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"This one is just off I-70, east of St. Louis, and it's a good one, there's always at least four or five trucks eating here," said Jerry Whittenburg, of El Paso, Arkansas. He's been driving a truck across America's heartland since 1973 for the Arkansas Trucking Association, has racked up more than 4 million miles, and speaks with a stretched-out Southern twang that's quite nice, actually.
"They have great hamburger steak, chicken breasts, fried vegetables, all that stuff. But the real draw here is the foot-high meringue they have on their pies. It really is a foot high, too," he said. "I ordered one once, and it was more than I could eat."
"We have this truck stop with a really fine diner in it, it's what I would call classic country cooking," said "Dale" (Dale didn't want his full name or location published because "he didn't want the trouble" -- which is pretty much the most trucker thing ever, so it's cool). Dale has been driving trucks up and down the East Coast for almost 50 years, and recently retired.
"It's a real rural Pennsylvania-style kitchen -- with some of the best eggs and bacon I've ever had, and I've had a lot of bacon and eggs. They have thick-cut French fries that I love, they'll throw those on there if you ask them. The only problem is this place gets packed on the weekends. Weekdays, you should be OK."
Classic trucker. Less crowds. More French fries.
Wall Township, NJ
"New Jersey is known for its diners, right? Well, this one in particular is pretty well known, I think," said Dale. "For trucks, the parking lot won't work, so I've enjoyed this place mostly on my own, and not while I'm on an actual run.
"For me, this is what diner-food should be. There's no frills or anything. It's the perfect little diner, it really looks the part. Pancakes, sandwiches, whatever. And obviously, like any Jersey spot worth its salt -- they have some great pork roll. This is a spot that always sticks in my mind. You always know what you are going to get, there's something special in that."
"A little mom-and-pop shop -- it's hooked to a place for truckers to shower and clean up, but it's a great restaurant on the side that just makes some excellent hamburger steaks, fried chicken with mashed potatoes, white beans, and patty melts," said Whittenburg.
"The last time I was in there, I got ham, eggs, hash browns, and a cup of coffee for $8.50. It's cheap, cheap, cheap, which I can certainly appreciate, having to eat out so much on the road."
"It has room for about 20 trucks to park out there, so that's good, but oh boy, this is just a little shack. A little hole in the wall," Whittenburg said.
"Their barbecue is just stupendous -- they have BBQ sandwiches, ribs, but what I like is the rib-eye. It's so tender, you really don't even need a knife, you can cut up and eat it just with a fork. I love this place, it's the kind of place you only find just by being on the road for so long."
"This one's off I-44, I know the guy that built it 15 or 20 years ago. You can get almost anything you want here, so it's a good name. Pizza, hamburgers, breakfast. Whatever," said Whittenburg .
"It's open early, about 6am, and stays open till 9pm. When I'm on the road, I try to eat at places like this, and not just Subway or other fast food. I try to watch my weight, that's a big problem out here when you are driving all day long. So it's good to mix it up and make sure you are getting something close to home cooking whenever you can."
"Right across the border from Arizona, this one is just barely in California," Whittenburg said, "but here you've got a little bit of Mexican food, and a little bit of the Midwest, too. You can order what you want, good variety.
"It's also a really nice place just to sit down and relax. They always have the ballgame on, or NASCAR. I haven't been there in about three years, but I have a friend that goes there a lot, and he told me it's still a good place. And I trust him. You all should, too."
"You've got two elderly ladies in the kitchen here at this place," Whittenburg said, "Good country cooking, good old-timey cooking, too, right off exit 63.
"Great hamburger steak, good chicken-fried streak. Oh! They have really great biscuits and gravy, too. I know this isn't what you would really call health food, but I think eating like this is healthy, too, you know? Nice home cooking by nice people."
"I have a really good one, right off old Route 66," said Otto Schmeckenbecher, a trucker with 30-plus years of experience, living in the Little Rock, Arkansas area. "They have great salads, burgers, steaks, catfish, ribs, and all the fixings to go with it. You can finish it off with homemade cobbler.
"The people are always friendly and glad to have you there. I've eaten there several times, never had a bad meal. The decor fits the steakhouse, and on Saturday nights they have live music. Just a real good place to stop and eat and enjoy yourself. Truck parking available, too."
"I like to go out and support local business when I'm driving. This is one I found on the recommendation of a friend. It's a tiny little convenience store that's really in the middle of nowhere, but they have a grill in the back and cook up some good food, if you want it," said Dale.
"I know they make hot cinnamon buns, burgers, hot sandwiches; the people there are a little gruff, but nice overall. This is the kind of local business I try to go to, whether I'm working or not. They are almost always better than chains or fast food. If you can find the right places, of course."
Santa Rosa, NM
"Well, I have to say, this is some of the finest Mexican food I've experienced out on the road," said Whittenburg. "It's a pretty popular place. They have it all: beef tacos, cheese dip, salsa, fajitas. But the big thing is that it's all seasoned so well, especially if you like hot stuff.
"Out in the Southwest, on runs to California, I always try to get my fill of great Mexican food. I don't think this is news, but out west the Mexican food is just a little bit better, always. And this is some of the best, in my opinion."
Ft. Lauderdale, FL
"OK -- this was a legendary stop off of I-95 in Brunswick, Georgia for many, many years. It closed down about four or five years ago, but since then the original owners have opened up a new spot in Ft. Lauderdale," Dale said.
"I've had barbecue all over the South, all over the country. It doesn't get more real than these guys. I'm partial to the pork, this being the Georgia Pig, after all. But, there's something for everyone. Unless you are a vegetarian. Then you're better off staying away. Even though their coleslaw is pretty good, too."
