Traveling Route 66 is the classic American Road Trip. There’s big-city dining at both ends, with Chicago and Los Angeles catering to the sophisticated palate. On the journey between, you’ll find regional favorites, must-try family-run diners, and of course pie – all-American apple, chocolate, and cherry to name a few. In any case, you’ll get your foodie kicks at these restaurants on Route 66.
11 Best Restaurants Along Route 66
Start your Road Trip of where to eat along Route 66 in Chicago since you’ll want to spend time exploring this foodie paradise. Here are two restaurants, both with a goat in their name, at different ends of the dining spectrum.
430 North Michigan Avenue at the Lower Level, Chicago, Illinois // +1-312-222-1525
Even though Chicago features Chicago-style pizza and hot dogs it seems more appropriate to kick off the all-American road trip with an all-American cheeseburger.
While the menu is basic here, the food is famous, and there’s a lot of fun around this restaurant. In 1934, William “Billy Goat” Sianis bought the Lincoln Tavern. It was across from the then Chicago Stadium, so their customers were mainly Chicago sports fans. William Sianis morphed into “Billy Goat” when a goat fell from a passing truck and strolled into the Tavern. Sianis adopted the lost animal, grew a goatee, and changed the name from Lincoln Tavern to Billie Goat Tavern.
The Billie Goat Tavern inspired Chicago Natives, John Belushi, and Bill Murray to write the Saturday Night Live sketch Cheezburger. Like the Olympia Café in the sketch, the menu at Billie Goat Tavern is limited. They have chips, no fries, and an extra slice of cheese as their sides.
This Route 66 Restaurant is known for its basic cheeseburgers. The meat comes on a Kaiser roll made for the Billie Goat Tavern. According to Julia Child, it’s these toasted buns that make the burger. The burgers come topped with catsup, sliced raw white onions, and Kosher dill pickle chips made exclusively for the Billie Goat Tavern. But you won’t find lettuce and tomato on top. The Billie Goat ate them all.
These Route 66 burgers are made from fresh, 100 percent beef which is all-natural and never frozen. The burgers are thin so that they can be seared quickly on a flat-top grill. Four burger sizes reflect how many patties you’ll find stacked on the bun. A single patty is for kid’s size, two equal a quarter-pound burger, the triple, or the home run where you’ll have a half a pound burger. Add cheese, and there you have it, the cheeseburger.
If you aren’t in the mood for a cheeseburger, there are several combinations of egg and other hot sandwiches, for example, a ham and cheese sandwich.
Their breakfast plates include a choice of ham, bacon, or steak and eggs.
Pro Tip: This is the original location; however, check their website for others. Pre-order online and skip the line.
809 W Randolph Street, Chicago, Illinois // +1- 312-492-6262
For more upscale Chicago dining, try Girl & the Goat Tavern. Chef Stephanie Izard won Bravo’s Top Chef and was also named the fan-favorite. In 2013, Izard won the James Beard award for the Best Chef in the Great Lakes. In 2011, the James Beard Foundation nominated Girl & the Goat Best New Restaurant.
As reflected in the name, the menu thoroughly represents goat. You’ll find goat liver mousse, goat satay, and confit goat belly. The goat empanadas are my favorite. A grilled pineapple-blueberry Pico accompanies the dish, along with roasted poblano crema and queso fresco.
This Rt 66 Restaurant has an upscale contemporary vibe with exposed brick and ceiling pipes. Hardwood floors and clear-glass railing walls add to the modern atmosphere. While they have standard table seating, you’ll also find bar seating, a comfortable lounge, and four seats close to the kitchen line. Warning: If you sit there you might be asked to pitch in.
Pro Tip: Goat legs are available through a phone pre-order. You must call the restaurant as they don’t take these orders online.
645 Joliet Road (Route 66), Willowbrook, Illinois // +1-630-325-0780
Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket, a landmark since 1946, is the place to get your chicks on Route 66. They serve lunch and dinner and is the perfect stopping point going into or out of Chicago.
Although they make 2,000 pounds of their famous fried chicken weekly, I found their all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, which includes a salad bar, to be a great value.
Their chicken is cage-free, non-GMO, and hormone and antibiotic-free. The birds are never frozen. Dell Rhea’s marinates the chicken for 24 hours, then hands bread and cooks to order. The soup and salad bar, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and homemade biscuits accompany the fried chicken dinner.
Their creamy macaroni and cheese is all-American comfort food. Since Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives’ fame visited Dell Rhea’s, you can find their recipe for the Colorado River of Cheese and Macaroni on Food Network’s website.
