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Road trips are great for your sense of freedom and general happiness, but they can wreak havoc on your stomach.  Eating on the road at decent places, nevermind great places, is definitely a challenge, as is keeping healthy while passing rest stop after rest stop of Wendy’s and Taco Bell.  So here are some general guidelines to help keep your taste buds and stomach happy on the road:

Lunch Box

1)   Any restaurant that includes grainy pictures of food on its menu is safe to assess as off-limits to your stomach.

2)   Any restaurant with ‘ethnic’ food in a region entirely lacking in people of that ethnicity should be avoided at all costs.  Great Mexican food in Arizona?  Yes.  Northern Montana? No.

Mad Greek Cafe

Chances you will find great Greek food in Baker, California? Minimal. Chances you will find something kitsch? Astronomical.

3)   There is no reason to stop at a ‘Jack in the Box’, ever.  I don’t care if it’s the last sign of civilization before 100 miles of open desert.  Consider starving instead.

4)   It’s a rule of thumb that roadside or small-town stores that offer sandwiches at a counter take a minimum of 45 minutes to make them.  I don’t know why, but it’s just a fact.  Your ‘quick snack stop’ will turn into a mini-purgatory while the person behind the counter openly mocks your grumbling stomach by initiating inane conversation with everyone who walks through the door.  Skip it and grab the local specialty at a restaurant next door, which will likely be served within ten minutes.

5)   Those from the middle to upper-class neighborhoods of the Pacific Northwest and urban California should prepare to cover vast stretches of land in which vegetarianism and veganism are foreign concepts.  Or at least something not specifically catered to in, say, a Santa Fe saloon.  Plan ahead with snacks from home, find local markets with fresh food, or combine your road trip week with your first juice cleanse of the year.

6)   One of the hardest things about eating on the road is trying to keep healthy; extended road trips can really disrupt your food routines.  If you want to stay with a certain calorie count per day, or check percentages of fat and carbs in the food you find, try a website like Calorie King.  It has calorie breakdowns for various dishes, and also includes nutrition facts for the entire menu of almost every fast food chain (very useful for eating while on the road).

KFC Double Down "Sandwich"

This is not an item on any human diet. And sometimes it will be the only thing available for the next 90 miles.

7)   If you’ve stopped in a major city and you spy a relatively small restaurant with a line around the block, skip it.  There’s a 99% probability that the line of locals is there because the place is overrated, rather than actually good.  Next week it’ll be forgotten about, just like every other ‘place to be’ of the week.

8)   When you’ve settled into your hotel for the night, don’t always believe the concierge’s advice on restaurants.  Sometimes they’re working off a list given to them by the hotel, rather than recommending based on local knowledge, and other times they have agreements with certain restaurants to send customers over, regardless of the restaurants’ quality.

9)   If you’re driving through miles and miles of farmland, take advantage of your surroundings and locate the nearest farmer’s market for fresh produce.  You are almost guaranteed a fresh, tasty meal.

10)  And lastly, check out these websites geared for road trip foodies:

  • Roadfood – Recommendations on the best places to find quick, simple local dishes.
  • Find. Eat. Drink – Recommendations from chefs & other food professionals.
  • Roadtrippers – If you’re planning your road trip on this site, use it to plan restaurant stops as well.  Pick places that have already been well reviewed by other road trippers.
Kitsch'n 155

Real food! A refreshing surprise.