Some Restaurants to Explore Along Historic Route 66

U.S. Highway 66 extended from Chicago to Los Angeles, and in its heyday was one of the busiest highways in the country. With a renewed interest by many in exploring “The Mother Road,” restaurants along the historic route are increasingly acknowledging the fact that interest in Route 66 can be a factor in bringing customers to them. I thought it would be interesting to make a list of places along the roadway that I have highlighted in my blog as well as on my earlier web sites. I do not purposely go to restaurants because they are on Route 66, but I find that this is where many of the places are located that have interesting food.

U.S. Highway 66 was decommissioned on June 27, 1985, and no longer exists as an officially designated highway. There are many signs showing the route, though, and state and local governments have done their part in commemorating the historic highway. Google Maps also designates the road, although I think some guide books and web sites have more detailed information about exactly where the route was located.

The route also changed over time. An example of this is in Oklahoma City where Route 66 once passed by the State Capitol but later was built as an expressway in the northern part of the city (this route was later re-designated as part of Interstate 44). My article is mainly focused on the most recent route with some mention of the older ones.

Some restaurants have been in operation at the same location since the time that the actual U.S. 66 was located in front of their business. Others try to recreate the types of restaurants that were predominant during the 1960’s (the heyday of Route 66 before the Interstates began to divert traffic away from the old highway). This can be anything from the food (diners, etc.) to the decor (large booths, etc.). Some restaurants are completely modern but pay homage to Route 66 through signs or murals. Still others just happen to be on the route and possibly are on sections of the old highway that are not well marked and relatively unknown. There is now a great variety of cuisines and degrees of fidelity to the perceived Route 66 “theme,” but I want to put all of the ones in which I have eaten on my Route 66 List (and to share the information with readers).

 

Pops–660 W. Hwy. 66, Arcadia, OK

The pop bottle statue at Pops

Pops on State Hwy. 66 in Arcadia, OK

The giant pop bottle statue in front of Pops in Arcadia is becoming a landmark along Route 66, but the business itself is relatively new. Pops sells a large variety of pop (known as sodas in other parts of the country) and also has a grill where you can order hamburgers, etc. For me it is mostly a place to get some very good root beer and sarsaparilla.

 

Chow’s–3033 N. May Ave., Oklahoma City, OK

Chow's on the early route of U.S. 66

Chow’s Chinese Restaurant at 3033 N. May Ave., OKC

Until the early part of the 1950’s Route 66 went through downtown Edmond, along Kelley and Lincoln Blvd. to the State Capitol, along 23rd Street to May Avenue, and then north to N.W. 39th Street where it met the route going west which kept the same alignment throughout the history of the highway.

I think this “original route” (along Lincoln, N.W. 23rd, May Ave., etc.) was not known to most people my age as even being part of Route 66 until the preservation movement publicized this fact and began promoting businesses along these streets. I have reviewed several restaurants on these streets and visited many more, but I am not making an extensive inventory of the restaurants as part of this article. Instead, I will just make a note of one which is one of my favorites.

Chow’s Chinese Restaurant at N.W. 30th and May is special to me because the Chinese food is so much better than it was when I was growing up. This location is especially significant to me because my high school is located across the street. Some may have heard of Northwest Classen because it is the Alma Mater of Rick Bayless, Elizabeth Warren, and other notable people. I also sometimes make a shameless plug because it is where I began to hone my writing skills which have reached their full expression in the restaurant reviews on this blog (but as in high school I still frequently wander off-topic such as writing articles about Route 66).

 

Ann’s Chicken Fry–4106 N.W. 39th St., Oklahoma City, OK

Ann's Chicken Fry

Ann’s Chicken Fry at 4106 N.W. 39th St., OKC

Ann’s Chicken Fry opened in 1971 after Interstate 40 was completed through Oklahoma City but when this portion of N.W. 39th Street was still officially designated as U.S. 66. Since that time it has continued to promote the fact that it is located on Route 66, but this is not the reason most customers come here. Instead, it popularity is based on the fact that many think it has one of the best versions of chicken fried steak in the area (I like it almost as much as the ones in Austin, Texas). In addition to the chicken fried steak, though, it has excellent fried chicken and an atmosphere that is very much like the restaurants of the Route 66 heyday.

 

Ding Asian Fusion–6400 N.W. 39th Expressway, Bethany, OK

Ding Asian Fusion

Ding Asian Fusion at 6400 N.W. 39th Expwy., Bethany, OK

Ding Asian Fusion is in a building which has housed a number of restaurants in the past few years. The current restaurant is not one that I think has a particular Route 66 theme, but in my opinion it is good Chinese food. Ding used to be a branch of Szechuan Bistro and now has been sold to an independent owner, but the food is much the same as it was originally. There are quite a few Szechuan style items that are more authentic than Americanized, but the spice level is American by default (you can ask for a higher spice level if you wish).

