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I-5 stops worth making?

Here's a topic that may be of interest to almost anyone in California who owns a car and uses it. We will be driving from Sacramento to the LA area on interstate 5 and are looking for worthy places to stop for meals. We will be with our 2 year old daughter. Any ideas that will allow us to avoid eating at the usual stops of Taco Bell in Lemoore and the AM/PM in Kettleman City without taking us more than a mile or two off the road would be useful. All cuisines considered. Thanks.

Doug & Nancy in Sac

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  1. At the main Buttonwillow exit, there is an Indian restaurant that I have not tried and an independent Salvadoran/Mexican place (near the north end of the exit area) that has pupusas and servicable burritos.


    7 Replies
    1. re: Ed Dibble

      I'd advise caution with both of these places. I was unimpressed with that Tita's location: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/89291
      It might be worth driving a few miles off of I-5 to the original Tita's location (where I haven't been). I'd also stay away from the Indian place - bland and pricey.
      OTOH the Willow Ranch BBQ place was definitely serviceable :-).
      I liked the Mexican place in Westley (except for the cubano) which is:
      Antojitos Mexicanos, 7154 S Mccracken Rd # D, just north of the off-ramp.
      Downtown Gustine has the famous Wolfsens Meats but that might be a little far off the track.
      I'm trying to think of something decent at the Santa Nella offramp but can't. After 30 years of driving I-5 I have an aversion to Anderson's salt and pea soup.
      Perhaps someone can recommend something in Los Banos...

      Willow Ranch
      27770 Lagoon Dr, Buttonwillow, CA 93206

      Tita's Pupuseria - moved
      380 Front St, Buttonwillow, CA 93206

      1. re: DiveFan

        I just did the drive thru at Tita's. It wasn't great (and I spilled burrito all over my shirt), but it was so much better than the usual fast-food garbage like Taco Hell. I must confess that I am usually on a 9-10 hour drive, so I am looking for quick eats, not gourmet dining. But I would stop back at Tita's.

        1. re: Ed Dibble

          Nine hour drives - I'm impressed, oh Taco God of Yuma. I guess my Mexican food standards have been raised by CH posters including yourself. A long road trip is one time my digestive tract can't chance dodgy Mexican. One of the only situations where I'm tempted by Subway or Quiznos.
          On second thought Sacto_Damkier is right, if you have a little more time Hwy 99 has many more options.
          I can't remember if the upscale Nob Hill supermarket, 1945 N Street, Newman has a decent deli counter. Before the thread dies, maybe someone can think of a decent sandwich place.

          1. re: DiveFan

            I usually take my time driving up to Monterey, but when returning to Yuma, I have a car full of fresh produce (like farmers' mkt heirlooms) and sometimes seafood, so I need to get home while things are fresh.

            Oops, now my reputation (such as it is) is on the line, I guess I need to be more specific about the burrito at Tita's.

            By may standards it was overstuffed. I don't hate rice/beans in a burrito, but Tita's had too much rice. There was also lettuce in it (lettuce?), though not enough to ruin it.

            I said the burrito was serviceable because the green chili it contained was tender and well flavored with a bit of background heat. The price was also reasonable, and in no way did the burrito resemble the salt bombs you get at most fast food options.


            1. re: Ed Dibble

              Where do you pick up the fresh produce? That's what I'm looking for on my upcoming road trip to Monterey

              1. re: jamiemica


                there are roadside stands near Monterey in the town of Castroville. None that I know of on 101 south of Salinas, but most Salinas Valley towns have a Farmer's Market once a week.

                The best FM's in Monterey are the one downtown (more of a street fair) and the one at the Community College (Monterey Penninsula College) near Highway 1. Excellent choices from small farms along with fish- and cheesemongers, oils, nuts, etc. http://www.montereybayfarmers.org/mar...

        2. re: DiveFan

          I tried that Anderson's. I'm pretty sure they misunderstood my order and gave me the pee soup.

      2. I also heard on the same exit the the Willow Ranch serves the best filet in So Cal, and right from Harris Ranch. OK, maybe not the best in So Cal, but my dad swears by it and he is a filet guy.

        My parents stop there when driving from SF to SoCal, and they also stock up on the BBQ sauce. I few have ended up in my pantry as a result and it really is great stuff.

        Not too sure of anything else. I usually try not to extend the drive any longer than need be.


        1. Well there's always Harris Ranch and In N'Out. We usually just try to drive as fast as possible to get to the other end.

