If I had to choose one activity to do for the rest of my life, finding amazing local foods on American road trips would rank near or at the top of that list. Narrowing this list to only 8 great foods found on USA road trips will be a challenge.
I do not like to have many road trip rules but I did set a couple of parameters for this #Coolinary article:
— Food items are (as far as I know) authentic, homemade, non-chain, and, of course, awesome and memorable.
— Food items are from locations requiring road trips to get to.
For instance, Voodoo Donuts (in Portland, Oregon) is not on this list because it can be easily visited with public transportation and the original Starbucks because it is a chain. Both are very cool places, though. Do not worry, listed below are other donut and pastry shrines well worth the out-of-the-way road trip visit.
Let’s get to it.
1. James Brown’s Famous Flames, Avon Park, Florida (Pulled Pork Sandwich)
On a road trip between Kissimmee, Florida and Ft. Lauderdale, I went down the spine of Central and South Florida. Instead of taking highway 27, I discovered a bunch of smaller roads and found places like Tiger Creek Preserve, Lake Wales Ridge State Forest, and miles of unpaved roads through open citrus groves. My kind of foodie road trip!
After a few hours of exploring, I ended up in Avon Park and stumbled upon a humble trailer with a grand billboard. My expectations were not high, so I ordered a pulled pork sandwich to go. I selected two sides; don’t remember which. Total was around $5. I drove about 15 minutes and found a picnic spot along a lake. I opened the white styrofoam container and was shocked at the large size of the sandwich. Not only was it a huge sandwich but it was the best pulled pork sandwich I have ever had.
Next time I am in the area, James Brown’s (love the name!) will be my destination and I will try more menu items.
Read our guide to fun Scenic Drives in Florida.
2. Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen, Key Largo, Florida (Key Lime Freeze)
Everything is great at Mrs. Mac’s. I mean it. Everything I have ever had there—and everything others in my parties have had—has been delicious and hit the spot. Mrs. Mac’s is a convenient stop on the classic road trip down the Overseas Highway to Key West. It is about 100 miles (2-3 hours driving, plus stops) from Mrs. Mac’s to Key West, so it is a great place to fill up (the bodies!). For food, my McCool Travel tip is to get whatever the daily special is. It will be fresh and delicious. Every meal I have there must be accompanied by a key lime freeze (like a shake/smoothie). What better way to say hello (or goodbye) to the Florida Keys?
Read our guide to Great Key West Tips.
3. Vivolo’s Chowder House, Pacific Grove, California (Clam Chowder in Bread Bowl)
Switching coasts, a perfect way to watch a glorious California sunset is while eating clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Vivolo’s is conveniently located close to Monterey Aquarium. Order your chowdah and bread bowl to go, then drive to Sunset Drive via Ocean View Boulevard—past Lover’s Point and Asilomar. There are usually other sunset watchers but you can also always find a secluded spot for sunset watching. Enjoy!
Read our full guide to fun Monterey California Activities.
4. The Apple House, Linden, Virginia (Apple Butter Cinnamon Donuts)
This is a great stop for Washington, DC visitors heading to Skyline Drive for the day. The Apple House has decent enough BBQ and a kitschy gift shop but the donuts are the reason to stop.
They call them apple butter cinnamon donuts and, so, what else can I do to describe them. The donuts are wonderfully delicious and packs that energy you need for the long hikes on Skyline Drive.
5. The Donut Hole, Lakeway, Texas (doughnuts)
Speaking of doughnuts, the absolute best I have ever had (Yes, including Voodoo) was from The Donut Hole in Lakeway Texas. OK, The Donut Hole has 3 locations (the other 2 are in Austin) but it is an exception to my no chains on road trips rule. You understand, right? This is a good place to fill up on goodies on the way to Hamilton Pool and Texas Hill Country.
I also stopped at a place on highway 71 for soft tacos but there were many food trucks in the area. No mistake though, the donuts remain in my memory as the best I have ever had.
6. The Salt Lick, Driftwood, Texas (BBQ)
Here is a dream road trip day. Get donuts (above), perhaps a soft taco to take the edge off, spend the day at Hamilton Pool and Texas Hill Country, followed by late lunch or early dinner at The Salt Lick.
I suggest their rustic outdoor seating (long tables) on nice days. I also suggest a plate with multiple meat options; you will want to try everything.
7. The Lobster Roll, Amagansett (Montauk), New York (Long Island)
Last summer I had a few free days and I thought “road trip.” But, where to go on my next road trip? Looking at a big map I realized I had never been to Long Island. I decided to drive to the eastern tip. Along the way I had fantastic eclairs in Atlantic City, incredible fish tacos in Grasonville Maryland, authentic Brooklyn pizza, and fresh bagels and black/white cookies (very Seinfeldian). It was suggested that I try a lobster roll on Montauk, where the lobster roll was invented. Um, sold!
So, get this, the place is called “The Lobster Roll” but the only sign says “Lunch.” The menu lists famous people who have visited—including, Woody Allen, Pele, and President Nixon (probably not together). The lobster roll was not the best I have had but it was great to visit its birthplace. Note that many prefer the lobster roll at nearby Duryea’s. Another road trip is necessary to solve the debate.
8. Cherry Hill, Lunenburg, Massachusetts (ice cream)
Ahhhh, after all that food it is dessert time. You know me by now, right? I LOVE ice cream. I have been to countless homemade ice cream stands (but not all!). If I open a shop (or change my name), it will be Scoops McCool. Cherry Hill stands out because it has the single best ice cream I have ever tasted. Not every Cherry Hill flavor has knocked my socks off but chocolate peanut butter cookie dough has. Have a seat and let me ‘splain this.
Cherry Hill is in a big barn surrounded by a gravel parking lot and lots of green field. Look real hard and you will see the cows on the hill to the right. That’s your fresh cream, making every ice cream flavor delish. Cherry Hill’s chocolate ice cream is not just chocolate but milk chocolate (thank you, cows!). Regular cookie dough in vanilla ice cream is good (my wife says Cherry Hill has the best cookie dough) but Cherry Hill does this insane thing where they put peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough in milk chocolate ice cream. Absolutely crazy. Bonus is that the prices are really low and the employees (mostly local teens) love working there.
Also see the McCool Travel article: Great Ice Cream Places in US to Cool Off
Note that these are not the greatest foods; although I claimed #1, #5, and #8 are; so prove me wrong, I triple dog dare you. I would love to hear what your favorite items found on American road trips include. Perhaps I will even create a foodie road trip to visit your suggestions.