Sunday, February 19, 2017

Our Favorite Restaurants in America

Traveling long term requires that you dine out quite frequently.  Today, I'm sharing our recommendations for finding good restaurants in unfamiliar towns, along with a few of our favorite local restaurants from across the USA.

48 No Interstate: Our Favorite Restaurants in America

Finding local joints instead of always eating at the Olive Garden or Golden Corral is really a requirement for the best and fullest road trip experience.  Generally, these restaurants are family run and many have employees who have worked there for 10, 15, or 20 years.  Often, the owner will be present.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, the service is above and beyond the average experience at a chain place.  It can be a little daunting to cruise into a town you've never heard of and find a restaurant with great food and great service, but we guarantee it's possible!

The two best ways to find great local restaurants in a town you've never visited are:

1- Talk to the locals.  When you check in at your hotel, ask the front desk staff what the best restaurants are.  Often in small towns,  there's a little local hole-in-the-wall that you, as an out-of-towner, would never find on your own but can gain access to by asking the right person.

2 - Search online.  When locals are unavailable, head to the internet.  TripAdvisor was our favorite website for finding a variety of options regardless of where we were in the country.  We also searched for restaurants that had been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.  In small, mid-size, and large cities, we ate some delicious food, thanks to the magic of the internets.

Now, without further ado, I'm going to share our favorites, in no particular order - mainly because we can't pick which one we love best!

Table 87 Coal Oven Pizza
48 No Interstate: Our Favorite Restaurants in America - Table 87 pizza in Brooklyn
473 3rd. Avenue
Brooklyn, New York

I had never had margherita pizza before we stumbled upon Table 87 in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn on a cold, rainy night in early May.   We were famished, so we ordered some kind of a fried eggplant appetizer drenched in marinara sauce and covered in melty cheese to hold us over until our pizza came out.  This was my first eggplant, and I have to say I couldn't get enough of it...until a 20" Coal Oven Margherita Pie found its way to our table and was promptly devoured.  The restaurant had great decor, too:  antique oven doors and cheese graters adorned the walls, the original tin ceiling and a few brick walls were exposed, and the original fireplace next to us topped it off.  I was looking forward to returning for more delicious pizza when we were in the city in November for the New York Marathon, but they are unfortunately closed on Mondays, which was the only day we could have gone out to Brooklyn.  I suppose I'll have to try their mail-order pizza until I can make it back for the real thing.
Best Pizza!!

Edd's Place
48 No Interstate: Our Favorite Restaurants in America - Edd's Place in Westbrook, Connecticut
478 Boston Post Rd.
Westbrook, CT

Sometimes the best restaurants are the ones you stop at because you just have a good feeling.  The hotel we stayed at in this area didn't have breakfast included, so we got in the car and just started driving along US 1, hoping we'd find a good option soon.  We passed by several local breakfast joints before we spotted Edd's.  Something felt right about it, so we pulled in.  We ordered from Edd and his wife in the kitchen building, and a few minutes later they brought our food to us in the nearby enclosed eating area, which has a great view out at a body of water - I think perhaps a marsh.  My poached eggs and bacon were cooked just right, and the pancakes were the best I had anywhere in the country on this trip - and I had quite a few.  They were cake-y in the middle, crispy on the edges, and just the right combination of sweet and salty - so good they didn't even need syrup!

Best Pancakes
Great marsh view!
Website:  Visit on TripAdvisor

48 No Interstate: Our Favorite Restaurants in America - Geraci's in Cleveland, Ohio
2266 Warrensville Center Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio

Geraci's, which was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, hands down had the best service by the owner of any establishment we visited in all 48 states - which is actually saying a lot.  At Geraci's, we waited for about 20 minutes, as it was a busy Friday night and the place was full of regulars.  When the owner came out to seat us, he picked us out as first-time visitors and struck up a conversation with us.  We gave him the short version of the adventure we were on, and he wound up treating us like royalty, bringing us out samples of their different sauces to dip our bread into and checking on us frequently, even introducing us to a couple he seated next to us a few minutes later.  The tables were very close together, and we wound up chatting throughout the meal with this couple, who had been eating at Geraci's for over 30 years.  At the end of our meal, the owner brought us out a basket of spingi (little Italian doughnut holes) to share with our new friends.  
Best Service
Best Marinara Sauce
Website:  Visit on TripAdvisor