What would a Route 66 diner be without pie? They have a caramel apple walnut pie, personal cherry pie, a fried blueberry pie, or key lime pie. My favorite is the cherry pie with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. It’s big enough to share, but why would you?
Pro Tip: If you are ordering their world-famous fried chicken, allow 30 minutes from the time you order until the time it reaches your table.
920 North Broadway Street (Route 66), Joliet, Illinois // +1-815-740-2899
While not a restaurant per se, it’s the perfect place for a snack before or after exploring the Route 66 Visitor Center. It’s another all-American experience with the various soft-serve concoctions.
Pro Tip: They don’t take credit cards.
6525 Delmar Boulevard, Saint Louis, Missouri // +1-314-727-0200
From a couple of blocks down the street, you can tell that you’ve almost arrived, as that Saint Louis-style barbecue aroma hits hard. Cords of wood piled up outside, wait to be fed into the smoker.
From fries to pies, everything at Salt + Smoke is house-made from scratch. Four varieties of barbeque sauce, Hotangy, My Sweet Bestie, Mustarolina, and I Can’t Even are on every table.
Salt + Smoke combines two Saint Louis favorites, barbeque, and toasted ravioli to create an appetizer of tasty burnt end toasted ravs.
The prime brisket sandwich is topped with crispy deep-fried tobacco onions served on a brioche bun with a spread of burnt end mayo. To accompany this, I selected the pit beans with bacon and smoked pork, and the cream corn. The creamed corn, unlike some barbeque restaurants, didn’t contain jalapeno, so the flavor was sweet rather than spice.
Route 66 is famous for its pie, and Salt + Smoke has terrific versions. First, there’s the all-American apple pie a la mode. Served in an oval dish to contain the juices, it has both a bottom crust and a perfectly flakey top crust. Vanilla ice cream tops it off.
My personal favorite is the chocolate pie. The creamy dark chocolate custard comes on a brownie-like base with a flakey bottom crust. A dollop of whipped cream decorates the top.
Pro Tip: To avoid the long lines you can order online for pick-up or delivery.
913 East Washington Street, Cuba, Missouri // +1-573-885-6791
Meats are smoked overnight for 12 hours with wild cherry wood. You’ll have a choice of five sauces to complement your barbeque: honey, spicy-sweet, smokey, original, and hot and smokey.
Dennis Meiser is not only a barbeque pitmaster but also a master woodworker, and his restaurant is an impressive display of his work. All the restaurant’s tables and chairs are handmade. Meiser handcrafted the cedar stairway that leads to the balcony. The heavily wooded paneling décor lends warmth to the restaurant — light fixtures fashioned from metal pails and washtubs complete the look.
Like other Rt 66 restaurants, the pie is the dessert to order. At Missouri Hick Bar-B-Q coconut cream and cherry pie are the specialties.
Pro Tip: Enjoy some of the Missouri Hick Bar-B-Q flavors after the trip by taking home some of their bottled sauce.
422 South Main Street, Elk City, Oklahoma // +1-580-225-6865
Located in the historic MKT (Missouri-Kansas-Texas rail line) Train Station dating back to 1910, PrairieFire Grille is an all-American steakhouse. The restaurant has a cozy charm with unique architectural details, such as stained glass, crystal chandeliers, and a tin ceiling with embossed details.
The restaurant is co-owned and operated by a mother-daughter team, mom Mary Kilhoffer and daughter Amy Vickers.
Scratch made from fresh ingredients is at the forefront. Even their salad dressings are house-made.
They offer a 16-ounce bone-in ribeye, an eight-ounce filet, and a New York strip. My favorite is the two six-ounce grilled pork chops. Perfectly cooked with a spicy-sweet apricot chipotle glaze, served on a bed of wild rice. Each of the steaks comes with a salad and a choice of two sides.
Even though this is primarily a meat restaurant, they have several vegetarian and vegan options.
Pro Tip: They advise that some of their dishes are considered spicy, so read the menu carefully and consult your server.
7701 East Interstate 40, Amarillo, Texas // +1-800-657-7177
Famous for its free 72-ounce steak dinner, the Big Texan Steak Ranch is one of the best restaurants along Route 66 with it’s larger-than-life photo opportunities with the Texan, the steer, or the rocking chair.
Seventy two-ounces, that’s four and a half pounds of beef that’s free IF you can eat the entire meal by yourself in one hour.