1. Blue Springs Cafe3505 George St, Highland
2. Keystone Restaurant & Truck Stop208 Keystone Dr, Loretto
3. The Roadside Diner5016 State Route 33, Wall
4. Gas Grill Family Restaurant5964 IN-109, Knightstown
5. Big Boy's Bar-B-Que2117 Lamar St, Sweetwater
6. Hungry House Cafe1391 Lawrence 2140, Sarcoxie
7. The Wagon Wheel2420 Needles Hwy, Needles
8. Southfork Truck Stop & RestaurantI-30 Exit 63, Gurdon
9. Red River SteakhouseOld Route 66, McLean
10. Jette Store44613 US-93, Polson
11. Silver Moon Cafe3701 Rte 66, Santa Rosa
12. Georgia Pig1285 S State Road 7, Davie
Fried chicken, catfish, bbq pork, meatloaf, gizzards -- the roundup on this menu would have you believing this little side-of-the-road spot in south Illinois' Highland (just east of St. Louis) is actually located in somewhere in the deep south. The homey spot, favorite to many a local and veteran trucker, also brings phenomenal homemade pies with towers of meringue topping to the table, which is undoubtedly covered in a blue checkered, picnic-style tablecloth.
Unless you were desperate for gas, you'd probably drive right by this Loretto spot if you didn't know it hosted a true Pennsylvania-style kitchen, serving up country favorites like its nobody business. The menu is just about as American as you can get -- full breakfast plates come stacked with hash browns, eggs, bacon, biscuits, and gravy, meanwhile country fried steaks, whopping burgers, and pot roasts leave even the hungriest of trucker stomachs stuffed.
The neon-green stegosaurus sculpture outside of this metallic red and yellow diner straight out of the sock hop days is a beacon to both locals and truck drivers barreling down 33 in Wall Township. Once featured in a Bruce Springsteen video (blink and you'll miss it), Roadside's been around since the '40s, and neither its look or menu have changed much since. Most drop by for a full breakfast, with any combination of eggs, muffins, hash, bacon, ham, sausage, pancakes, waffles, and french toast the heart (and stomach) desires. The rest of the day brings a classic array of wraps, sandwiches, and burgers.
This hidden gem not far outside Indianapolis isn't necessarily a looker (it's about as undecorated as a restaurant can get), but it's known all over as the top purveyor of quality diner food. Truckers crowd this spot during long drives for cheap meal that brings a feeling of home for a mere few dollars (and a shower with a change of clothes, too). The gravy-smothered chicken fried steaks, bbq, and their few pasta dishes are all homemade by the family who own it for an experience that's more like a home away from home.
Real bbq aficionados know: sometimes quality barbecue comes from admittedly sketchy-looking places. The parking lot of this minimally labeled metal shack just west of Abilene is usually entirely taken by semi trucks, but finding a spot amidst them will get you a well-deserved award of succulent Texas-style smoked meats. Ribs barely stay on the bone, and sauce-slatered briskets give way to a fork alone.
Although Missouri's often riddled with arguments over whether or not it qualifies as being Southern, the Hungry House Cafe in the tiny town of southwestern Sarcoxie proves that they no-doubt that they know how to make good Southern food. In a homey space full of knick knacks and basic decor, this kitchen slings full country breakfasts, portion-defying chicken fried steaks, and of course, the classics: burgers, chicken tenders, and fries.
The near-blinding shade of yellow of this spot's Wild West exterior make it pretty hard to miss as you pass through Needles on your way in and out of California or Arizona. If the highway decor didn't give it away, Wagon Wheel bases itself on rural Oklahoma, and their menu's a never-ending feast of Midwestern favorites like meatloaf, burgers, and steaks, while the separate Fiesta menu provides Mexican staples like fajitas, tacos, and burritos.
This trucker's haven in the southwest corner of Arkansas is easily missed by passerby, but it's doling out some of the state's best comfort foods from thick-cut steaks, to juicy burgers, to full country breakfasts, to biscuits and gravy. You might feel slightyl out of place amongst a slew of truck drivers waiting for their turn in the shower, but the friendly service and homemade far are sure to have you feeling right at home regardless.
Tucked up in Texas' panhandle, Red River's Route 66 spot has quickly become a state favorite, serving up authentic southern fare and top-quality angus steaks. It'd be ludicrous to come to this rusty tin shack without ordering a Texas strip or a rich Cowboy ribeye, but you also can't call it a trip to the South without a taste of their other mesquite-smoked meats, chicken fried steaks, or a cajun-flavored fried catfish.
You're probably stopping at Jette Store to fill up your tank or grab a pack of gum for the road, but you should know that -- believe it or not -- this small, middle-of-nowhere convenience store is cooking up tasty hot food options. With a grill in the back, it's flipping some of the best burgers around and serving up sandwiches and cinnamon buns, too. The service might be a little gruff, but that's part of the charm, if we're being honest.
Silver Moon has gained quite a following since it opened in 1959, filling up truckers, families, and just about anybody traveling by on good ol' Route 66. If you find yourself out on the road and in need of some spice, stop in here for Mexican food that's packed with it -- from tasty tacos and fajitas to flavorful queso and salsa.
A classic roadside joint, Georgia Pig may be under-the-radar, but it's cooking up some of the best BBQ around. The sandwiches here are the real deal, particularly the BBQ pork -- go for the deluxe version and you'll get a side of fries and coleslaw. Besides the flavor, the best part of these sandwiches, platters, and sides (think homemade chili) are the cheap, cheap prices. That said, you'll want to tack on a slice of apple pie, too.