48 No Interstate: Our Favorite Restaurants in America - Geddy's in Bar Harbor, Maine
19 Main Street
Bar Harbor, Maine

With a cool seaside + New England atmosphere, Geddy's was recommended to us by the owner of the bed and breakfast where we stayed.  He had quite the Maine accent and I wasn't sure at first what he was saying, but after he repeated it I understood it.  I'm not a huge fan of seafood, but my burger was delicious - a lot of seafood places tend to serve dry, overdone burgers, but the juicy and delicious burger at Geddy's is an exception.  My driver got a lobster meal, which he thoroughly enjoyed.  His meal came with a blueberry pie, which is unlike any blueberry dessert I'd ever had in my life (he very kindly shared with me!).  The teeny little Maine blueberries were so different from the big, plump ones we have at home, the crust was buttery and crisp, and it was topped with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream.  I loved this pie so much I immediately searched online for a recipe, and when we got home 6 weeks later I did some research to find a grocery store in town that carries the right mini blueberries.  I have made it two or three times, and though it's not quite the same as the one the good folks at Geddy's served us, it's a pretty close second.

Amazing blueberry pie

Big D's Downtown Dive
48 No Interstate: Our Favorite Restaurants in America - Big D's Downtown Dive in Roswell, New Mexico
505 North Main Street
Roswell, NM

Big D's was another find from Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and it was by far my favorite.  Without a doubt, their burgers are the best in America, in my opinion.  The inside of the bun was grilled, creating a nice crunchy bed for the lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, ketchup, and white cheddar that accompanied the juicy patty - and preventing the bun from becoming soggy.  The outside of the bun was nice and soft, and it was served with tasty skinny fries.  
Best burgers in America!!
Website:  Visit on Facebook

The Pie Source - Homestead Cafe
48 No Interstate: Our Favorite Restaurants in America - Homestead Cafe in Pie Town, New Mexico
Highway 60
Pie Town, New Mexico

I was about to spread up some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when we came into a place called Pie Town.  Very quickly, the notion of eating PBJs in the car passed, and we pulled into the first place we came to for something more exciting.  In the little old two-bedroom log cabin with no running water (think Laura Ingalls Wilder's cabin), we had delicious 'potatoe' and bacon soup, which was the only item on the menu and was served with freshly squeezed lemonade.  When we couldn't decide on just one pie, we went for pecan pie topped with whipped cream AND warm cherry pie with a scoop of ice cream on the side.  When we were finished with lunch we cleared our plates and dropped them in the bins that are used to transport dirty dishes to another location where they can be washed.

In a room this small, you really couldn't keep to yourself even if you wanted to, and we enjoyed talking with the other customers while we ate.  We met a real cowboy (probably actually a rancher), Phil, who wore Wrangler jeans, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat, and enjoys stopping at the Homestead Cafe when he passes through town from his home 40 miles away.  There was also a retired couple from Colorado who snowbird in Arizona.  Both the cowboy and the couple were intrigued by our no interstates road trip and suggested interesting roads to take and stops to make when we told them about it.  We're so glad we saved those PBJs for another day.
Coolest building
Best overall experience
Delicious pie
Website:  Visit on Facebook

Mi Tierra
48 No Interstate: Our Favorite Restaurants in America - Mi Tierra in San Antonio, Texas
218 Produce Row
San Antonio, Texas

When the restaurant that was recommended to us by locals turned out to be closed on Sundays, we had to come up with another plan.  So we kept walking until we found something suitable.  Occupying an entire block in San Antonio's historic Market Square, Mi Tierra has been family owned and operated for over 75 years.  Our breakfast there was accompanied by a colorful and festive atmosphere, which included live mariachi music.  The 24-hour breakfast menu includes everything: pancakes, a wide variety of breakfast tacos, and all different kinds of huevos.  You can sip on a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice or their delicious Mexican hot chocolate.
Vibrant atmosphere
Delicious variety
Great pancakes!