          2 Replies
          1. re: PeterL

            I vote for Harris Ranch; it's a nice restaurant, & you can purchase steaks & other gifts (they give you freezer packs).

            1. re: LANative

              a great angus burger at harris ranch.it is a very nice restaurant and very kid friendly.great service and fair prices,

          2. I-5 is all about getting to and from Southern California as fast as possible. The best suggestion whenever this thread comes up is to take CA 99 and stop at the many opportunities along that route. Yes, there are In-N-Out and Harris Ranch, but there are plenty of In-N-Out at both ends and Harris Ranch is not exactly a quick meal stop. If you are willing to venture far enough off I-5 to explore some of the local options, you have already canceled out any time gains from I-5 (aka the most boring freeway in CA).

            5 Replies
            1. re: Sacto_Damkier

              I second taking Highway 99 instead - far more interesting, old California and real towns along the way with still some character. Highway 5 is lifeless and foodless. And not that much faster.

              1. re: glbtrtr

                Anything off the 101 that's fast but decent? I somehow managed to get myself subjected to my first (and last) Carl's Junior experience on the trip this weekend. I thought the 101 would have better options but we didn't time our hunger well enough to end up in Santa Barbara.

                1. re: danikm

                  101 in what vicinity? searching *Central Coast* gets lots of SLO-SB county recs.

                  1. re: danikm

                    you might start here, or start a new thread so you can be ready for your next trip:


                    1. re: danikm

                      Taking the off ramp into Old Town Ventura, just off Highway 101 on Main Street has lots of cafes and a very nice historic old town feel - lots of independent cafes, prices cheaper than SB, rent is cheaper so newer and younger chefs are cutting their teeth here.

                2. I will add another vote for Harris Ranch in Coalinga. It is a restaurant, not fast food like Taco Bell, but you have a long drive and deserve a break. You will have no problems taking a child with you, and it's not dressy. They have very good burgers, and I always pick up a couple of steaks to take home (they package it for long drives if you ask).


                  1. Stockton -March exit north of town, heading east - "Tootsweets", check website for directions, good for breakfasts if you leave early in the day, or take out sandwiches for lunch later, homemade food, a very nice locally owned treat, well-appreciated by the locals

                    Not a dining suggestion, but the stop at Pyramid Lake has excellent exhibits all about the California Water Project and makes a great stop in the long stretch middle of no-where Highway 5. This stop is after the Grapevine, Tejon Pass and Gorman before you drop down into LA.

                    1. For best burgers on I-5 between Sacto and LA, try Debbie's Place in Avenal. 5 minutes south of Hwy 269 exit halfway to LA. Thick juicy 1/2 lb burgers made fresh. Much better than In-N-Out. Their address is 429 Skyline Blvd, Avenal, CA. Not a big detour but definitely worth it. Closed on Sundays.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: westside

                        Wow, something worthwhile in Avenal. Found this previous post on Avenal and Coalinga, garden spots of the west San Joaquin valley:

                        Debbie's Place
                        429 Skyline Blvd, Avenal, CA 93204

                      2. I would say the short 10 min drive through lush orchards is worth the payoff of a lunch at Wolfsen's Meat Locker and Deli. Thoroughly chowish sandwiches. A small park at the west entrance to town will give your daughter a place to stretch her legs. If you are in town in Sept, be aware that their Festa (festival) takes place and the town will be crowded. On the other hand, you could score some grilled sardines!

                        a link to San Joaquin Valley Festas list for Highway 5 travelers:

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: toodie jane

                          Dang it, toodie, you're gonna make me spend the gas money to drive up for this Festa and see the bullfights. Found the link for the city of Gustine:

                          Check Wolfsen's link for map.

                          Wolfsen's Meat & Sausage
                          358 South Ave, Gustine, CA 95322

                        2. On the way home from SF via Firebaugh I stopped at the Rosita #1 taco truck, @ 4-5 miles east of I-5 at the NW corner of Nees and Russell. Tacos are $1 ea, had a cabeza, a lengua, and an al pastor, all pretty decent and loaded with meat. Talking with a couple of the field workers standing there in the 100 degree heat, trying to decide if I wanted medium or hot, one indicated that the hot brings tears to his eyes so I opted for medium which didn't have that much heat, next time will go for the high octane.

                          Heading south on I-5, take the Firebaugh exit east to the stop sign at Russell, the only other thing there besides Rosita #1 is a large produce facility on the SE corner. I-5 is clearly visible, but if you wish to avoid back tracking head south on Russell where it joins the freeway again in @ 9-10 miles (Shields Ave west is another option to get back on, 5 miles south of Nees), heading north just reverse the order.

