As two restaurant veterans, it was impossible to plan a trip across the United States without getting excited about all the incredible food we were going to get eat. You can’t make that kind of journey on an empty stomach, and we were going to make sure we topped off at every stop we could. While there were some dull spots with plenty of fast food (although J’s first In-N-Out Burger experience was wonderful), and lots of home-cooked meals over the campfire, this country has some exceptional culinary talent, and by the end of the road, we had managed to sample a lot of it in a lot of places.
We’re not experts on regional cuisine by any stretch, but each part of the country we toured has a place in our hearts and stomachs. From humble, no-frills sandwich shops, to ramen hot spots, we tackled a lot of truly amazing food. Here’s a list of all the memorable places we ate along the 6,000-mile odyssey. We don’t aim to waste your time with grammatically questionable negativity; we’ll leave that to the “Elite” Yelper, that paragon of oxymorons. These spots all have the Two by Tour seal of approval. We hope this list encourages you to take your own trip, try something new, or just support hard-working businesses that are doing everything right.
Without further ado, here’s the best and brightest of our trans-American travels:
Bearden’s Steak Burgers
19985 Lake Rd, Rocky River, OH 44116
J has been coming to this restaurant since before he was born. It’s a Cleveland institution, and home to one of the most honest and satisfying 50s style smash burgers ever. Be prepared for a coma.
Jib Jab Hot Dog Shoppe
313 S State St, Girard, OH 44420
This humble hotdog shop dishes out quick service, amazing fries and a hot dog oozing cheddar sauce that tastes way better than it sounds or looks.
809 1st St, Huntington, WV 25701
The classic sugar-flaked ham sandwich may not look like much, but its simple presentation and ingredients belie a flavor symphony coming from this quiet corner of Appalachia. Well worth the detour.
The Silver Dollar
1761 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206
This unpretentious and hospitable institution hits all the marks without being fussy. Home to the best burger we’ve had to date and a massive fried fish sandwich that Y refused to quit on. Extra credit for a fantastic beer and cocktail list and some solid bonus points for pickled sausages.
Morris’ Deli Liquors & Catering
2228 Taylorsville Rd, Louisville, Kentucky
Classic counter service in an unassuming liquor store/mini-mart with heavenly BBQ and delightfully snarky staff. It’s a great place to build a foundation for a solid bar crawl or just have lunch.
938 Baxter Ave, Louisville, KY 40204 (multiple locations)
Taco joints are a dime a dozen, but those that truly stand out stick in your memory for a reason. Despite being a fairly no-frills, counter service affair, they don’t skip a beat when it comes to the food. Everything is fresh, but the sweet potato fries with mole, queso, and cilantro are addictive.
643 W Main St, Louisville, KY 40202
Expect the line to be out the door at this counter service downtown institution, but don’t worry, it moves quickly. Though only open for lunch, the blue plate specials and sandwich combos keep people coming back. There’s a reason why the owner (the man charmingly taking orders) knows everyone coming through.
Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
5209 Charlotte Pike, Nashville, TN 37209 (multiple locations)
When J dies, he wants to come back as a chicken that gets made into hot chicken so he can make someone else as happy as he was at Hattie B’s. Chicken is the star, but the sides, especially the cornbread, punch above their weight.
Arnold’s Country Kitchen
605 8th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37203
Classic combo tray style “meat and three” with sides that are out of this world. Be warned, as they rotate. We were lucky and hit on fried green tomato day. The pecan pie here is the best we’ve ever had.
Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint
410 4th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37201 (multiple locations)
A solid high volume spot in downtown with distinctly cheery service and massive amounts of smoked protein. The beer list allows for extensive pairing options. We’re still mourning that last few bites we couldn’t quite manage.
908 Main St, Nashville, TN 37206 (multiple locations)
Tacos, positively bursting with a series of miraculous, progressively more perfect bites. The classic BBQ is no slouch either, and the banana pudding is worth writing home about.
Aldo’s Pizza Pies
752 Cooper St, Memphis, TN 38104 (multiple locations)
A very solid pizza joint with a cozy rooftop deck. It hits the spot in value, taste, and proximity to other cool activities in the neighborhood.
Lew’s Blue Note Bar & Grill
341 Beale St, Memphis, TN 38103
This place won’t be for everyone, but if you love bars completely lacking in pretension, cheap prices, and absolutely solid bar food, you would do well to pass through here.