Thunderbird Restaurant
48 No Interstate: Our Favorite Restaurants in America - Thunderbird Restaurant in Mt. Carmel, Utah
Jct US 89 & SR 9
Mt. Carmel, Utah
Perhaps the reason I loved this restaurant so much is that we had hiked over 13 miles through Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks and I was so exhausted I didn't even want to get out of the car to walk into the restaurant.  I'm so glad I did, though: I wanted a sticks-to-your ribs meal, and that's exactly what I got.  Paired with reasonable prices, great service, and excellent hot chocolate (it had dropped into the 40s and begun hailing as we finished up our final hike, and I was freezing), it was exactly what I needed.  I started with the salad bar, which not only included fresh veggies, but also two varieties of soup.  I had a small bowl of both the minestrone (great) and vegetable (good) soups.  My entree was roast beef and mashed potatoes, which really hit the spot.  To finish it off, we shared a strawberry rhubarb 'ho-made' pie with extra ice cream.  
Best home cooking
Great pies!
Website:  Visit on TripAdvisor

48 No Interstate: Our Favorite Restaurants in America - Miceli's in Hollywood, California

1646 North Las Palmas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA

Steps off of Hollywood Boulevard, Miceli's is either the #1 or #2 Italian restaurant in the US in my book.  In addition to red checkered tablecloths and an abundance of wine bottles in baskets hanging from the ceilings and banisters, there was a piano player, and waiters would randomly go stand next to him to belt out Italian songs.  Photos of celebrities eating at the restaurant all the way back into the 50s and 60s adorn the walls near the door.  My half spaghetti/half ravioli plate was perfection and fueled me for my 5k on Hollywood Boulevard the next morning, which was the fastest 5k I've run since high school.  Thanks, Miceli's!
Best ravioli
Awesome atmosphere

Bon Ton
48 No Interstate: Our Favorite Restaurants in America - Bon Ton in New Orleans, Louisiana
401 Magazine Street
New Orleans, Louisiana

Bon Ton, located directly across the street from our hotel, was recommended to us by the staff as a great creole restaurant frequented mainly by locals.  I ordered steak, while my driver ordered turtle soup and crawfish etouffee, which I understand were delicious.  We headed back to our hotel after dinner to snack on some sinful treats from Laura's Candy Kitchen.
Creole delicacies

Goolrick's Pharmacy
48 No Interstate: Our Favorite Restaurants in America - Goolrick's Pharmacy in Fredericksburg, Virginia
901 Caroline Street
Fredericksburg, Virginia

This modern pharmacy in Fredericksburg's historic downtown retains a soda fountain and lunch counter.  Originally opened in the late 1800s, you can order a sandwich, shake, or soda (we shared a cherry Coke, mixed right in front of us at the counter) to enjoy at the counter or one of the few available tables.  My BLT was great, and even though the interior of the building doesn't match the historic charm of the exterior, it's a rare experience to eat at a place like this today.
Historic charm
Fresh fountain drinks
Website:  Visit on TripAdvisor

48 No Interstate: Our Favorite Restaurants in America - Cattlemen's in Oklahoma City
1309 South Agnew
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Cattlemen's has turned me into a steak snob.  I no longer want to go out for cheese fries and a steak before a movie unless it's at Cattlemen's (OK, you could probably still get me to Outback for some cheese fries without trying very hard).  We looked up the best steakhouses in the US after we were unable to secure a table at a highly recommended steakhouse in Tampa, and then again in New Orleans, and decided Cattlemen's was the one we'd try.  We had to wait a month until the road took us to OKC, but it was worth the wait.  Man, oh man, it was good.  We both ordered the 12 oz. sirloin strip, which was seasoned only with salt and pepper, so you could really taste the meat.  It was fresh and tender, and cooked perfectly.  Our salads were fresh, the order of mac and cheese we shared was cheesy and delicious and topped with bread crumbs, and the rolls were soft, warm, and tasty.  We left full and satisfied, but were nowhere near stuffed.

