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Mar 29, 2011 03:41 PM

stopping for food along 5 from LA to SF

I know it is grim, but the drive must be done. and I am pretty certain I know the answer already but I want to ask all the same: Does anyone know _anywere_ or _anything_somewhat decent --I'm not expecting more- to eat, as I take a break from the drive from LA en route SF along the 5?

I'd appreciate any suggestions!


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  1. There is a drive thru starbucks in buttonwillow after the buttonwillow rest area.
    Discovered after I stopped at the rest area and had vending machine coffee
    I suggest eat a hearty breakfast plow through get coffee and keep driving.
    In and Out off the 5 not sure the exit

    1. It's not technically in the right area for the LA board (so apologies in advance), but Harris Ranch is probably your best option, especially for beef hash and eggs in the morning.

      If you're going up the peninsula via Gilroy (i.e., 5 to 152 to 101), there's a decent place near the fruit stand just over Pacheco Pass, though I'm having a senior moment regarding the name...

      5 Replies
      1. re: Bradbury

        Another vote for Harris Ranch. Delicious breakfasts, decent burgers and CLEAN RESTROOMS!!

        1. re: maudies5

          My experiences at Harris Ranch:
          Breakfast - served wrong order; apologetic waitress removed and said they were re-cooking my order; brought my order cold obviously returned by another table; mad waitress got the manager; angry manager stormed the kitchen; no charge.
          Dinner - mundane wine list, amateur service, pedestrian food.
          Motel - nice room, wretched smells from Harris Ranch slaughter yard in north breeze.
          Restrooms - clean.

          1. re: BN1

            I won't be stopping to eat at the Harris Ranch restaurant unless I absolutely have to. The place is expensive and the food is pretty bad. It peeves me to spend $8+ for a sandwich and have it be almost completely tasteless. I mean, although it said "turkey" it was more like a white bread sandwich.

            This place has lots of business because it looks good and feels comfy...a nice change from McD and TacoB and BK, but actually the food is not even as good as those places, especially considering the prices.

            I'll drive off the highway to Los Banos for mariscos - and odd place for seafood, but not bad.

        2. re: Bradbury

          OP didn't say when you were going to start your trip, but there are now two In n' Outs on I-5. First is off of Laval Road, just as you come down the Grapevine (about 85 miles N. of LA) and the second one is in Kettleman City (Highway 41), which is about 170 miles of LA. Keep in mind they don't open until 1030am. If you're like me and like toleave at the crack of dawn, you'll have better luck stopping off in Buttonwillow (Highway 58), about 120 N of LA and try your luck with one of several Mexican/Salvadorean restaurants that are open for breakfast. Also, a Chipotle was just opened at Laval Road if that's something of interest to you.

          1. re: maxcatsilver

            thanks! and thanks all. That helps. I needed a jolt to my memory re In n' Out...

        3. Nothing wrong with McDonald's Fish Sandwich and fries in my book. Fast food didn't get popular because it is necessarily bad. ;-)

          1. A chowhound friend and I made the drive two weekends ago.
            We took the I5 homeward (through snow and sleet on the Grapevine) just so that we could have a chowish adventure in Buttonwillow and finally eat at Tita's Pupuseria Truck that we've read about so many times on this board.

            Tita's Pupuseria Truck is the first thing you see when you exit I5. Can't get any more convenient than that. Here's Andrew placing our order.

            This was quite a luxe set up. A metal canopy shielded us from the wind and rain and I imagine is even more welcome in the summer's heat of the day. Heavy, varnished wooden picnic tables provided seating. There's a full handwashing station and portable toilet. A self-serve cold condiment bar with a variety of salsas was set in the cold box on the said of the truck, and on one table, a three-compartment crockpot kept carmelized onions, peppers, and something else piping hot.

            Here's the revuelta pupusa, $2.75, as served by the truck:

            Made to order, the pupusa puffed up for a slight souffle effect. The interior was molten hot and a lava flow of melted cheese accented with wisps of pork streamed out as soon a we cut into it. The corn flour shell was lightly crisp on the outside, nicely browned, and very tender inside. The curtido (cabbage slaw) was a shade too wilted but very tasty, fragrant with oregano, and had a little bit of a spicy kick.

            We liked this trial pupusa so much, we decided to head over to Tita's Restaurante y Pupuseria, the sit-down place a couple drive-ways north, to get another. When we stepped inside, we expected to order at the counter, but the lady bid us to take a seat and provided table service. There were quite a few people eating there, and looked like locals who might be working at the other businesses in the rest stop area.

            Of note, the pupusas are the same price in the restaurant as at the truck. And we liked that they can be ordered singly, as many other pupuserias often require a minimum of two. A small bucket of curtido was brought to the table with our order, shown here:
            This batch of slaw was a tad less limp with the same flavor profile as that served by the truck.