Superior Bathhouse Brewery
329 Central Ave, Hot Springs, AR 71901
A singular brewery, housed in the historic Superior Bathhouse, making some truly original beers. The brews, made using the town’s signature spring water, are backed up by solid light fare that kept us there for several rounds.
1209 Malvern Ave, Hot Springs, AR 71901
Home of the best lengua tacos we’ve ever had. The aesthetics are pure fun, and on a trip with a lot of Mexican cuisine on it, this still stands out.
336 Central Ave, Hot Springs National Park, AR 71901
Intricate woodcarvings adorn the historic back bar. The gorgeous setting was amplified by an especially attentive bartender who was as enthusiastic about the patty melt as we were.
103 N Madison, Mt Pleasant, TX 75455
Airy, modern, subway tiled interior with a wood-fired pizza oven. Pizza, at least in some parts of Texas, means brisket. We had no idea what we had been missing.
4801 Burnet Rd, Austin, Texas 78756 (multiple locations)
It’s easy to poke fun at vegans, gluten allergies and the like, but if you forget this restaurant catered to any of that, it would still be an incredible restaurant. The coffee game is strong as well, and we highly recommend showing yourself a little extra love with some butter in your cup.
Luke’s In & Out + Gibson Street Bar
1109 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704
We feel very strongly about sandwiches, and this food truck probably delivered the strongest sandwich game of the entire trip. They’ll run their unusual mash-ups over to you at Gibson so you can enjoy them while hanging out on the fake grass patio with some tasty beers – and now we’re missing Austin all over again.
1234 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704 (multiple locations)
We both love Micheladas, but our minds were blown by the Kimchiladas with togarashi-salted rims. Then the ramen came and you could totally hear an angelic choir slurping in unison.
4200 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78756
Uchiko was the biggest expense we allowed ourselves, and it was well worth the splurge. The staff rolled out the carpet for us, and we sampled almost everything on the menu. Hands down one of the best restaurants we’ve been to in 2017 or any year.
The Esquire Tavern
155 E Commerce St, San Antonio, TX 78205
This is J’s favorite bar in the country. Everything they do is amazing, but it remains an incredibly approachable place to just grab a sandwich and a snack or tear through their massive mezcal list.
Radius Building, 106 Auditorium Cir, San Antonio, TX 78205
This organic, mostly vegetarian restaurant felt like a soothing respite after some serious overindulgence. The serene atmosphere is the perfect backdrop for quinoa pizza, vegan tamales, and unlimited fresh-brewed tea.
Chef Toddzilla’s Gourmet Burgers & Mobile Cuisine
107 Twin Diamond Rd, Roswell, NM 88201
When you’re done investigating conspiracy theories and probing for, uh, probes, do yourself a favor and go to this brick and mortar outpost from the former food truck. Chef Toddzilla’s burgers are as epic as the name suggests and a celebration of all that is right with American cuisine.
1820 Cerrillos Rd, Santa Fe, NM 87505
The Pantry is one of those places where you begin to worry you’ve ordered wrong as you watch each dish being delivered. Don’t worry, it’s impossible. Diner staples get regional upgrades, and though the portions are immense, you’ll finish it all.
119 E Main St, Farmington, NM 87401
This place looks like it’s out of a film, and its walls have the autographed movie posters to prove it. When not serving as the muse for the classic greasy spoon, this place serves up some nostalgia-worthy toast. Well worth starting your day here if you’re in the neighborhood.
Lotsa Pasta & That’za Pizza
1020 S Broadway, Cortez, CO 81321
Even as we had locked ourselves into eating at this red-sauce Italian joint, we were laughing at its ridiculous name. Then we stepped onto a back patio with sweeping mountain views. Craft beer and solid food (we sampled both specialties) were a pleasant surprise, and we’re willing to concede the only thing cheesy was the pizza.
Hell’s Backbone Grill
20 UT-12, Boulder, UT 84716
Farm-to-table restaurants are increasingly par for the course in the world of casual fine dining, but it’s rare you find a restaurant that actually operates their own farm. This James Beard nominee has earned every bit of praise they get.
Houston’s Trail’s End Restaurant
32 E Center St, Kanab, UT 84741
Kanab is the last major city before the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. If you’re looking to fill up before heading into the park, this Western-themed restaurant serves classic comfort food, including one incredible razzleberry pie a la mode.
