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Road Trip on I-80 - SFO to Boulder - where to eat?

Hi all,
Planning to move in a month and a half and will be taking I-80 to my new home. I'm on a budget but would still like to sample some of the inexpensive "musts" along this route (if there are any!). Any thoughts?

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  1. I made that trek once by car from Boulder on a whim to meet some Bay Area friends at wineries. GAH! Never again. One of the most boring drives ever. Not many signs of life visible from the road, so don’t assume you’ll just happen upon something. Look up the specific cities you will hit (Truckee, Elko, Reno, Salt Lake City, Cheyenne) rather than just searching on I-80, and have multiple options in your pocket since you never know where/when you’ll feel like stopping on an excruciatingly long drive such as that.

    I refused to stop at an Olive Garden in SLC, Utah, even though I was so hungry I was about to chew my right arm off. We kept driving down the road and the situation became even more bleak. My better half said, “I bet that Olive Garden is looking pretty good to you right about now.” :-) I remember driving across into Nevada and seeing a billboard for a place serving “the best Texas BBQ” (?!). I heard there is supposed to be decent Basque food in Elko, NV, but we only had time to locate some miserable Mexican food at Dos Amigos. I ordered cheese enchiladas, thinking "how could anyone screw these up," and Mr. rlm had a chicken quesadilla with a microscopic amount of cheese. It wasn't completely inedible, but it says something when you are as hungry as we were and the food is so bland and uninspiring that you are only tempted to pick at it, then shovel it into your mouth with eyes closed.

    I wish you well on your trip and hope you find some better options. Be prepared for snow!

    1. Try to hit Winnemucca, NV for breakfast and head for The Griddle, on business 80 through town.

      That should stick to your ribs long enough until you hit Salt Lake City, where I would recommend you head for Red Iguana. Easy access from the interstate, and arguably the best Mexican food to be found for hundreds of miles in any direction.

      Another fave of mine is CharcoBroiler in Ft. Collins, CO. Total retro steak joint that's open for breakfast.

      1. Beto's in Reno is the best cheap Mexican food I've had anywhere. For some reference, I've lived in supposed Mexican havens like Fresno and San Diego. Despite extensive searches in both of those towns, nothing compares to Beto's. It's a couple minutes off I-80 on Fifth St. I'd recommend the pastor or chicken tacos as well as anything with their cerviche. Despite their success (glowing review in Sunset Magazine) prices have stayed low. Red Iguana is good if you like Americanized Mex with plenty of cheese and sour cream. Beto's is the "must" you are seeking.

        8 Replies
        1. re: climberdoc

          Red Iguana = "Americanized Mex"???

          Makes it sound like you've never eaten there. Pray tell what "American" Mex places serve Papadzules or Entomatadas? The Red Iguana menu is mostly authentic, regional Mex dishes, including all 7 moles, all of which are excellent. And I can name at least a dozen dishes that have neither sour cream nor cheese. Do they have burritos and enchiladas and tacos? Sure, but to call the restaurant "Americanized" is devoid of factual basis.

          1. re: ThaGroovinGourmet

            Americanized is an opinion and a value judgement. Facts have nothing to do with this. I don't think that one could find a Webster's definition of Americanized as it relates to mundane, overly sauced, cheesy and deep-fried "Mexican" food. Perhaps I ordered incorrectly in my 3-visits to RI, but nothing about my experiences there elevated it too far above average Mexican food. I don't recall ever ordering mole there. Next time I'll give it a try.

            For reference and so you can know where I am coming from Grovvin. A couple places which I believe have elevated their Mexican cuisine above and beyond the flock. El Agave in San Diego for sure and one must be willing to pay the price for it since entrees are likely twice the price of RI. Cafe Elote in Sedona has also done this yet again for a price. Give Betos in Reno a go. It's some of the best cheap Mex I've had.

            1. re: climberdoc

              Thanks for the measured response, c-doc.

              If you visited RI 3 times and are still unimpressed then indeed you ordered poorly.

              In retrospect, if one were to order things that are readily found on Mexican menus around the country you might just walk away thinking RI was average. But with a menu full of things that are hard if not impossible to find anyplace else, to order enchiladas or a burrito is not the way to go.

              In the future, I'd recommend these standouts:

              Puntas De Filete - filet tips in an almond mole sauce with bacon and serranos. My ex would rarely order anything else.

              The aforementioned Papadzules are awesome - masa triangles, filled with chopped hardboiled egg, covered in a green pumpkinseed mole with pickled red onions.

              And the Snapper Veracruzana is one of the best versions I have had anywhere. The addition of sesame seeds to the fish's coating is an inspired touch.