            Here's our loroco and cheese pupusa for comparison:
            It didn't souffle quite as much but was griddled to a more extensive golden brown. Of course, the crispy edges where the cheese leaked out for a chicharron de queso effect would the favorite bits.

            We also had an order of deep-fried tamales de elote (sweet corn), shown here:
            Served with beans and some thick crema salvadoreƱa, the frying made the masa drier. Also the preparation took longer, and I don't feel it was worth the time off the road.

            The rest rooms are clean in the restaurant. Given a choice between McD's and Tita's, Tita's Pupuseria will win every time.

            Tita's Pupuseria Truck
            20643 Tracy Ave, Buttonwillow, CA 93206

            Tita's Restaurante y Pupuseria
            20643 Tracy Ave, Buttonwillow, CA 93206

            6 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Thanks Melanie for the rec! Stopped here on a drive from SD back to the Bay Area recently. Not worth a detour, but they are excellent fresh, pupusuas at this truck (the cortada was ever so slightly wilted - but not in a way that impacted our enjoyment). The pork one was markedly better than the flour + herb one. But both were very very good. It appears they make em fresh, so it takes 10 minutes with no line.

              1. re: goldangl95

                Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for posting.

                I'll mention that curtido should be somewhat wilted. A common technique for making it is to pour hot water over the shredded cabbage and then season. I've tried making it with and without the hot water bath, and slaw picks up the other flavors more readily with the wilting. Now, how limp one likes the curtido is a matter of personal preference, I suppose. I like a little more crispness, others do not, so I just try to describe what I'm presented and not rate one better than another based on texture.

              2. re: Melanie Wong

                I've been interested in trying this...but they don't have a website...and i'm a vegetarian. do you know if there is likely to be lard in the cheese and other "non meat" options?

                1. re: lrhr

                  The phone number is listed, you can call to find out.

                  The typical recipe for pupusa masa is just corn or rice flour and water, no lard. Be aware that pupusas are cooked on the flat top and that might be greased with lard or have some leakage from other meat dishes.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    I thought about calling, but have found that the more traditional the cooking (be it mexican, chilean, chinese, vietnamese....), the more likely that english isn't spoken fluently enough for answering questions related to the veggie-ness. My spanish is bad and hand gestures only help face to face. I do have a lovely phone app that translates, but that also only makes sense in person.

                    I am one of those vegetarians that tries very hard not to see the grill....

                    1. re: lrhr

                      You're right, it's not an easy conversation to have on the phone, even with someone who is fluent in English.

                      Here's my recent post on a revisit to Tita's and the competition, Elsy's. I called ahead to Tita's to save myself 10-15 minutes of waiting. That was readily understood, but I didn't try to have more of a conversation than that.

              3. this highway stretch has been extensively covered in past threads. I mean REALLY covered. A search on the California board will find multitudes of posts. There's some very decent chow out there.

                here's one, fairly recent, that may get you on the track of something to your liking.

                Most valley towns are bypassed by just a few miles by Highway 5. If you really want to skip the interchange in-an-outs, then a side trip is worth the few minutes of travel. It' will do your tummy and your psyche good.

                7 Replies
                1. re: toodie jane

                  yes jane, but there are (hopefully) always new places popping up, which is why I asked the question again now.

                  Thanks Melanie for all your great suggestions!

                  1. re: natalieeb

                    I'll mention that we spotted another pupusa truck parked in the lot of the gas station across the street from Tita's truck. It's set back a little bit. I can't recall the exact name, maybe Elysa's? If you have time, I'd love to hear how that one compares.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Answering my own question, here's the pupusa taste-off report for Elyse's vs. Tita's.

                    2. re: natalieeb

                      re: natalieeb

                      sorry, from the wording in your OP (grim, somewhat decent, etc) it sounded as if you expected to find nothing, which led me to believe you hadn't done a search.

                      If you find something new, please let us know! There's chow in them thar hills.

                      Since it is Spring traveling weather, maybe it's time for us to start a new "Spring 2011 Central Valley I-5 chow tips". Anybody game to refresh this topic? There have probably been several closures and openings since the great RWOrange post of some years ago.

                    3. re: toodie jane

                      TJ, the period at the end of your link keeps it from working, see if you still have time to edit it out. TIA

                      1. re: toodie jane

                        On my most recent trips I had fairly priced tacos at the surprisingly consistent Planeta Rojo, Buttonwillow exit. Sorry, can't remember which kind I had. It is tucked in between the Shell station and Willow Ranch BBQ.

                        On the fast food front, I discovered that the Del Taco at the Santa Nella / Hwy 33 exit serves their sausage and biscuits 24 x 7 !

                        Planeta Rojo
                        20662 Tracy Ave, Buttonwillow, CA 93206