 

Birrieria Diaz–6700 N.W. 39th Expressway, Bethany, OK

Birrieria Diaz in Bethany

Birrieria Diaz at 6700 N.W. 39th Expwy, Bethany, OK

Birrieria Diaz has a Route 66 mural on its east wall, but otherwise seems like a normal neighborhood Mexican restaurant. It is unusual for the northside Oklahoma City neighborhoods, though, because of the fact that the food is very authentic. This is definitely one of the places I go because I like the food and not because it is on Route 66.

 

Swadley’s Bar-B-Q–4000 N. Rockwell Ave., Bethany, OK

Swadley's in Bethany

Swadley’s BBQ located a half block south of Route 66

Swadley’s Bar-B-Q is actually located a half block south of Route 66 on Rockwell Avenue, but I think it is close enough to include in this article. The traffic signal for Highway 66 is visible in this photo just above the Mayflower moving van (with the green, yellow, and red sign). Some may have to take my word for it, but the highway is actually quite close. I think Swadley’s has the kind of food that fits the spirit of the highway–it is something we remember from the time of Route 66 (those of us who are old enough) and it seems just as good now as ever.

 

Jim’s Restaurant–7950 N.W. 39th Expressway, Bethany, OK

Jim's Restaurant

Jim’s, 7950 N.W. 39th Expressway, Bethany, OK

For years Jim’s was a diner which was open 24 hours, and now it is just open “late.” It is still a good place for those on a trip who want the food to be served quickly so they can get back on the road, yet to enjoy a relaxed moment while they are there. I think it is best known for its breakfasts, and I certainly think they do a good job with this.

 

Mae’s–505 E. Main St., Yukon, OK

Mae's in Yukon, OK

Mae’s, 505 E. Main, Yukon, OK

I would say Mae’s is more of a cafe than a diner since it has somewhat limited hours and is a little more upscale than the typical diner. I was impressed with the food (it is definitely not a greasy spoon type of place). Of special note is the apple streudl they serve for dessert, which is the most Czech-like dish I have found in this town which was largely founded by Czech immigrants.

 

Green Chile Kitchen–12 E. Main St., Yukon, OK

Green Chile Kitchen in Yukon

Green Chile Kitchen, 12 E. Main, Yukon, OK

Green Chile Kitchen is one of the newer restaurants on this list, and has brought Santa Fe style cuisine to an area which is sorely lacking in this type of food. Of course if you are continuing west on Route 66 you will be able to get the real thing (either on the older route which actually goes through Santa Fe or on the newer route which gives you access to the numerous restaurants in Albuquerque which serve this type of food). As a purist I thought part of the food here was as it is served in New Mexico and some was not quite at this level, but I enjoyed all of it.

 

Poquito de Mexico–422 W. Main St., Yukon, OK

Poquito de Mexico in downtown Yukon, OK

Poquito de Mexico, 422 W. Main, Yukon, OK

Poquito de Mexico gives a taste of another style of Mexican food that is near and dear to my taste buds–that of Tex-Mex. While I am not quite as wild about this food as I am of the New Mexican cuisine served at Green Chile Kitchen, I do think it is a better representation of Tex-Mex food than many similar restaurants in Oklahoma. It also has the pedigree of being there when this was the “real” Route 66 highway.

 

Johnnie’s Grill–301 S. Rock Island, El Reno, OK

Johnnie's in El Reno, OK

Johnnie’s, 301 S. Rock Island, El Reno, OK

Johnnie’s Grill has onion burgers that are so good that I have never been able to resist the temptation to go back instead of trying one of the other places in El Reno which are also reputed to be very good. It is also on the old Highway 66 which made a rather serpentine route through the heart of El Reno which I think was to bring traffic in front of as many businesses as possible. Now with less through traffic, though, Johnnie’s seems to be as popular as ever and serves the best onion burger I have found anywhere.

 

Hibachi Buffet–1231 E. Main St., Weatherford, OK

Hibachi Buffet in Weatherford, OK

Hibachi Buffet, 1231 E. Main St., Weatherford, OK

Hibachi Buffet is one of the newer restaurants on Route 66, and is one of the few that is also visible from Interstate 40 (with an exit close by). I think they have decent Chinese food, and I have enjoyed stopping here since it was at its old location in downtown Weatherford (then called Young China). I will take this opportunity to point out, though, that western Oklahoma is not lacking in restaurants along Route 66 that fit the “roadfood” theme, have been there since U.S. 66 was the main highway through town, and/or is marketing itself as a “Route 66” restaurant.