              1. re: climberdoc

                Wow, been there 3 times and never ordered any mole? You're missing out, but to each his own. I have lived in the southwest for many years, and have been to mexico, and the Red Iguana is the best mexican food I have had in the states. I would kill for the Puntas De Filete right now...

                1. re: climberdoc

                  I'll 3rd the Puntas, probably my favorite thing on the menu. All the moles are good, but be warned of the amarillo because it's very hot.

                  1. re: Chimayo Joe

                    Allright guys. I'll backup on my remarks on RI until I dine there again and order the mole. I'm actually quite looking forward to it now. I'd love to prove myself wrong and you guys right. I'll report back probably early next year.

                    1. re: leeser

                      Sorry. The previous post was mine but my wife was logged in in case you were wondering.

              2. re: climberdoc

                I like Beto's ok, but not sure "its the best cheap Mexican food I've had anywhere." La Mexicana in Las Vegas (Twain and Decatur) is just as good if not better, IMO. But for the OP: Beto's is certainly a spot for a good quick cheap lunch near the freeway...and if you leave in the am you'll be hitting Reno about noon, assuming there is no snow :-) Take the Keystone Exit off of I80 (just before downtown), turn right on Keystone, and left onto Fifth...its about two blocks down on the left.

              3. I just remembered the Little World on State St. in SLC. Have not been in 4-years so take with a grain of salt. This was a fantastic "hole in the wall" Chinese venue. "Dined" there three times in four days and did not go wrong with anything I ordered. Crispy noodles were to die for and I tend to avoid deep fried foods.

                7 Replies
                1. re: climberdoc

                  Wow, thank you so much for these responses. I am dreading the drive - did it once before when I moved out here 4 years ago and found the stretch from CO thru Utah and NV to feel particularly creepy - no offense to any Utahians/Nevadians. I actually had a bite of the worst sandwich of my entire life at a Subway in Utah. Perhaps my fault for trying to eat at a Subway. Anyway, the promise of fun food will keep me going. I also plan to make some elk jerky to snack on for the drive!

                  1. re: StephanieS

                    Believe it or not, some of the places in southern Wyoming are even more desolate and devoid of good food than Nevada. Cheyenne comes to mind....and then of course there is Wamsutter. I once had a friend go ballistic when I suggested we stop in Wamsutter for lunch when we were on a road trip in college. He said that it was a black hole from which we would never emerge......

                    I would definitely buy groceries in Salt Lake and take some picnic supplies.....

                    1. re: janetofreno

                      Yeah, I have been doing research on I-80 Wyoming and have come up with pretty much nothing particularly interesting for that stretch. Maybe I'll plan to eat so much at Red Iguana that I won't be hungry for the rest of the drive ;)

                      1. re: StephanieS

                        Maybe you should consider going the I-70 route from SLC to Boulder? It's longer time wise but not distance wise, I think, and it's a MUCH prettier route. And there are many more dining options along the way.

                        1. re: LurkerDan

                          Hm, that is a beautiful route. Are there any dining options along that stretch that are THAT fantastic to merit adding on more hours?

                          1. re: StephanieS

                            Well, it only really adds about an hour to the route, it's not that much longer (it's almost the same distance, it's just that I-80 is a faster more barren road with a 75mph limit the whole way). One issue for sure with both roads is the weather. I-70 has mountain passes that can be sketchy and I-80 doesn't, but many find 80 a scarier road in the winter because of the wind and blowing snow. So keep an eye on the weather and be prepared.

                            I am sure there are some fabulous eating options along the way, but I am not the person to ask. But there are a ton of places that all beat anything you will find on I-80 (because there is NOTHING on I-80). Grand Junction must have good food, Glenwood Springs does (I always go to the brew pub), Edwards/Avon/Vail do (some really fancy places too), Frisco does, etc etc.

                            And there are some darn good eats once you arrive in Boulder!

                      2. re: janetofreno

                        Stephanie S will most likely not get as far east as Cheyenne if she is coming to Boulder. She will probably exit at Laramie and take US 287 through Fort Collins to Boulder.

                  2. I live in Reno and often go to elko on business . I always eat at " The Star" , it is a basque restaurant and it is excellent lunch or dinner. Another possible stop is Bella's a coffee house in Wells run by the local bordello , last exit going east, their coffee / espresso's are pretty good , . A number of people here have mentioned Red Iguana in SLC & it is good . It is in the same ballpark as Poca Cosa in Tucson and several other places in San Antoine. Enjoy your drive and be safe, Nevada is a beautiful state we just try to keep it secret.

                    1. Once you get to Boulder, don't miss Chez Thuy. Unbelievable food, reasonable prices (not cheap, I would go with high moderate, but worth the money).