The 72-ounce steak dinner challenge started shortly after the restaurant opened in 1960 and includes a shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, roll and butter, and of course the 72-ounce steak. If you fail the challenge, the dinner costs $72.
905 Alarid Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico // +1- 505-982-0909
Looking for a green chili fix, La Choza is just the answer. Both their red and green chili is award-winning, gluten-free, and spicy.
Located in the Mercer Ranch’s old adobe headquarters, it has a bright and colorful southwest atmosphere.
The burrito grande is a flour tortilla stuffed with onions and pinto beans, then topped with cheese and smothered with green chili. The burrito comes with posole, lettuce, and tomato. Posole is a pueblo stew with Nixtamal corn, a red chili, pork, garlic, and oregano.
One of my favorites are the fish tacos. The dish comes with two folded flour tortillas filled with sautéed cod, a spicy sauce, avocado, and sliced cabbage. A tropical pico de gallo made with pineapple, tomato, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and lime garnishes the dish. Spanish rice is the side.
2308 East Route 66, Flagstaff, Arizona
While Fat Olives is an Italian kitchen that serves authentic Neapolitan-style Italian dishes, the star of Fat Olives is the wood-fired pizza oven. The open kitchen pays tribute to the handcrafted Italian wood-fired oven.
Fat Olives serves certified authentic Neapolitan thin-crust pizza. Each pizza element is extraordinary.
A crust made from a fine grind Neapolitan Caputo 00 flour results in a moist dough and finally a crispy crust. The dough contains only four ingredients: flour and water, yeast and salt. It proofs for a whole 24 hours.
Fat Olives’ house-made pizza sauce comes from Italian San Marzano tomatoes, which have fewer seeds and more flesh than other types. The taste is less acidic and sweeter.
The mozzarella cheese is hand-made daily resulting in creamy white cheese. There’s none of the “part skim, low moisture” mozzarella on Fat Olives’ pizzas.
The atmosphere is a casual family-friendly vibe. You’ll find a mix of seating options including the enclosed patio.
Pro Tip: Your meal comes out quickly, thanks to their 700-degree pizza oven. It bakes pizza to perfection in 90 seconds.
Santa Monica Pier marks the end of Route 66, and you have the big city of Los Angeles and the surrounding area to explore.
630 Lido Park Drive, Newport Beach, California // +1-949-675-3474
Located on the water in Cannery Village, this is off Route 66, but it’s at the end of the line as you explore the area. We decided to take advantage of the ocean and a charter fishing boat. We’d spent a twelve-hour day deep-sea fishing and wanted to eat our fresh catch.
Initially, the restaurant appeared formal and upscale. Not a place I would expect to cook my catch. I casually mentioned the host that we brought our fresh fish, for fear we had misunderstood the charter-fishing tour guide. He wasn’t surprised at all, as he replied, “Great!” I immediately realized, yes, the Bluewater Grill cooks your fresh catch and serves it to you. No problem!
The lightly beer-battered fish are crispy, yet moist on the inside. Served family-style, our fish came with house-made tartar sauce and lemon halves. We couldn’t decide between a beer-battered version or a grilled one. After choosing the beer-battered recipe, they also grilled a couple of pieces to compare. Both were delicious. Fries and coleslaw came with the fish.
If you haven’t been deep-sea fishing, this is still a restaurant to check out. Pilikia, the Bluewater Grill’s boat, delivers harpooned swordfish daily. The chef purchases other fresh fish directly from fishers. Over 40 varieties of sustainably caught fish appear on their menu annually.
The menu has a wide selection of non-seafood choices for landlubbers. Diners favoring a non-fish option can choose from chicken “under a brick,” baby back ribs, a New York strip, or a cheeseburger.
Which of these Route 66 restaurants do you most want to try? Let me know in the comments section below!
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Travel writer and owner of the blog. My work has been featured on Fodors, Eater.com, International Living, and Great Escape Publishing, among many others. My story? Nearly six years ago, I left my job at an Oklahoma City law firm and embarked on a journey around the world. At the time, I thought I would only be gone for 6 months, but the more I traveled, the longer my bucket list became. Flashpacker describes how I travel. Rather than traveling as the normal world wise backpacker and staying in hostel dorms, I prefer a more comfortable experience, and typically stay in private rooms, take Ubers instead of taxis, and now use a suitcase instead of a backpack. Foodie, on the other hand, describes one of the key reasons why I travel. I love to pick a central “base camp” and then explore the surrounding area, really immersing myself in the culture and interacting with the people, and enjoying and exploring the food of an area is an essential part of this experience.