Travel

To Find the I-70 Diner, Look for the Pink Cadillac in the Sky

Pull over for retro vibes and famous chili. Of course, there will be pie.

i-70 diner
Photo: Anna Archibald; Illustration: Emily Carpenter
Ready to take the “distance” part of “social distancing” to the next level? Check out our Best American Summer Road Trip Ideas for a look at the wildest and weirdest pit stops across the country. 

It is almost impossible to miss. Take exit 395 and you’ll spot the shiny chrome exterior glinting in the Colorado sun, crowned with an oversized circular sign that beckons hungry travelers in pink neon. 

And if for some reason it does slip your radar, the baby pink Cadillac, slowly spinning atop a 30-foot checkered pole at the edge of the parking lot, will surely do the trick.

“It's an oasis on the plains,” says Tom Bredehoft, who owns I-70 Diner. It’s the only restaurant of its kind in Flagler, Colorado, a town of 600, of which Bredehoft happens to be the mayor. (He also splits his time running two local newspapers.)

pink caddy
Pink Cadillac marks the spot! | Anna Archibald

In 2007, Bredehoft decided to replace a dilapidated Dairy Queen sitting vacant just off Interstate 70. That’s when a listing for a prefab Starlite diner in Fargo, North Dakota, caught Tom’s eye. 

Over 50 years old, this particular structure had a past life as Kroll’s Diner, a German-insired chain from the ‘60s that’s still operating today in North Dakota. Bredehoft put in an offer, flew out to see it, and made plans to ship it, in six pieces, to eastern Colorado.

“We had two cranes and stuck it all together [in one day],” says Bredehoft, adding that the process stirred up plenty of anticipation -- and skepticism -- in town. “Then, it took us almost two months to get everything organized.”

Thirteen years later, I-70 Diner has become a town fixture and a draw in the area. It’s the ideal rest stop for westward travelers pushing on to Denver, Boulder, or Colorado Springs, a little over two hours away.

i-70 diner
The retro theme of the diner is a sight to see, but the real star is the chili | Anna Archibald

In the grand tradition of greasy spoons, the menu is extensive, featuring classics like grilled cheese, burgers, chicken fried steak, coffee, and of course, pie. But it's the chili -- served solo or heaped atop a hot dog or omelette -- that’s won the hearts of locals. 

“I'm not a restaurant guy, I'm a newspaper guy,” says Bredehoft. “I got [chef] Richard Kacir when we opened, and his main billings were soups and chilies. That was kind of his big deal.” 

After Kacir’s death in 2015, the reins were handed over to chef Miguel Garcia, who gave the menu a slight refresh to include more Mexican-inspired dishes. But the chilis are a mainstay (don’t sleep on Garcia’s chorizo chili), and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch the Rocky Mountain oyster special.

green signs outside i-70 diner
You'll never get lost trying to find this diner | Anna Archibald

The atmosphere doesn’t disappoint, either. The floors are checked black and white, the booths are cherry red vinyl, and the walls are lined with vintage ads and road signs for famous US thoroughfares, like Beale Street and the diner’s namesake I-70.

“Ninety-five percent of it was original, but some of the things on the wall were water damaged, so I had to replace it and put different stuff up,” explains Bredehoft. 
 
Framed records like the Mamas & the Papas single “California Dreamin,’” hang alongside signed plates from touring bands that make pit stops here. Every so often former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper will call ahead and stop in to pick up a whole blueberry pie. As a response to Covid-19, Bredehoft recently added outdoor patio seating.

As for the pink Cadillac? Bredehoft put it up on a lark when the diner first opened. Though roadtrippers are more likely to spot the rotating Caddy, there’s also a second one stationed half a mile outside of town.

“I think the Cadillacs help an awful lot,” says Bredehoft. “The number one thing a lot of the people that come in here say is, ‘we've always driven by here,’ so then they finally stop and are like ‘OK, this is a good place.’”

Anna Archibald is a Thrillist contributor, whose food, drink and travel writing also appears regularly at The Daily Beast, Wine Enthusiast and Distiller, among others.