Amazing steak!
Cheesy mac and cheese!
Perfect rolls!


In a world where mediocre service has become standard, these 11 restaurants (and many of the ones listed below) stood out from the norm.  Every one of these restaurants had good service; most had excellent service.  And as you have read, the food at each one was amazing.  Even a picky discerning eater such as myself can find something delightful without having to resort to a chain restaurant.  I even found that my five main food groups of Burgers, BLTs, Steak, Pizza, and Pasta expanded a bit during the course of our travels.

In re-living our experience at each of these restaurants, I find myself wishing I could return to them!  If the opportunity presented itself, I would travel back to any of these cities solely to have another chance to eat at these restaurants - for both the food and the service.  Visit them if you get the chance!

Other restaurants we have enjoyed across the country and would also recommend include:

South Dakota
  • Carl's (frozen custard) - Fredericksburg

Whew! That's quite a list.  Congratulations for making it to the end!  We'd love to hear your favorites from across the country!

After thinking about all these restaurants again, I'm starving.  It's time to find a snack!!

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Check out the Weekend Wanderlust Facebook group and Weekend Travel Inspiration pages for more travel inspiration!

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  1. Looks like a great cross section of restaurants. With the vastness of the states, It's good to have a couple of quality picked likes this across the country. Thanks.

  2. The only place on your list that I've dined at is Cafe Du Monde. I'm not too far from Mi Tierra's, so I'll need to keep that in mind the next time I'm in San Antonio. That pizza place in Waco sounds good, too, especially if I have kids along.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Michelle! You should definitely try out Mi Tierra. The Waco pizza place is a food truck located at the Magnolia Market and would be an awesome place to watch your kids play while you enjoy your pizza!

  3. Oh my gosh - what a great post... that looks like an awesome road trip. I love eating where the locals do, it's so much more fun and tasty. #weekendwanderlust

  4. We just mentioned Purple Pie Place in our latest blog post on roadside attractions in South Dakota. That place is the cutest. Oddly enough, we differ on a lot of our favorite restaurants in America. We are going to have to exchange favorites :) We think Mindy's hot chocolate in Chicago has the best burger in America.

    1. I'm definitely going to have to try that burger the next time I'm in Chicago, then! And of course, some hot chocolate! We're always looking for great restaurants - eating is one of the best parts of traveling. :-)

    2. It really is! I also noticed Mother's on your list for New Orleans. Great taste! I dream of the roast beef po-boy there.

  5. This is a great list of restaurants, I am hungry now after seeing all that food. We always try to eat where locals eat because that is the best food you can find. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Oana. I got quite hungry while writing it and can understand the feeling of hunger that would come from reading it!

  6. Wow you guys have certainly been to a lot of restaurants! Some awesome selections there and I definitely miss the sizes of portions that you get in the USA! It would be quite difficult to go hungry! Great tips and I will save this for next time I am in the States!

    1. I hope you'll be able to try at least one of them the next time you're here. The large portions do make it hard to go hungry, but also hard to prevent massive weight gain as a result of enjoying so much food!

  7. Fantastic places you have eaten at and gave a great list for restaurants in other states to try. You made me very hungry for the all that Yummy food! I will pin this for later use. Thanks for sharing :-)

  8. There's definitely plenty to choose from in this list. We love finding new spots to chow down! :-)

  9. Great stuff - I'm a big eater and my girlfriend is too. I would love to check out some of the places you have visited. Big fan of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives also :)

    1. Thanks, Barry! As you can see from the food in some of the pictures, we are big eaters, too!

  10. What a list! Want to visit them all. Bookmarking this for the future. Thanks for sharing

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