Sanderson’s Into the Grand
148 6th Ave, Page, AZ 86040
This restaurant, set in a converted warehouse, boasts exhibits on the region’s rafting history, cheap drinks, live music, and some killer food, complete with fry bread. The dinner and a show genre is significantly elevated by the main event, a series of stirring, Native American dance performances. Hoss Sanderson runs the place with an obvious appreciation for the culture and can belt out quite the tune in his own right.
Park on Fremont
506 Fremont St, Downtown, NV 89101
This twee spot’s Tokyo tater tots and craft beer list hit all the right notes. Fantastical taxidermy creatures and raunchy oil paintings play into Vegas’s fun vibe, but the enclosed back patio shielded us from the neon white noise, wandering tourists, and strung-out gambling addicts roaming the streets, for an unexpectedly relaxing meal.
616 Carson Ave #120, Downtown, NV 89101(multiple locations)
Carnivorous detractors often ascribe vegan restaurants with a reputation for serving limp, muted dishes. This underdog status does nothing to stop Vegenation from using finesse with global spice blends, layered flavors, and silky textures to punch far above its weight class.
Peppermill Las Vegas and Fireside Lounge
616 Carson Ave #120, Downtown, NV 89101
This 24-hour spot on the Strip is certainly unique. Still serving many of the classics from its original 1972 menu (in 1972 portions), it’s an odd, but intoxicating diner, cocktail lounge, nightclub hybrid that could only be had in Vegas.
508 Fremont St, Downtown, NV 89101
This Evel Knievel-themed dive bar pizza shop is exactly the type of place we want to hang out in. It’s places like this, with its kitschy memorabilia, cheap craft beer, and crazy good pizza that help give Vegas a soulful counterpoint to all the spectacle. May the pizza gods smile upon their fortunes.
707 E Carson Ave, Downtown, NV 89101
This warm, neighborly establishment uses only the best ingredients and it shows. Thick, crusty bread, slab bacon, tart tomatoes and some unreal fried deviled eggs all take the comfort-food you grew up with up a couple notches.
Monta Noodle House
5030 Spring Mountain Rd #6, Las Vegas, NV 89146
Just blocks from The Strip is a sizeable Chinatown neighborhood few tourists seek out. However, locals know to look for this unassuming storefront hidden away in a strip mall. This tiny spot may look humble, but unsurprisingly served some of the richest ramen we had on the trip.
Joshua Tree Saloon
61835 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
This awesome spot is Applebee’s for the biker set. Beer is served in vessels the size of a toddler, and pairs beautifully with the top-notch burgers. Bonus points for the sometimes creepy memorabilia hanging on the walls and rafters.
Chiquita’s Mexican Restaurant
4110 Home Ave, San Diego, CA 92105
It’s easy to see why this family-run spot has been around for five decades. The food was fantastic, the drinks delicious, and at prices that could have been off the original menu.
Turf Supper Club
1116 25th St, San Diego, CA 92102
J doesn’t want to spoil the surprise that is Turf, but if you enjoy your protein grilled and your martinis shaken and filthy, this racehorse-adorned bar is your Mecca.
Cotija’s Mexican Grill
1092 Garnet Ave, San Diego, CA 92109 (multiple locations)
San Diego’s reputation for Mexican cuisine is rightly deserved, and though it’s a local chain, the eats at this humble taco counter are beyond reproach. Y is incapable of passing up a breakfast burrito, so she insisted on going back a second time to try more of the menu. Despite being the only place we visited twice, we were too engrossed in the food to manage to get a picture.
3000 Upas St, San Diego, CA 92104 (multiple locations)
Any place that has Star Wars themed draught pulls is alright in our book, but with bowls named “Belly of the Beast,” you know the ramen was on point. The huge, mostly outdoor space is something uniquely San Diego, and the excellent kimchi and buns left us full and comforted, ready to brave our next adventure on a new continent.
…And we’re still hungry.
Just going back through this amazing list makes us hungry and wistful, and we can’t wait to do this again next year. We hope you’ll check some of these places out on your own adventure, or show them some love if you’re lucky enough to live nearby.
Thanks for reading, and if there are any glaring omissions, let us know what’s up. We’re always eager for an excuse to further broaden our belts.