall Drug started as a small drug store in the 1930s, and it has since expanded as a kitschy, all-day restaurant and roadside attraction. Road trippers can pick up 5 cent coffee, homemade doughnuts ($1.49), fruit pie ($3.99) and ice cream ($3.09), and dine on the popular 1/3-lb buffalo burger ($8.49).
According to the website, 2 million people visit each year. Wall Drug has a “backyard” tourist area with activities for children, like a miniature Mount Rushmore (another South Dakota attraction), as well as a souvenir shop selling collectibles like mugs, hats and retro South Dakota maps.
If you’re going to Memphis… Neon Pig, Tupelo, Mississippi
Tupelo, Mississippi, is known as Elvis Presley’s birthplace, with various statues commemorating him throughout the city, as well as an Elvis Presley Museum, but foodies come for Neon Pig. The “Smash Burger” at this unassuming, funky cafe won “best burger in the nation” by Thrillist in 2015, and it’s also been featured on Travel Channel.
At this low key, truck stop-meets-butcher-shop cafe, The Smash Burger is a combination of aged filet, sirloin, ribeye and bacon, all of which are sourced from local farms and ground together on site (the restaurant cures their bacon in-house, too). The burger is then loaded with cheddar cheese, quick pickles, pickled onions with hoisin (Asian-style BBQ) and “comeback” (mayo remolaude) sauces, served on a ciabatta bun.
The burger is $10. The menu also includes pork belly buns and Sweet Grass Dairy Grilled Cheese, both $7.
Off I-22, Tupelo is about 108 miles (about a two-hour drive) southeast of Memphis, visited regularly by Elvis fans on road trips.
If you’re going to Niagara Falls… FLX Wienery, Finger Lakes, New York
Finger Lakes, a food and wine destination near Rochester, New York, is a popular stopover to and from Niagara Falls and the Canadian border (about a two-hour drive). There are plenty of outdoor activities in and around the 11 “finger-shaped” lakes, like hiking, kayaking and camping, and foodies find plenty of great options here.
Stop at FLX Wienery, a fast-casual simple hot dog joint opened by a Master Sommelier (there are only 148 Master Sommeliers in the country, and to become one, you need to pass four exams for this prestigious title as an expert in wine and food pairings). Christopher Bates, named Food & Wine magazine’s Sommelier of the Year in 2016, spent his career in fine dining until switching to cheap, gourmet eats, which he calls “high-end low-brow food.” It is the only hot dog joint in New York run by a Master Sommelier.
FLX Wienery serves large, house-made brats, chorizo and Italian sausages, hand-ground burgers and French fries. Hot dogs start at $2.95 and go up to $7.95 for a “State Fair,” which has peppers, onions, American cheese and smoked ketchup. A Plain Jane Burger is $6.95 and fresh fries with lake salt is $3.95.
There is also a selection of craft beer and wine. Guests are welcome to bring their own bottle from a local vineyard (Seneca is known for its wine trail).
Road trippers with a sweet tooth can try deep-fried Almond Joy ($3) and crunchy-fried Nutella ($2).
The restaurant, tucked between two vineyards, has outdoor bench seating, so it’s dog-friendly. It’s near the main road, I-14, that runs along Seneca Lake. FLX Wienery is under two hours from Rochester and Syracuse, the closest major cities. It’s under three hours from Niagara Falls.
If you’re going on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail… Wallace Station, Versailles, Kentucky
Most Kentucky foodies know Chef Ouita Michel, who has made a name for herself in the Bluegrass region with seven restaurants. She was a semifinalist for James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef in the South (a highly prestigious award in the food world), and received a nomination in 2016 for outstanding restaurateur.
For whiskey (and food) lovers, Wallace Station in Versailles, Kentucky, is a popular stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a specific network of 13 distilleries throughout the state reachable by car or tour bus, dating back to the 1800s and listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a restaurant. Michel serves up homestyle Southern food, like fried chicken and meatloaf, which average $11.99 a dish and come with two seasonal sides and a homemade biscuit, using local ingredients when possible. She is considered one of the best chefs in the state, determined by James Beard Foundation.
The popular Country Ham and Pimiento Chee Sandwich ($8.99), with thin-sliced ham and homemade white Cheddar pimiento cheese, was raved about on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and Guy Fieri picked The Big Brown Burger, with Stone Cross Farm Kentucky Proud beef cattle raised on local pastures with a corn finish ($9.99), as one of his top five burgers on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”
Wallace Station in Versailles is between Louisville (one-hour drive) and Lexington (20-minute drive).
If you’re going on the Pacific Coast Highway…. Splash Cafe, Pismo Beach, California
Long lines, especially over summer, can be expected at Splash Cafe in Pismo Beach, known as the “clam capital of the world.” This small beach town outside of San Luis Obispo is right on the Pacific Coast Highway, the halfway point between San Francisco and Los Angeles, which makes it a popular stop for roadtrippers.
Opened in 1989, Splash Cafe is an institution and retro landmark, selling more than 30,000 gallons of clam chowder a year. The famous bread bowl full of clam chowder is only $7.95 ($4.95 if you get it served in a non-bread bowl). It has been a crowd-pleaser for more than 20 years and the busiest restaurant in the area.
Splash Cafe is just one block from Pismo Beach.
Eater LA included Splash Cafe in their 16 Road Trip-Worthy Central Coast Restaurants.
If you’re driving through Texas… Snow’s BBQ, Lexington, Texas
Voted No. 1 in Texas Monthly’s Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas (May 2017), Snow’s has been highly ranked since Texas Monthly started ranking statewide BBQ joints in 2008.
The small BBQ joint in Lexington, Texas (population: 1,200), a 75-mile drive east from Austin, is situated in the middle of pastures and ranch land. Visitors stand around an al fresco shed where pitmasters fire up brisket on three barbecue pits. According to Texas Monthly, the pitmasters’ “skill and the indelible experience that they create are the reasons why Snow’s is once again at the top of our list.”
And Zagat calls Snow’s one of the most important BBQ joints in Texas.
Snow’s serves meat by the pound, like pork ribs ($11.95) and brisket turkey breast ($12.95).
The restaurant is only open on Saturdays, starting at 8 a.m., serving until they sell out of food. People drive out in the mornings since the wait can be up to three hours.
If you’re driving up the Great Lakes… Frank’s Diner, Kenosha, Wisconsin
Frank’s Diner moonlights as a historical landmark. The retro diner regularly visited by tourists traveling along Lake Michigan, near Six Flags Great America in Gurney, Illinois, has been operating out of an old railway car for more than 90 years (it opened for business as a diner in 1926). It’s about an hour drive east of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and two-hour drive north of Chicago, Illinois.
The diner with a handful of counter stools and a small dining room with booth seating was featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and it’s been visited by famous people throughout the decades, like Duke Ellington and Liberace. Country Living named it one of the top 20 diners across America.
Homemade buttermilk pancakes, a bestseller, starts at $2.90 for one cake. A quarter-pound burger starts at $5.50. Frank’s is known for its Garbage Plate, which includes three eggs, hash browns, peppers, onions, and one (or three) meats (ham, bacon, sausage, Spam) that starts at $10.95.
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