The Search for Comforting Punjabi Food and Stellar Chai on a Road Trip

Chai Box owner Monica Sunny on the best road trip pitstops around Texas, Oklahoma, and beyond.

For Monica Sunny, owner of The Chai Box, masala chai is much more than a drink. It’s a meditation and elixir vitae. And she knows the good stuff, of course. So, when she and her husband were driving their son from Atlanta to California for an internship a couple of months ago, she was on the lookout for Punjabi dhabas, roadside diners that provide approximately 30,000 Sikh truck drivers in the US with comfort food to-go. These Punjabi dhabas are the best place for hot, spiced chai the way Sunny prefers it: with fennel and ginger mixed into loose tea leaves and heated with milk on a stove.

The Sunnys first passed a billboard for a Punjabi dhaba while driving through Arkansas, but making a U-turn on a four-day road trip wasn’t included in her husband’s navigation plan. So when they spotted another billboard for a dhaba called Punjabi Restaurant located in a Stuckey’s gas station in Okemah, Oklahoma, they pulled up. This road trip, it turned out, was dotted with punjabi food and pitch-perfect chai across Oklahoma, Texas, and beyond.

Inside Stuckey’s, they found shelves lined with Indian cookies and snacks and slushie machines filled with jeera water, cumin tea, and nambu pani (spiced lemon water). Orbs of sweet gulab jamun glistened under heat lamps that would typically harbor nacho cheese. Dishes came served on stainless steel platters. “I literally felt like I had stepped into a shop in Jalandhur, where I’m from in India,” Sunny says.

Monica Sunny, The Chai Box owner, on a tea plantation. | Courtesy of Monica Sunny

The Sunny family feasted on freshly made chicken, lamb, and goat curries and drank masala chai from china tea cups. To her amazement, owner Sumandeep Singh and his wife had prepared gandal wala saag, more commonly known throughout India as sarson ka saag. The dish of slow-cooked spinach and mustard greens was prepared with stems and spices the same way her grandmother once made it.

Although they were still stuffed and Sunny’s husband was holding out for Burger King, the next day for breakfast, they visited Swaad Stop, located in the Hopi Travel Plaza off I-40 in Holbrook, Arizona. Devotional Sikh music, called Gurbani, played in the background while they filled up once again on chole bhature: curried chickpeas that come with large discs of soft, deep-fried bread made with finely milled maida flour (bhature).

When Sunny began tearing into another type of northern Indian bread—a piping hot paratha with a thick cube of butter melting in the center—her husband decided Burger King could wait for another day.

During their trip, they met truck drivers who had been on the road through the night just to have a hot north Indian breakfast and refill their thermoses with masala chai in the morning. Since these dhabas typically don’t attract much residential business, Sunny created Instagram reels to share what she considered to be the best Indian food she’d had in 40 years living in the United States. Even friends from India wanted to know more about America’s approximately 40 dhabas (but probably many more) that cater to the Sikh truck drivers who make up 20% of the trucking industry, according to the Washington Post.

For your next road trip, follow Sunny’s lead and consider bypassing fast food chains to check out some of the Punjabi dhabas listed below for legit home-cooked northern Indian food, which specializes in breads and garam masala–spiced curries. And to experience Sunny’s comforting chai with tea leaves and spices sourced from Kerala, check out her blends and concentrates at The Chai Box.

Where to Find Punjabi Food and Stellar Chai in Texas, Oklahoma, and Beyond

Punjabi Dhaba
9696 I-40 Frontage Rd., Panhandle, Texas

Indian Dhaba in 82 Travel Center
5101 US-82, Gainesville, Texas

Punjabi Dhaba
4566 US-287, Alvord, Texas

Desi Dhaba
4636 TX-114, Rhome, Texas

Desi Dhaba
45785 I-10, Winnie, Texas

Vega Travel Center
3650 I-40, Vega, Texas

Punjabi Restaurant in Stuckey’s
11249 OK-56, Okemah, Oklahoma

Punjabi Food Express
Truck stop food truck
12200 Holland St, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Gill’s Parontha Express (food truck)
317 S Morgan Rd, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Punjabi Restaurant located in I-40 Travel Plaza
11561 N 1900 Rd, Sayre, Oklahoma

Preet Dhaba
Located in Conoco - Pendleton Truck Stop
10874 OK-44, Foss, Oklahoma

Tour of India next to Morrilton Gas
1504 N. Oak St., Morrilton, Arkansas

Swaad Stop in Hopi Travel Plaza
1852 N 77, Holbrook, Arizona