It’s easy to find great food in a big city where numerous articles have been written about the hottest new restaurants. However, when on a road trip it can be difficult to know what restaurant has good food, especially when you’re in a small town and Trip Advisor claims the best breakfast is at Perkins. I’m not saying that Perkins doesn’t make a decent breakfast, but if you’re like me, a run-of-the-mill chain restaurant won’t suffice when you’re visiting a new place.
Full Parking Lot = Good Food
We took a lot of road trips when I was a kid and in fact, it’s the only kind of vacation we took. I grew up before the Internet and my dad always used to look for the restaurant with the most cars in the parking lot. He believed these establishments would be the best places to eat. This is actually a good rule of thumb and my first piece of advice, however, before looking for a full parking lot, I would recommend getting off the main road, especially the freeway, to find the heart of the town.
Many time, those freeway restaurants are busy because they are convenient, not because they are good.
Longevity is Key
One key item I look for in a restaurant on the road is longevity; places like the Mountain High Pies in Leadville, Colorado or Coney Island Lunchroom in Grand Island, Nebraska. In states like Nebraska, it’s easy to find restaurants that have been around for more than a few years, like the Lincoln Highway Diner in North Platte. By the way, Coney Island Lunchroom has been serving up dogs for 85 years and is still in the same family.
Ask Lots of Locals
The latest and greatest isn’t always the best but sometimes they are. Find out by asking locals. We always talk to lots of locals when we travel. We talk to shop owners, gas station attendants, hotel front desk clerks and perfect strangers we run into at places like the local watering hole. Bartenders are often a wealth of knowledge on every topic including food.
Asking other travelers can be useful too. If they’ve had an excellent meal or experience they will want to tell you about it. In fact, we discovered an out-of-the-way cenote in Mexico by talking to other tourists at a beach bar in Tulum.
RELATED: Become an Advocate for Your Town
In places like Vail, I engage with locals because they know all the best spots that aren’t listed in the popular blogs. For instance, on our last visit to Vail, we discovered that Altitude Bar & Grill was the place to watch a football game and enjoy drinks that wouldn’t break the bank. I got this info from locals riding the free Vail bus with us. If we hadn’t listened to them we may have ended up at a trendy, $10/craft beer restaurant with one television. Instead, we ended up at Altitude with football on tons of televisions and one of the nicest bartenders I’ve met in Vail.
Ask Friends Before You Go
You might be surprised to find out that your Facebook friends hail from the place you’re going, so be sure to put up a question on Facebook or Twitter about best places to eat during your next road trip.
I was blown away by the number of my Facebook friends who had connections to Nebraska, the destination of our most recent road trip. In fact, because of their comments on a question I posed, we ate fast food. We don’t normally eat fast food but made an exception for Runza because apparently, it is so very Nebraskan that we had to eat a meal here.
Sometimes the Internet is Right
I assume that you are on the Internet right now because you are reading HeidiTown.com. I find that TripAdvisor.com, although it is crowd-sourced information, is frequently right when it comes to their Best Restaurant lists. While on our road trip to Arizona this Christmas, via New Mexico, we used TripAdvisor.com a lot and I can report that we ate fantastic food on this trip.
Please be aware that some Internet articles are far from genuine. Sadly, “writers” sometimes regurgitate what they find elsewhere meaning that the same restaurants are listed as the “best this or that” time and time again. If I tell you a restaurant is good it’s because I actually ate there and it’s not because I read about it on someone else’s blog.
Don’t Get Stuck
We drive Highway 285 in Colorado a lot. For a long time, Villa Grove Trade in Villa Grove was our scrumptious lunch rut but we’ve recently started going to 4th Street Diner in nearby Saguache. We wanted to mix things up and are truly glad that we have.
I love exploring local cuisine, whether it’s green chile in New Mexico or a steak in Nebraska, going with the local specialty is my last but perhaps most important tip. When in Rome do as the Romans do. Not only does this make your trip more interesting but it will also make it more delicious.