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Travel Writer Looking For Good Road Food Stories

I am a freelance writer working on a series of columns for a new online magazine, Travel Muse, slated to launch in October.

I am looking for great stories and tips for families who need to eat on the road - either during the actual travel or while at their destination - while on an extended road trip. This is the third in a series of road-tripping how-to essays.

Do you love road food? Why? What makes great road food? What are some of the best places to stop and eat, and how can you tell which roadside diner will be great and which one will be awful?

The essays have a very casual, humorous voice. Any and all stories and advice on how to survive/avoid Roy Rogers will will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance!

Amy Hatch

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  1. When I was a kid growing up in Ohio in the '60's, you knew it was vacation when we headed east on the PA Turnpike. We stopped at Howard Johnson's at New Stanton and enjoyed clam rolls and butter kissed frankfurters for lunch at their locations along the way. As Chowhounders, today we prefer not to eat at chain restaurants or fast food joints and try to seek out local places. Here are some tips/tricks we use to scout out road food along the way:

    1) most obvious, post destination route on this site, ask for recs from other foodies. We have been known to veer 10 or 20 miles out of our way to experience a local delicacy or highly recommended joint
    2) consult tour/travel guides
    3) when fueling car, ask locals for food recs "not to be missed". we have found out about many places like this. need to ask locals who look they might enjoy good food
    4) pay attention to highway signage. you can sort of develop an intuition for good places, they look like they have been around for a while, they serve local specialties or delicacies (i.e. BBQ in NC, fried clams along the NE coast), items that are in season or locally grown
    5) be willing to take a chance, hey, what's the worst that can happen (indigestion? bring some Tums!)

    If all else fails, there's usually a Cracker Barrel nearby!

    1. I have to travel to out of the way places often for work and love to seek out independent breweries. Not only do I get to sample some microbrews, but I often find that 1) the service is extremely friendly, as are the other patrons, and I inevitably end up in conversation, and 2) if they care about the beer, they likely care about the food a bit, too. Nothing fancy, but simple and good.

      1. For inspiration, you might check out any of Jane and Michael Stern's books, or their monthly column in Gourmet Magazine, which is all about finding good food on the road. Here's a link to their books on amazon.com:

        http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/sea...

        1. I think Lexington, NC would make a great sory. Its a small town (maybe 10,000 people) that is famous as the hub of NC bbq. It even has given its name to a style of NC bbq. There must be 12 or 15 bbq restaurants in and around the town. They have a bbq festival every year in October that attracts tens of thousands of people.

          1. Hey everyone! Thanks so much, this is all great stuff.

            1. You could probably find a lot to say on the topic of intuition. At some point you develop an ability to determine from building, signage, location, etc. what will be good. It goes so far beyond just looking for the "local" food. There's plenty of bad BBQ in TX, bad pizza in NY and bad tacos in Phoenix, but at some point you develop a true intuition about whether a meal will be great.

              My particular thing is coffee houses. Just from the outside of a shop i think i can tell whether the espresso will be bitter, the coffee will be watered down, the pastries will be wrapped in saran wrap, and so on. I've discovered that as wonderful as all the CH tips are, I will always trust my intuition above all else.

              1. Stop and eat where the semis are parked.

                I drive cross country annually. Never a plan, never been disappointed.

                If you are a travel writer, why aren't you doing it and writing about your own adventure?

                6 Replies
                1. re: Cathy

                  Cathy, I disagree with you about the truck drivers. Due to the size and circumstance of their vehicle, many are forced into locations that can accommodate them. Because drivers have to meet schedules, they don't want to veer too far off the road. We have burned a time or two in the past by assuming lots of trucks meant good food. Sometimes it just means good location or convenience.

                  1. re: Diane in Bexley

                    In more than 21 years of cross country driving, we have found that truckers stop where it is good and don't stop where it isn't. If more than three trucks, we stop and have never been disappointed. I am talking mom and pop places, not a major Truck Stop/fueling place area.

                    Most of the roadside places have parking for semis. When you see semis parked across the street and truckers walking in, there is a reason.

                    One time west of Omaha nothing else around and 7 trucks. Hot baked fruit pies coming out of he oven as we walked in and the best burger ever. Fresh, good coffee, too.

                    OP asked how you know and that is how we know. Honestly never had a bad meal. Bad coffee while driving cross country, yes. Bad food, no.

                    1. re: Cathy

                      Truck-stop breakfasts are usually the best, too. I don't take brunch (yech on the dessert with breakfast), but a good truck-stop hash brown breakfast will always win my heart. If you like fried eggs, of any doneness, these are the places to investigate.

                      1. re: Cathy

                        I make that trip a couple of times a year. Do you remember the name of that place?

                    2. re: Cathy

                      No one ever said I enjoyed traveling! :)

                      I just started this travel-writer gig, which is highly ironic if you knew me. But my focus is traveling with young kids, something about which I an a new expert, having traveled more than 2,400 miles by car with my toddler, in the last eight months alone.

                      So you can only imagine where I am forced to eat on the road.

                      1. re: eatnpark

                        Oh, sorry...well, at least you know where the bathrooms are located at each resaurant stop.

                    3. This is always a hot topic on the Boston boards: clam shacks.

                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/436120

                      1. Use dogpile and search road food for a good website. Personally, I like to try different sites to get recommendations on the smaller, less obvious places to eat. Load them into my PDA by nearest city so I have them in case but I also ask the desk clerk at the hotel and then there is the tried and true "that looks like a good place to stop" based on the number of cars or the way a place looks - may not be the best food but I've had some great meals that way.

                        Now how do I get to be a travel writer?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: AlaskaChick

                          AlaskaChick - how do you get to be a travel writer? Blog about your crazy drive with a potty-training toddler. That's how I got my gig! :)

                          Thanks for the tips. Excellent advice!

                          1. re: eatnpark

                            No toddler here but maybe my foodie husband, my "do it on the cheap" mother, or my "no plans-just options-food challenged" traveling partner would work? ;-)

                        2. If there's one rule that I follow when traveling, it's this: If possible, don't eat at any place you can find at home. This has the effect of eliminating most of the big chains from the list (but not all of them. For example, there isn't a Sonic anywhere within 200 miles of here.) I also try to look for local places, as It also helps to look for something that is appropriate for where you are traveling (for example, while on a Route 66 trip earlier this year, I went looking for things like diners.)

                          1. You've got to do the Jack Daniels BBQ on the Hill.
                            It's fantastic. We do it every Summer.

                            http://www.jackdaniels.com/TheDistill...

                            DT