Culinary Road Trip: Where to Eat Between NYC and LA

Drive down the northeast corridor and through the South and Southwest for great eats
February 6, 2018
by Sara Ventiera

Driving cross-country is something every food lover should do. And if winter temps are making you strongly consider a trip to LA, take our advice: get in your car. There are any number of routes from the Big Apple to the City of Angels, but if you want to eat well, we suggest traveling down I-95 and across I-40 (part of which runs parallel to old Route 66) to the final stretch of I-10. Sure, you could follow the interstate through Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and St. Louis, all great food towns, but it would be impossible to talk about a U.S. culinary tour without passing through the South at some point. Avoid fast-food and gas station hot dogs by incorporating these restaurants into your journey.

Photo courtesy the Farm and Fisherman

Exit 4: The Farm and Fisherman Tavern + Market, Cherry Hill, NJ

I-95 has some weird splits in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that could have you traveling through the entire Garden State or passing through Philly. If you stay the toll route, a quick detour from I-95 can get you a taste of acclaimed Philly chef Josh Lawler’s inventive farm-to-table fare. This hot Cherry Hill restaurant offers the chef's hyper-local seasonal menu, lively happy hour and market goods that make for ideal road snacks in case you get hungry between dining stops.

1442 Marlton Pike East, Cherry Hill; 856-356-2282

Photo credit Catherine Hennessy

Exit 22: Royal Boucherie, Philadelphia, PA

If you take the westward branch of the highway, check out this new Philly spot by Top Chef winner Nick Elmi (Laurel) and bar owners Stephen Simon and David Frank (Royal Tavern, Royal Izakaya and more). The lively bi-level tavern and French-American brasserie has three bars serving classic cocktails as well as an extensive raw bar, charcuterie snacks and hearty mains.

52 S. 2nd St., Philadelphia; 267-606-6313

Photo courtesy 8th & Union

Exit 7B: 8th & Union Kitchen, Wilmington, DE 

This convivial modern gastropub by locally beloved chef Brian Ashby is a favorite for its international flavors prepared through the lens of classic French technique. You’ll find a lot of American- and Southeast Asian-inspired dishes like lettuce wraps, a pork banh mi sandwich and a killer pub burger, along with a wide mix of gluten-free and vegetarian options.  

801 N. Union St., Wilmington; 302-654-9780

Photo by Noah Fecks

Exit 55: Rye Street Tavern, Baltimore, MD

Soothe your sore driving muscles near one of the riverside fire pits at this modern gastropub by celeb chef Andrew Carmellini. Set right next to Port Covington’s Sagamore Spirit Distillery, this coastal-inspired restaurant specializes in new riffs on traditional Maryland dishes such as crab pot pie, fried chicken and wood-fired seafood bakes washed down with beer, wine and housemade spirits.

13 Rye Street, Baltimore; 443-662-8000

Photo courtesy Crisfield Seafood

Exit 30: Crisfield Seafood, Silver Spring, MD

Fill up on all manners of Maryland crab at this third-generation seafood joint that opened in 1945. Dishes like crab cakes, creamy clam chowder and fried oysters are dead ringers for what you’d find on the Eastern Shore, but a heck of a lot closer to I-95.

8012 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-589-1306

Photo by Jay Fleming Photography

Exit 16B: Chiko, Washington, DC

Scott Drewno (formerly The Source by Wolfgang Puck) and Danny Lee (Mandu) joined forces for bold Chinese-Korean hybrids at this casual Barracks Row spot where customers line up to order rotating dishes like cumin lamb stir-fry and pork belly–kimchi stew. Those who want the full experience reserve ahead for a taste of everything at the kitchen counter.

423 8th St. SE, Washington, DC; 202-558-9934

Photo by Sara Ventiera

Exit 119: Parker's Barbecue, Wilson, NC

Get a taste of eastern North Carolina ‘cue without making much of a fuss. Just minutes from I-95, this no-frills restaurant has been serving traditional whole smoked hog since 1946. As is the tradition in the eastern section of the Tar Heel State, Parker’s mixes its white and dark meat together, chops it into almost a fine shred and dresses it in a white vinegar–based sauce seasoned with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Oh, and the fried chicken is pretty damn good too.