                          Another poster mentioned Huron, a little more of a detour, but well worth it to visit Chris' Market for some of the best tacos, tortas, etc. to be found. They still didn't have a new sign after repainting last time through but they're on the west side of the main street by the auto parts place mid-town.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: PolarBear

                            PolarBear, thanks for the update!
                            My next trip is going to include side treks to Huron and Avenal. They're too close to I-5 with a surprising population of restaurants to explore.
                            On Google Maps I counted eleven 'markets' and nine 'restaurants' in Huron! The closest market I could find is linked below.

                            April Meat Market
                            36539 S Lassen Ave, Huron, CA 93234

                            1. re: PolarBear

                              Rosita #1 taco truck link:

                              Rosita #1 taco truck
                              N Russell and W Nees Ave, Firebaugh, CA 93622

                              1. re: DiveFan

                                That's so funny, thanks DF, can't believe it has a physical address, don't look for a mailbox ; >P

                                RE your above comments on Huron, I've used myzip.com a few times on these rural communities and have been amazed at what pops up. Can't speak for the G&G market, but Chris' is a don't miss for their prepared foods, it's also a carniceria and poquito mercado (hope I got that right). Be sure and report back.

                                1. re: PolarBear

                                  On the taco trucks placemark I faked it. I found the produce facility whose placemark was close to that intersection :-). Google sometimes is wildly wrong about the physical location of an address, for instance Antojitos Mexicanos in Westley. Danger, Will Robinson!
                                  I couldn't find 'Chris Market' in Google, so I estimated the address from an auto parts store and guessed that G&G might be the old name. Happens all the time with restaurants.
                                  I'll have to try myzip.com.

                                  1. re: DiveFan

                                    They changed their name about 8 years ago to April Meat #2, but everyone kept calling them Chris' so they didn't bother to change the sign. Here's some more background.


                                    I think your guess about G&G in Huron is probably right, couldn't come up with anything on Google for "Chris" or April Meat #1. Just a note, myzip.com is good for address/phone nos. but definitely ignore the reviews, if any.

                            2. We can't forget Los Banos. Favorable comments have been posted about Wool Growers, a Basque restaurant in Los Banos. Olindas is a Peruvian place at the east edge of town. Cecilia's has been mentioned for Mexican. Drop by the local Peluso cheese sales office :-) and ask if their teleme cheese is available in town.

                              EDIT - Franklin Peluso, the founder, is no longer associated with Peluso Cheese: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi...

                              Wool Growers Restaurant
                              609 H St, Los Banos, CA 93635

                              Peluso Cheese
                              429 H St, Los Banos, CA 93635

                              Olinda's Restaurant
                              400 W Pacheco Blvd, Los Banos, CA 93635

                              925 6th St, Los Banos, CA 93635

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: DiveFan

                                Just a heads up, I spent some time last Sat. morning trying to have breakfast at Olinda's. They are no longer located at that SE corner on the east end of town but now on the main drag (north side of Pacheco) at 4th St. The real bummer was I had called Friday to make sure they were open the next day and was told 8:30 AM, arrived shortly after to locked doors and signs indicating open at 11:30. Ended up having half a bag of Cheetos for breakfast instead of huevos rancheros.

                                1. re: DiveFan

                                  Wool Growers is well worth the short trip off of the 5 to Los Banos. They serve a family style lunch with a parade of courses that includes, at least when I went in March 2012, bread & butter, soup, salad, beans, lamb stew, french fries and your choice of lamb chops (2), pork chops (2), a lamb shank or chicken. Wine also comes with the lunch as well as ice cream. The food just kept coming out, course after course. I am not normally a huge fan of lamb but all of the lamb dishes were amazing. It was 16 per person & cash only. I am definitely going back the next time I take the 5.

                                  I would also recommend the following stops:
                                  - La Costa Taqueria (Tracy, CA)
                                  - Tita's Pupuseria (Buttonwillow, CA)
                                  - Squeeze Inn (Sacramento)

                                  1. re: okcomputer

                                    Thanks for keeping this list of Highwayt Five suggestions alive and well - rays of sunshine emerge in what we often thought was a vast culinary wasteland. Key: one must leave Highway 5 a bit to get past chains and fast food.

                                2. At the Lost Hills/Hwy 46 exit, another tip from this updated topic: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/88630

                                  1. Since we're close to the Thanksgiving drive season, I'm bumping this topic up and adding some links.

                                    Report on La Esquinita Mi Pueblo Taqueria in Huron: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/459072

                                    Antojitos Mexicanos at I-5 Westley offramp (7125 S Mccracken Rd).

