Whatever you do, don’t call us “foodies” — that’s a bit too precious for us and the way we roll. As we’ve traveled the country Deb and I have sought out humble places and mom-and-pop joints, from authentic Italian and Mexican to down-home country cookin’, restaurants with a folksy, welcoming air.
We don’t like all kinds of food, but we love to eat the food we like.
Here, then, arranged by state, are our favorites from the last ten months. Click on any of the restaurants’ names (or the photos) to go to its website or social-media page for more information.
- Blacksheep BBQ (Yellville, Arkansas): In all of our travels, the best barbecue we’ve had is in The Ozarks of north-central Arkansas. Melt-in-your-mouth brisket, great pulled pork and ribs and lots of combination items on the menu. Rustic atmosphere. One of our favorite eateries, and (because The Mountain is nearby) we return often.
- The Cliff House Restaurant (Jasper, Arkansas): A funky old restaurant (and inn) with spectacular panoramic views, The Cliff House offers some very creative cuisine. We recommend everything, especially the “Razorback Burger” with a side of cole slaw (made with cilantro). Try the pinto beans.
- DeVito’s Restaurant (Harrison, Arkansas): This well-hidden gem, owned and operated by the same family for 35 years, specializes in Italian food, steaks and chops, and rainbow trout raised on the farm across the road. Not a bad meal on the menu. Classy, not snooty.
- Neighborhood Diner (Harrison, Arkansas): A true old-school diner in every way imaginable, with an innovative take on comfort food. Everything we’ve ordered has been over-the-top good. Recommended: “Frito Pie.” A “sharing wall” lets patrons “pay forward.” Cash only.
- Ranch House Restaurant (Harrison, Arkansas): This is one of those places where you can’t help but feel comfortable — real American food, large portions, Southern hospitality, warm surroundings. Breakfast all day (which is 6am to 2pm). Open seven days a week.
- Fat Boy’s (Rockport, Illinois): As far as we’re concerned, Fat Boy’s is a can’t-miss for one reason — a breaded pork tenderloin “sandwich” that’s nearly as large as the plate it’s served on. Seriously, the thing is massive and delicious. Get the crinkle-cut sweet-potato fries, too. Then get the hell outta Illinois.
- Arnie’s Barn Restaurant (Ridgedale, Missouri): The more casual of two restaurants we’ve visited at Big Cedar Lodge. Killer burgers and accompaniments. Great atmosphere in the reconstructed barn, with stunning views of Top of the Rock and The Ozarks of southern Missouri.
- Lambert’s Café (Ozark, Missouri): The “Home of Throwed Rolls” has been around for almost 80 years. The atmosphere is traditional American, the hospitality quintessentially Southern and the menu… “comfort food” doesn’t quite describe it — this is true American cuisine.
- Osage Restaurant (Ridgedale, Missouri): A weekend brunch here during our first visit to Big Cedar Lodge ranks among the very best meals of our journey. The food was skillfully conceived and perfectly prepared, mine paired with a Kentucky Bloody Mary (bourbon in place of vodka.)
- Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen (Branson, Missouri): This is our kind of place, with food made the old-fashioned way and served family-style — real American cuisine, true comfort food, the dishes we enjoyed growing up. Think of it as an upscale Lambert’s with a more limited (but equally down-home) menu.
- Black Bear Diner (Great Falls, Montana): Although Black Bear doesn’t present itself as a typical diner, the food is classic diner fare. It’s a chain that doesn’t feel at all like a chain — enormous portions, outstanding food and great service. Breakfast all day.
- Custer Battlefield Trading Post Café (Crow Agency, Montana): This small café, known locally as “Putt’s,” is a throwback to when such places popped up along popular tourist routes. The waitstaff are Crow and the food satisfies. We recommend the bison burger, and especially the “Indian Taco.” Don’t skip the gift shop. Across the road from Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
- Josephine’s Speakeasy (Coram, Montana): A short walk up the hill from Glacier Distilling Company’s Whiskey Barn, Josephine’s serves cocktails and a menu of small gourmet dishes (or “tapas”), which are outstanding. Recommended: the “Rocky Mountain Caesar,” incorporating Glacier Distilling’s “Mule Kick” rye whiskey.
- Polebridge Mercantile & Bakery (Polebridge, Montana): The off-the-beaten-path (and off-the-grid) Merc is famous for its fresh-baked bread and pastries, especially the huckleberry “Bear Claws” and sticky buns. The unassuming sandwiches in the cold case, made with fresh ingredients and Merc-baked rolls, are to die for. Worth the trip. Outdoor dining only. Don’t mind the free-ranging chickens.
