9 Favorite Foodie Destinations on Route 66
Route 66, the mythic gateway road that led from Lake Michigan to the Pacific Coast, was in danger of being completely forgotten in the late 20th century as super highways replaced the main artery in each state. But in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the “Mother Road” as business owners, preservationists and travelers have banded together to save and support some of the route’s most famous landmarks.
A new book, Route 66: America’s Longest Small Town by Jim Hinckley, is a photographic journey that travels from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California and serves as both a history of the iconic highway as well as a welcome update on the attractions and businesses that are still in operation and thriving such as local diners, fast food drive-ins and rustic steakhouses.
Thanks to this book you can map out a Route 66 road trip and experience some of the delicious cuisine and comfort foods that travelers have enjoyed along the highway for decades. Here is just a small sampling of the book's foodie mainstays that you can visit as you wander from Illinois to California.
Lou Mitchell’s Bakery and Restaurant
Located at the beginning of Route 66 on 565 W. Jackson Boulevard in Chicago, this local landmark has been in operation since 1923 and, as their exterior sign proudly proclaims, “Serving the world’s finest coffee.” Breakfast is their specialty and the locals rave about the jumbo omelets, fluffy pancakes, malted Belgian waffles and fresh squeezed juices (orange and grapefruit). Continuing a long-standing tradition of hospitality, Lou Mitchell's offers arriving patrons complimentary doughnut holes and milk duds. Could this inspire a new trend?
Another Chicago institution, this family run restaurant can lay claim to being the oldest eatery on Route 66 that has been in almost continuous operation since 1898. Located in the city’s theater district, the Berghoff is famous for its German-American cuisine and an atmospheric interior of dark wood, stained glass and gold lamps. Among the popular dishes are the Kartoffelsuppe Mit Thuringer (Munich style potato soup with smoked Thuringer), wiener schnitzel, duck strudel, creamed spinach and Black Forest cake. Despite the old school ambiance, the Berghoff’s menu includes plenty of contemporary touches such as gluten-free dishes and a range of craft beers.
The Cozy Dog Drive-In
Ed Waldmire and his wife Virginia expanded a hot dog stand business into three locations in Springfield, Illinois in the late Forties which featured their famous hot dog on a stick - the Cozy Dog (a weiner baked in cornmeal). Eventually the Cozy Dog Drive-In, which was established in 1949 and located on Route 66’s South Sixth Street, became their main focus. Although it moved into a new location next door in 1996, the fast food legend continues to serve up its signature dog along with burgers, fries, sandwiches (ham and egg, grilled cheese, etc.) and breakfast items.
Waylan’s Ku Ku Burger
When driving through Miami, Oklahoma keep a lookout for a towering green and yellow neon sign bordered by a cuckoo bird in a chef hat and a soft serve vanilla cone. Welcome to Waylan’s Ku Ku Burger, a must-visit destination for hamburger aficionados 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, milk shakes or soft serve ice creams.
Big Vern’s Steakhouse
If you happen to find yourself in Shamrock, Texas and smell the enticing aroma of grilled meat, then you are probably in the vicinity of Big Vern’s Steakhouse on 12th Street. A longtime favorite among Route 66 sojourners, Big Vern’s is famous for their ribeye, New York strip and filet mignon dinners. Diners also rave about their homemade beer bread, crisp green salads and fruit cobblers.
El Comedor De Anayas Restaurant
For years this family-owned Mexican restaurant was the place to stop for lunch or dinner on Old Hwy 66 in the tiny town of Moriarty, Texas. Distinguished by the iconic neon rotosphere outside the restaurant, the no-frills interior is frequented by folks with an appetite for authentic chile rellenos, enchiladas, tamales and taco salads. Although El Comedor has recently changed management and their name (it is now called El Rey Comedor), it continues to serve the traditional cuisine that made it an essential stop on the drive out West.
Western View Diner & Steakhouse
When you enter this landmark roadhouse on Central Avenue NW in Albuquerque, New Mexico, say goodbye to the outside world and hello to 1937, the year Western View Diner & Steakhouse first opened. The ambiance and the daily fare hasn’t changed much since then which is probably why it remaina a community favorite. Enjoy triple-decker sandwiches, green chile chicken soup, beef tips over noodles or the special house dessert - Bavarian cream berry pound cake. And breakfast is served all day.
Miz Zip’s Cafe
First-rate comfort food served in a cozy, informal setting has always been the allure of this Flagstaff, Arizona institution that is well known for its burgers and homemade pies. Miz Zip's was opened in 1952 by Norma and Bob Leonard and continues to serve classic American diner food but some folks drop in just to order pie a la mode from a tempting selection of daily offerings.
The Sycamore Inn Steak House
Dating back to 1848 the Sycamore Inn in Rancho Cucamonga, California was first a tavern and post office, then a stop for the Butterfield stagecoach and finally a steak house that enjoyed a steady stream of customers from Route 66 during its heyday. Today the landmark location is a fine-dining establishment with such classy fare as oysters Rockefeller, rack of lamb, porterhouse steak, Australian lobster tail and Grand Marnier souffle. There is also an excellent wine bar and a full range of craft cocktails from Pear Flower Martinis to Rye Manhattans.