                                    Does anyone have any recent experiences at Espana's? http://www.chow.com/places/9443

                                    Antojitos Mexicanos
                                    7154 S McCracken Rd B, Patterson, CA 95363

                                    1. My latest I-5 trip had good results. I sidetracked through Avenal, unfortunately Debbies Place was closed on Sunday. Fortunately I found the branch of Chris Meat Market in Huron. Three tasty tacos of the abobada and locally made chorizo flavors were had at the great price of $1.15 each; the large pot in back of the taqueros filled with bubbling pork fat made it clear that carnitas will be the target on the return trip. The sign displaying the taco, torta and burrito options claimed that they were open 24 hours/day!!
                                      FYI the (barely visible) sign on the building front says April Meat Market at (if I recorded properly) 36539 S. Lassen, west side of the street south of the RR tracks and just north of Leo's Auto Parts. English barely spoken.

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: DiveFan

                                        Yes, you did record properly, Chris's Meat Market changed to April's. Apparently they changed the sign on the one in Huron, but not the branch in Fresno! The one in Fresno still says Chris'. How funny! Thanks for the report.

                                        1. re: DiveFan

                                          My top 3 taquerias in Huron are the Chris Meat Mkt (April Meat Market), Taqueria Esquinita where the current owners used to work at Chris Mkt until opening up their own version, and the taqueria inside the Los Amigos Mkt #5 at the corner of Lassen and Myrtle Ave. The Los Amigos #5 tacos are opened faced with your choice of red or green salsa. I get the 3.00 giant tripas burrito that must weigh at least one pound. All tacos are a bargain at 1.00 each.

                                          In Avenal, I like Taqueria Reyna on Kings St. in the downtown section next to the Bear's Den bar. They have all the normal taco varieties and are $1.25 each plus they make their own fried pork rinds and little folded taquitos 3/$1.00 filled with spiced meat. The real gem here is the creamy green guacamole type salsa that I haven't seen anywhere else. It has a delayed intense kick to it that really lights up your mouth. Closed Mondays. Debbie's Place is still the place for thick juicy burgers in the local area.

                                          1. re: westside

                                            your mouth-watering reports on Debbie's makes me want to drive to Avenal. How far a drive, I wonder, is it from Chalome? Picking up some OO there in the near future, and this could be a fun adventure this time of year. Never been to Avenal, always wondered....

                                            Google map makes it look about 8-10 miles from Reef City up 33. That's definitely close enough for Hiway 41 travelers coming to the coast from the valley to make a detour for eats. I never knew Avenal was that close to 41. May have to stop on next trip to the mountains!

                                            1. re: toodie jane

                                              Avenal is only about a 8 minute one way detour north from Hwy 41 and 33 Reef city junction. I re-read my post and to clarify things, Taqueria Reyna serves the homemade spicy guacamole type sauce with their tacos that I like.

                                              Debbie's Place serves a great juicy burger and is very popular with folks passing by on their way to the coast. They are closed Sundays.

                                              1. re: toodie jane

                                                Avenal is also only about 4 min west off of I-5

                                                1. re: PolarBear

                                                  I'd have been coming from Paso, so would've gone 41 to Reef City...never did make that olive oil trip, but will be traveling back from Oakdale on the 29th, may have to stop for dinner!

                                          2. Exit Hwy 152 (Pacheco blvd) go east about 10 miles into Los Banos. On H' street is a place called Wool Growers. Basque-style (large bench seating with a ton of great food) The atmosphere is friendly and be prepared to meet some locals! Los Banos is a hidden gem as travelers go from Fresno to San Jose or San Francisco to Los Angeles.

                                              1. I like Antojito's Mexicano's. Mexican Restaurant. Its in Santa Nella. Easy to miss. If you go beyond the Star Bucks, its to your right. Little hole in the wall restaurant. Ive been doing this drive for years. I just discovered this place. Its my new favorite. Best meal Ive had on the 5 ever and I don't have time for a detour so this is very convenient.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: lmt824

                                                  What did you like at Antojitos Mexicanos?
                                                  BTW there is (was?) a resto with the same name at the Howard Rd / Westley offramp 34 miles north. Stay away from the Mexican style cubano sandwich (includes hot dog wieners) :-(

                                                  An option for Mexican mentioned in other topics is Planeta Rojo at the Buttonwillow / SR-58 intersection. Decent tacos a la carte for a fair price.