2514 U.S. 301, Wilson; 252-237-0972

Photo by Kelsey Hanrahan

Exit 298B: Death & Taxes, Raleigh, NC

Raleigh lies just shortly after the turn-off onto I-40. One of the hottest spots in the currently hot restaurant town is Ashley Christensen’s (Poole's Diner, Chuck's) standout New American spot. In that former funeral home and bank (hence the apropos name), the Beard winner crafts excellent wood-fired fare like roasted oysters, lamb sausage and duck leg confit, served alongside creative cocktails and wine.

105 W. Hargett St., Raleigh; 984-242-0218

Photo by Sarah Nix

Exit 64: Foothills Butcher Bar: Black Mountain, Asheville, NC 

If you want sustainable ethical meat and elevated plates without taking too much of a detour from I-40, head to this place. The straightforward restaurant and bar offers well-prepared meat-centric dishes like burgers and tallow fries along with meats and other takeaway items from the on-site butcher counter.

107 Black Mountain Ave., Black Mountain; 828-357-9029

Photo courtesy Curate

Exit 53B: Cúrate, Asheville, NC

Picking a restaurant in Asheville is not easy: It’s one of the most exciting food cities in the U.S. But this recently expanded tapas bar and Vermuteria (a vermouth-focused bar) by multiple Beard semifinalist Katie Button is the top dining destination in town. Here, she prepares Spanish small plates — including grilled, cured and fried bites — alongside a curated menu of Spanish wines, sherries and vermouth.

13 Biltmore Ave., Asheville; 828-239-2946

Photo credit Justin Chesney

Exit 209B: 404 Kitchen, Nashville, TN

Matt Bolus’ Gulch go-to recently relocated across the street to a new space with four times the seating, a downstairs drinking lounge called Gertie’s Bar and a much larger kitchen that has allowed him to add new large-format dishes like bone-in rib-eye for two. Aside from those upgrades, the new spot still serves the same seasonally driven New American fare for which Bolus is known.

507 12th Ave. S, Nashville; 615-251-1404

Photo courtesy The Rendezvous

Exit 1A: The Rendezvous, Memphis, TN

Charlie Vergos’ infamous 1948 barbecue institution is a mandatory stop: It’s where Memphis-style dry ribs were born. Using a seasoning mix from his Greek father’s chili recipe, a touch of paprika and some help from a guy called Little John, Vergos’ top employee, Vergos turned charcoaled ribs into a local phenomenon. The intimate Downtown restaurant still has a retro sort of vibe with red-checkered tablecloths and an eclectic assortment of memorabilia.

52 S. 2nd St., Memphis; 901-523-2746

Photo courtesy One Eleven

Exit 141A (from I-30W): One Eleven at the Capital, Little Rock, AR

James Beard winner Joel Antunes’ upscale Southern fare is worth the short drive across Arkansas River from I-40. His Little Rock spot is known as the power table in town for just about everyone visiting the Natural State. It’s a favorite meeting place among CEOs and politicians. But it’s not just a place to see and be seen. Antunes is known for melding local flavors with classic technique in a variety of small and entree-sized plates such as cured and smoked pork loin with mostarda chutney.

111 W. Markham St., Little Rock; 501-370-7011

Photo courtesy Burn Co. Barbecue

Exit 240B: Burn Co. Barbecue, Tulsa, OK

Burn Co. BBQ is not an easy stop off I-40 — it’s about an hour detour — but we’re including the legendary place for three main reasons. Tulsa has become a serious barbecue town worthy of a food stop, Burn Co. is one of the top picks in town and owners Adam Myers and Robby Corcoran recently opened a new location in Jenks about 20 minutes south (i.e. closer to the interstate). And that new locale is open for lunch and dinner (opposed to just lunch at the original outpost), serving the same crisp-crusted ribs, tender brisket, pulled pork, bologna and sausage selection that Alton Brown lauded on Twitter in 2016.

500 S., Riverwalk Crossing Suite 135, Tulsa; 918-528-6816

Photo courtesy Bread & Butter PR

Exit 126: Gorō Ramen, Oklahoma City, OK

84 Hospitality founder, 33-year-old Rachel Cope is a leader in Oklahoma City’s emerging dining scene. Her Plaza District ramen shop, Gorō Ramen, a collaboration with chef Jeff Chanchaleune, is the current "it" spot in OKC. There, she mixes Japanese and other flavors from across Asia in a variety of ramens (tori paitan is the signature), buns and snacks.

