Restaurants and Road Trips: Learning to Settle

Categories: Top Five

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usadifranci
The road is hard.
On a recent road trip to Chicago, my girlfriend and I wound up eating far more Wendy's than normal people should. Driving through small towns and with options limited, sometimes fast food is the preferable option to the local truck stop with all the windowless vans parked out back.

I rarely eat fast food. If you didn't know, it's really, really bad for you.

But it's quick and cheap, and when you are trying to just get the hell out of dodge and back on the road, it certainly does have a place in a pinch. However, if you get really lucky, you get a small town whose chamber of commerce is making a push to be the big boy off the freeway. Sometimes it's a Cheddar's, sometimes it's a Chili's. Sometimes it's maybe even an Outback Steakhouse, if you're lucky.

We've all done it, and we will inevitably all do it again when hungry, tired and so compacted with french fries and ketchup that any place serving a salad looks like manna from heaven. There is a sliding scale of quality when it comes to national chain restaurants, but sometimes we all have to settle.

Here are a few spots to hit when on a road trip.

Settling isn't so bad, really.

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5. Golden Corral

Okay, so first off:

If their TV ads are accurate, then that means they have a cotton candy machine AND chocolate fondue fountain in every Golden Corral. I don't know about you, but watching a bunch of toothy townies become awestruck at candy floss and flowing chocolate sounds pretty awesome.

There's a little something for everybody. In my case, it's a salad bar. My road trip rule of thumb is to consume as much fiber as possible, whenever possible.

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4. T.G.I. Fridays

Because in there, it's always Friday.

No, I'm kidding. There's no real good reason why Friday's is on the list other than the fact that, according to a buddy of mine who was briefly employed by the city of Pittsburg, Texas, population 4,497, small-town Friday's are apparently where the night life is. So if you are looking for a little local flavor, Friday's is the place to go get some strange. Wink.

They have a full bar and are almost always located next to a Super 8 or some equivalent rat trap. I always imagine such seedy, shady hotels look like the bar in From Dusk Till Dawn when seen from the back, with a huge portal to hell lined with the cars of former patrons who've been taken.

Also, Guy Fieri has signature items on the Friday's menu. Winner winner chicken dinner. Or whatever.

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3. Red Lobster

Landlocked? Right on the water? Doesn't matter. Same old shit at every Red Lobster in the world. Same tiny little frozen shrimp in the same garlic butter at whatever hell hole middle-of-nowhere town you might be passing through.

Also: Cheddar Bay Biscuits.

Seriously, the Red Lobster is by no means a great place to eat. You will, however, know exactly what to expect. The bar is set, and you will at least not be too disappointed when you are ultimately disappointed.

And you can get a Lobster-rita. That's one part lobster to three parts rita. They are delicious.

Location Info

Outback Steakhouse

10001 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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Rindy Sherman
Rindy Sherman

Jan and Michael Stern and RoadFood.  Take their suggestions with a grain of salt (and lots of fat) and you can have a good meal on the road.  They love Texas and the deep South.  

'stina
'stina

I'm a big fan at stopping at greasy spoons where there are lots of trucks parked outside. Obviously, this can be hit or miss.  But there's an awesome spot in Las Vegas, New Mexico that I almost always try to stop in right off 104 and 25. And a Mexican restaurant in Childress that I shudder every time I pass.  Oh, and the Golden Wok in Decatur used to be good*.  No longer.   And Los Patrones in Giddings was so good that I got them to cater my wedding.   *for north Texas Chinese.  

Cheflambo
Cheflambo

Buffalo Creek BBQ in Cleburne

Wyatt
Wyatt

 You gotta do it right! Turkey on whole grain ain't that bad. Better than drive-thru fare.

Caroline
Caroline

I never thought I'd say this, but visiting an Olive Garden on a road trip w/ a 3-yr-old made me re-evaluate it much more positively. After a long day on the road, the food was reliably good (and yes, the salad & breadsticks are a part of that), the wine was decent, and the service was prompt, but more importantly, they enraptured my kiddo w/ her own menu of very reasonably priced and healthy options. Add in the crayons, the twinkly lights, and the music, and she wouldn't stop gushing over how nice the restaurant was. Way better than a Wendy's at the end of the day! (That being said, the Yelp and Urbanspoon apps are often very useful on roadtrips!)

Chelambo
Chelambo

A few weeks ago, driving from Dallas to Glen Rose, I let my GPS show me the nearest BBQ place - it was excellent (even by Robb Walsh-esque standards) and they had the best pecan pie I have ever tasted in Texas.  Yes, really. 

Wyatt
Wyatt

Subway tastes like cardboard but it won't necessarily clog your arteries and it's ubiquitous 

Houstess
Houstess

Oh, yes, yes it will.  Salted preserved meats or a 600 claorie 37 fat gram tuna salad on their fancy bread, size smallest?   Subway is sooooo wrongly thought of as "healthy",  thank you Jared.

Hank on Food
Hank on Food

For chains theses are all pretty good choices.  I give Olive Garden credit for trying to upgrade their menu (I had a grilled Tuscan Chicken and steak over grilled veggies there that was pretty good).  I'll stop at a Buccee's, but not at a seedy truck stop.  I'll stop at a town diner or BBQ place or DQ, but not at a rat-trap-fleabag greasy spoon.  But that's just me.  

Hank on Food
Hank on Food

You it that right on the head my friend!  Internet search for good local fare PRIOR to making the road trip will lead you to the winner winner chicken dinner!!!  

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

Coming across an old diner or cafe in small towns can be very rewarding.  Maybe a little research in advance will help avoid the Mickey D's from sea to shining sea.   I learned of a diner in Junction called Isaack's from a friend who said they make the best burger in Texas.  Now we plan to stop there rather than be at the mercy of the Hamburgler in Fort Stockton when meandering around west Texas.  At the risk of being hit with virtual rotten tomatoes, Guy Fieri's 3D site is a good resource for out of state options.  See also, Texas Monthly's Top 40 Small Town Cafes in Texas.

Mike N.
Mike N.

I'll tell you why. I recently ate at a Cracker Barrel for the first time in my life, on a road trip to Florida no less. Everything served there seemed limp, lifeless, and a depressing shade of gray. The breakfast I ate at Cracker Barrel was a distinct notch below the standard set by Denny's/IHOP (where, at IHOP, you can at least get the egg log a/k/a the Country Omelette). The suggestions in the article are all superior.

Matthew
Matthew

how can this list not include cracker barrel? breakfast the whole day? vegetables? apple butter? come on now!

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