The average American truck stop doesn’t have much to recommend it.
Pumps that aren’t desolately empty are probably miserably crowded. Bleary-eyed drivers stumble into restrooms of questionable sanitation. Fluorescent lights flicker on cracked, stained concrete.
And then there’s the food. Such astoundingly terrible food. Soggy chicken tenders that, if lucky, have at some point seen a heat lamp. Limp Pop Tarts. Saccharine energy drinks. Sandwiches pre-made in prehistoric times.
But truck stops don’t have to be synonymous with boring, inedible grub. Here are some of the best roadside alternatives:
755 W. Iowa 80 Road., Walcott, Iowa, 52773
The big granddaddy of truck stops, this palatial, 100,000-square-foot complex off the I-80 has everything a discerning motorist might want – 24 private showers, a barber shop, a dentist’s office, a 60-seat movie theater, a trucker museum, a dog wash and even a chiropractor. And to feed the masses at this so-called Trucker Disneyland, there’s the 300-seat Iowa 80 Restaurant. It’s open 24 hours a day and is known for a salad bar with 50 feet of food, a buffet and hearty American fare. The meatloaf, pork chops and fried chicken are especially popular with the roughly 750 guests who visit each day.
21 Romines Dr., Morris, Ill., 60450
The pièce de résistance at this 24-hour eatery is the 4-pound Premium Ethyl Burger, a concoction roughly the size of a man’s head. Consume the beast within an hour—without help or leaving the table—and it’s on the (marionette-decorated) house. The proprietors of R Place like to joke that out of every 10 people who attempt the burger—which, by the way, is named after gasoline—one survives. One man once polished it off within seven minutes. On average, the restaurant serves three of the burgers a day. But even beyond the Ethyl, the food here—made-from-scratch strawberry puff pillows, pecan rolls, pies and more—is so highly regarded that R Place offers catering services.
530 Coldbrook Rd., Bangor, Maine, 04401
Bangor is home to both horror novelist Stephen King and the frightfully tasty comfort food at Dysart’s. The Maine establishment is known for its massive portions of scallops and fried clams, often made using the same recipes from when the stop first opened off the I-95 in 1967. The bakery, which features a 1928 Ford pickup truck, produces a popular blueberry pie (for which the state is generally known). Reviewers—many of them locals—give the restaurant four stars out of five on Yelp and rank it second of 176 restaurants in Bangor.
2842 SE Frontage Road, Johnstown, Colo., 80534
Johnson’s has foodie approval, being regularly named to top 10 lists by the likes of Travel & Leisure and the Food Network. Roll in off the I-25 for some massive 24-hour cinnamon rolls. The joint, which opened in 1952, has a cameo in the 1996 Bill Murray and Matthew McConaughey comedy “Larger than Life.” It also has a healthy catering business. Between the 200 cinnamon rolls sold daily at Johnson’s and those distributed to Walgreens, 7-Eleven and other locations, the business dispatches some 200,000 annually.
1304 E Century Ave., Bismarck, N.D., 58503
Enjoy some hickory and apple ribs, stuffed baked potatoes, fire-roasted pizza and whiskey bourbon chicken under a ceiling featuring paintings of outer space and “Earthlings Welcome” signs. Alien statues and arcade games are scattered around the dining room at this wacky stop off the I-94.
12411 S Hwy 33, Santa Nella, Calif., 95322
Anton Andersen, the Danish founder of Pea Soup Andersen’s and a veteran of the European and New York fine-dining scenes, started serving up American fare at the original restaurant near Santa Barbara on Friday, June 13, 1924. He and his wife Juliette were among the first to use an electric stove. The Santa Nella location has the added benefit of being located near a hotel, gas stations and a gift shop. The restaurant, located inside an old Dutch church with a 77-foot windmill, is known for its split pea soup. Feeling crazy? Get it inside a bread bowl. Other options include hot onion rolls, fried chicken and goodies from the bakery.
2800 W. Frontage Road, Kenosha, Wis., 53144
Although it doesn’t have fuel pumps and other standard characteristics of truck stops, its specular array of cheeses and charcuterie warranted it an inclusion on this list The turrets of this regal dairy emporium first rose in 1947 and since then have protected the hordes of cheese, cured meats and wine within. Aisles abound with cheese varieties like the craft beer brands at BevMo. The bakery has Danish Kringles and Kolacky fruit pastries. Other specialties include smoked string cheese, apple pie with cheese, and fried Wisconsin cheese curds. Luminaries such as John F. Kennedy, Johnny Cash and Joe Biden have dropped by.