634 N. Blackwelder Ave. #102, Oklahoma City; 405-606-2539

Photo courtesy iwishmynamewasmarsha/Flickr

Exit 125: Sid’s Diner, El Reno, OK

The onion burger is Oklahoma’s most famous specialty. And Sid’s Diner is the most famous place to get one. Situated right off historic Route 66, an easy loop off the interstate, the folks at this roadside stop press paper-thin slices of onion directly into the patty right on the griddle until the beef is crisp and the caramelized onions turn golden brown.

300 S. Choctaw Ave., El Reno; 405-262-7757

Photo by Tyler Frazer

Exit 68W: Tyler’s Barbeque, Amarillo, TX

People often wonder what sort of secret seasoning Tyler Frazer uses to give his barbecue its subtle bitter undertone. He uses a special blend of oak and mesquite (sourced specifically from Hall County 100 miles away) wood with just salt, pepper and paprika for his brisket, pork ribs, turkey, sausage and Saturday beef ribs. Last year, Frazer’s attention to detail earned him a spot on Texas Monthly’s 50 Best BBQ Joints in Texas. Because of the acclaim, he regularly sells out of ‘cue, but he’ll reserve food for travelers who call in orders early in the day.

2014 Paramount, Amarillo; 806-331-2271

Photo courtesy Watson's BBQ

Exit 335: Watson’s BBQ, Tucumcari, NM

A decade ago, the folks at Tucumcari Ranch Supply started smoking meat and selling it at the old hardware store. It’s become a favorite stop for Route 66 road warriors (it’s about three blocks north of the historic highway) for its hickory- and mesquite-smoked brisket, ribs and pulled pork served with a sweet tomato and molasses sauce. Make sure to try the green chile–infused pinto beans while you’re there.

502 S. Lake St, Tucumcari; 575-461-9620

Photo courtesy Sadie's of New Mexico

Exit 165: Sadie’s of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM

This family-owned Albuquerque mini-chain is one of the leaders of New Mexican cuisine. It cooks up traditional New Mexican plates — with plenty of the requisite green chile — like enchiladas, carne adobada and stuffed sopaipillas using old family recipes, along with margaritas, beer and wine.

15 Hotel Cir. NE, Albuquerque; 505-296-6940

Photo courtesy Brix

Exit 198: Brix, Flagstaff, AZ

This contemporary American restaurant and wine bar is a perennial Flagstaff favorite for its seasonal menu that sources ingredients from Four Corners farmers. Set in a historic carriage house, this award-winning restaurant features ever-changing menu dishes ranging from chicken confit croquettes and short-rib crêpes to elk rack with sunchoke gratin all complemented by a 15-page wine, beer and cocktail list.

413 N. San Francisco St., Flagstaff; 928-213-1021

Photo courtesy @djbrahiem/Instagram

Exit 48: Bangkok Thai Cuisine, Kingman, AZ

You may find it hard to believe that one can find great Thai food in the middle of the desert. This nondescript spot serves excellent renditions of Thai staples that could put many of its urban counterparts to shame. Noodles, stir-fries and curries as well as regional specialties such as larb and jungle curry are boldly flavored and served quickly.

208 W. Andy Devine Ave., Kingman; 928-753-1170

Photo courtesy Jenny's Grill

Exit 1: Jenny’s Grill Steak and Mariscos, Barstow, CA 

This bright Mexican restaurant, just two minutes off the highway, has become a favored pit stop for those making the trek from SoCal to the Grand Canyon and/or Vegas. Basically an American diner–Mexican restaurant hybrid, it offers well-prepared dishes ranging from omelets and BLT to ceviche-covered tostadas and chilaquiles.

1231 E. Main St., Barstow; 760-255-1500

Photo courtesy In-N-Out

Exit 32B: In-N-Out Burger, Baldwin Park, CA

In-N-Out’s empire now stretches as far east as Texas, but the cult favorite started out in a town just outside LA called Baldwin Park. Right near the original spot (the stand was demolished to make way for I-10 years ago), you can visit an exact replica of Harry and Esther Snyder’s tiny 1948 drive-thru restaurant where the two-way speaker made its debut, Thursday to Sunday from 11 AM–2 PM. After snapping a selfie or two, take a one-minute drive over to the modern Baldwin Park store — across the parking lot from In-N-Out University — for a Double-Double (animal style), fries and a chocolate shake. It's pretty much the perfect ending for a drive to the West Coast.

13850 Francisquito Ave., Baldwin Park; 800-786-1000

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route 66