- Richwine’s Burgerville (Polson, Montana): This is what a burger joint should be, what burger joints used to be everywhere. It’s quirky, a little greasy and 100% delicious. Drive-through-only, with a pull-up picnic area out back. Family-owned and -operated for over 60 years. One of our all-time favorite stops.
- Mt. Carmel Brewing Co. (Cincinnati, Ohio): Going back to the end of our springtime “shakedown cruise,” at this microbrewery we enjoyed tasty handcrafted beers and incredible burgers. Ask for extra homemade pickles. Great vibe, woodsy setting.
- Squeek’s Bar & Grill (Pickerington, Ohio): There’s no way I can recommend a bunch of far-flung food and drink without including our favorite bar, our home base. Adult crowd, friendly atmosphere, best service in the business. Live country music (check the Squeek’s Facebook page for the schedule). Dig the deep-fried pepperoni, the burgers and the fried-bologna sandwiches. But if you don’t have the famous “Bubba Wings,” you’re just not doin’ Squeek’s right.
- The Back 40 Taphouse Grill (Mitchell, South Dakota): I’ll never forget the “Jalapeño Bacon Cheese Burger” I had at The Back 40 — a third-pound South Dakota Hereford burger topped with jalapeño bacon, grilled jalapeños and jalapeño cream cheese. Homemade kettle chips. Great sides and appetizers, a wide selection of beers, super service.
- Corona Village (Mitchell, South Dakota): We love our Tex-Mex and Mexican food, but we didn’t expect to enjoy our best Mex meal at an ordinary-looking restaurant in the middle of South Dakota. The food was authentic, the service perfect, and we’ve never had better margaritas than the “top shelf” served at Corona Village.
- Eagle Bar & Steakhouse (Deadwood, South Dakota): The sign out front boasts “The Best Burger in Deadwood,” and I’d say that the Eagle lived up to its claim. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone else could top the massive burgers we enjoyed there. Nothing fancy, just good.
- The Old Mill Restaurant (Pigeon Forge, Tennessee): If Cracker Barrel had built only one restaurant, it’d turn out exactly like The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge. Classic country cookin’ done right and served with a Tennessee smile. Recommended: corn chowder, corn fritters, meat loaf. This place is always busy, but don’t mind the long line to get in — it moves quick-as-Disney and the payoff is worth the wait.
- The Big Texan Steak Ranch & Brewery (Amarillo, Texas): Truth is, The Big Texan is garish and flashy, a tourist trap, a feed-people factory. There’s nothing subtle or posh about the place. And if all that that keeps you away, it’s your loss — we dined on some of the best beef we’ve had in a very long time. A Route 66 landmark for over 60 years. The free limo ride from the Amarillo KOA was a fun bonus. No, we didn’t tackle the 72-ounce sirloin (which is free if you can finish it).
- Busbees Bar-B-Que (Bandera, Texas): “Featured on the History Channel” said the shingle over the entrance, and the honest-to-Texas food didn’t disappoint. Our piled-high plates earned a place as one of the best meals we’ve had on the road. Recommended: the smoked sausage sandwich (with pickle and onion), pinto beans (nothing like the “baked beans” I’d eaten all my life) and slaw. Straight-up authentic and delicious.
- Krootz Brewing Company (Gainesville, Texas): This small brewery is the only place appearing on both our recommended overnight stops (it’s a Harvest Hosts participant) and recommended eateries lists. The beers were outstanding and the burgers are up there with the best we’ve had. Homemade kettle chips. Dessert was amazing — “Brown Betty Pie” topped with Vanilla Porter ice cream.
- Old Spanish Trail Restaurant (Bandera, Texas): The O.S.T. has been in business since 1921. Old West décor, saddles for stools at the lunch counter, a John Wayne Room and classic diner fare (with Texas flair) combine to make it a memorable stop. Recommended: “Arkey’s Special,” a pair of cheese-and-onion enchiladas with fresh (real Texas) chili, a scrambled egg and slices of jalapeño, served with warm corn tortillas on the side. Lyle would love it.
We’re always on the lookout for new restaurants to add to our list, of course. Just up the road from where we’re camped, Lillie Hobbs in Omaha offers wonderful baked goods. We always enjoy our meals (and margaritas) at Salsa’s Grill in Harrison. Next time we venture east of Flippin we’ll definitely stop again at Taylor’s Freez-King in Gassville. Recently we discovered (and liked) Laura’s Mexican Kitchen in Yellville and Leonardo’s Pizza Villa in Harrison.
There are a dozen other places we still want to try, all within an hour’s drive. And so, with sincere apologies to Sonny & Cher, The Eat Goes On.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free. And eat well.
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