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Amtrak food

We are taking the tran from San Diego to San luis Obispo. Is the food decent on the tran or should we bring our own?

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  1. The First Class Dining Car food can be excellent, if you're talking about the Coast Starlight or other train with such a car. If you're talking about standard issue snack bar car stuff, best to bring your own snacks.

    Edit: Okay, so a quick look at the Amtrak site makes it look like you're going to be taking the Pacific Surfliner, which has a "Cafe Car," which is basically a snack bar with pre-packaged salads and sandwiches and bags of chips and such. Not bad but not much different than you could pick up at a convenience store or, at best, a Starbucks. Likely expensive for what you get but the kids always seem to like it more than the same stuff packed from home. I guess spending $15 on carrot sticks makes them taste better.

    Here's a link to an East Coast cafe menu. It's not exactly the same but I'm betting it will be close and give you a sense of the general type of food that will be available. Unfortunately they don't post a West Coast one:


    Found an old Surfliner menu:

    Looks decent, remembering that most everyting hot will be microwaved.

    If you upgrade to Business Class you'll usually get a lot of that stuff thrown in for free, plus a more comfortable, guaranteed seat.

    1. It might also be nice to pack a picnic to enjoy on the train. No limitations like the plane. You can bring a thermos of hot or cold drinks.

      1. I use the Pacific Surfliner to go from SD to LA a lot. The cafe car is not good so bring your own food and you will have a great time. I also fly for business a lot. PDX is correct. Traveling this way is a whole different ballgame. You can bring pretty much all the food and drink you want, there is no hassle in boarding, the seats are spacious, the leg room is great and the trains are clean. There are electrical outlets for phones, tablets, laptops and the views you will be seeing much of the way are pretty great.

        Bring your own food & drink relax and enjoy.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Rocky Road

          Thanks to all who have responded. Looks like a Whole Foods run before boarding!

        2. We did the LA-Oakland route earlier this year and had dinner in the dining car. Really, really horrible. Think steamer trays and microwaves only somehow much much worse. A picnic is a much better idea as you watch the coast fly by.

          4 Replies
          1. re: lrhr

            That's really sad to hear. We used to take the Coast Starlight all the time, LA to Seattle, but not recently, and the Dining Car food was quite good; nothing steamed or microwaved about it. Restaurant Quality all the way. How sad that the quality obviously has fallen so far.

            This was the real Restaurant-Style Dining Car with the white Tablecloths and Waiters and all, right?

            1. re: acgold7

              Yup, Tablecloths and waiters. Well, the waitress was absent, generally. She never brought drinks, or checked on how the (uneaten) food was or offered dessert. The vegetables had been steamed into a state of mush, and the fish special which I ordered was ridiculously tough. The dining car manager, who did much of service since the waitress wasn't around, said no one much liked that fish. (but did not offer to replace it or reduce the check). My husband's food was edible, but not particularly good.

              I hope it isn't the standard, but the service on that trip was low all around. There was an older gentleman in the cafe car who wanted help getting downstairs to the cafe level. A passenger went in search of an attendant and came back with the message that one was on the way. A half hour later with no train workers ever arriving, two young men helped the man down the steps.

              On the plus side, the rainstorm we rode through made for incredible light shows on the ocean, a double rainbow and snow on the ground south of Santa Barbara.

              1. re: lrhr

                My teenage son and a friend rode the Coast Starlight from Emeryville to LA this summer. They had lunch and dinner in the dining car and really enjoyed it. Don't know what they ate, but the experience was positive.

                1. re: lrhr

                  Wow, lrhr, that's tragic and appalling. My father-in-law, who is a train aficionado and had ridden most every Amtrak line many times, has this culinary advice: "Just order the steak." We've done well following this advice.

                  Seems like the food can be inconsistent at best. As Glencora's post shows, I guess you can still sometimes get lucky.

            2. My grandfather was a carpenter for the Soo Line RR for 30 years. As a teen my father was a fireman (he started the fire in the engine in the yard). When my father was a kid he and his family received free rail passes so they got to go see family in Michigan and Canada. Without the passes they would not be able to afford such trips. I write this because when I was a kid, almost all rail passenger service west of the Mississippi was ending. Because our parents wished us to experience riding on a train we went on a family vacation from Minnesota to Denver via rail. I was quite young but I remember the dining car as the highlight of the trip. There were white tablecloths and the food was excellent. This was 1972 so I imagine it was more similar to the wail passenger rail service was in the '40s rather than what the service is like today.

              1. E, zz, Aloha:

                I'm not a regular Amtrak rider, but I rode one time from Seattle to Whitefish MT, and the food in the dining car was quite good, definitely restaurant quality. Except the restaurant is moving through mostly beautiful country [big smile].

                FWIW, Julia Child learned something important from an Amtrak cook. Google "Buffalo Iron" to see.


                1. I took the auto train to Orlando and the food was awful. Plus sitting toe to toe with complete strangers at a booth just irked me. I was miserable, can ya tell!

                  1. I'm a train buff and have a few old menus. Before Amtrak was formed the railroads took great pride in dining car service. Here's an exmple from the Burlington Route in 1947.

                    Cream of tomato aux crouton

                    Choice of:

                    Fresh lake trout filet meuniere

                    Baked sugar cured ham with fruit sauce

                    Roast chicken w/dressing and gravy

                    New potatoes or peas

                    Stuffed pear cream cheese salad


                    Chocalate sundae, fruit cobbler, or chilled cantoulope

                    Rolls, coffee, tea, milk, cocoa

                    All for $2.00

                    1. My last Amtrak trip was Tampa to WPB, and the 6 lazy-ass union employees in the club car could barely summon up the energy to fetch a pre-made sandwich and a canned beverage. Haute cuisine from this same union bunch? You'll have better luck threading a camel through the eye of a needle.