 

Bangkok–5901 E. Amarillo Blvd., Amarillo, TX

Bangkok in Amarillo, TX

Bangkok, 5901 E. Amarillo Blvd., Amarillo, TX

I know Bangkok Restaurant has been on this stretch of the old Route 66 in Amarillo for a number of years, but I do not know if it dates back to 1985 when U.S. 66 was decommissioned (my first visit to Bangkok was in 2005). In fact, I believe this is an example of redevelopment along the former highway once most of the traffic moved to Interstate 40. Now a neighborhood restaurant, Bangkok serves both the immigrant population from Southeast Asia who now live in Amarillo as well as the non-Asian population who just like good food at cheap prices (you get both of these at Bangkok). My favorite item so far is the chicken kaprao, but I can only make it back to Amarillo infrequently to try other dishes combined with the fact that there are several other good Asian restaurants nearby from which to choose (and I like them all).

 

Ly’s Cafe–5615 E. Amarillo Blvd., Amarillo, TX

Ly's Cafe in Amarillo, TX

Ly’s Cafe, 5615 E. Amarillo Blvd., Amarillo, TX

Ly’s Cafe is another good choice within the “Asian Strip” along Route 66 on the east side of Amarillo. This is a Lao restaurant which offers food served the traditional style (photos of traditional Lao food I have seen from California look the same as the food I got here). There are other restaurants along this strip from the 5600 to the 5900 block of E. Amarillo Blvd., but this is the only one I have found that is dedicated exclusively to food from Laos.

Route 66 at the Texas-Oklahoma Border

I believe that something almost as important as the meals I enjoy and write about are the journeys to get to these various places (and in some cases this really seems to be even more important).

One such journey which has interested me since the days of my youth is the iconic one along Route 66 (U.S. Highway 66) which was gradually replaced by Interstate 40. My family made frequent trips from Oklahoma City to New Mexico to visit relatives as well enjoy the cooler summer temperatures in the mountains, and as a result I witnessed much of the transformation of this roadway to the way it is at present.

The sections of Route 66 which still exist have become quite an attraction for tourists, as well as the entire experience of 1950’s and 1960’s era travel which a growing number of entrepreneurs are savvy enough to try to replicate for visitors today.

I can say with a high degree of certainty that the original sections of Route 66 which still exist are not there by design, but just happened to survive due to various circumstances. I found a couple of examples of this on a recent trip on Interstate 40 at the Texas-Oklahoma border. Through some old maps that I have as well as ones I found on the Internet I have developed somewhat of a timeline for the history of this section of Route 66, but I also have memories of it from traveling in my parents’ station wagon on many of our family trips.

 

Wheeler County, Texas Just West of the Oklahoma State line

From Exit 176 eastbound in Wheeler Co., TX into Texola, OK

South frontage road of I-40 at mile 176 in Wheeler Co, TX

South frontage road of I-40 at mile 176 in Wheeler Co, TX

When I saw this section of road I suspected immediately that it was an original segment of Route 66, and a check of the old maps has confirmed that this is the case. This particular section of road is accessible if you take the Texola exit from Interstate 40 eastbound at Exit 176 in Texas.

This was the original Route 66 from the 1930’s and 1940’s, and now seems far too narrow to have functioned as a two-lane high speed highway, although I know that this was the case. Probably the biggest difference in that time period had to do with the size and number of trucks operating on the highway, but even for cars this seems like a narrow road.

A 1961 map of Wheeler County from the Texas Highway Department shows that this had become the eastbound portion of a now 4-lane divided highway. It is interesting that they developed this portion of the road to a 4-lane version of Highway 66 while the Interstate highway is in development (and was open in 1972 for the entire length of Wheeler County except for the loop around the city of Shamrock which was under construction at that time).

What seemed to save this portion of the roadway was the fact that a Texas law said any property owner along a roadway (including US highways) could have access to the roadway. When limited access highways were developed, including Interstate highways, they had to build frontage roads to provide the property owners’ access mandated by state law. With Texas being an ever so frugal and conservative state, they decided that the existing roadway (the old Route 66) would make an excellent frontage road. In Shamrock, where the new Interstate highway bypassed the city, the old Highway 66 is still in its form as it was in the 1960’s (a four-lane divided highway) now known as Business Route 40.

 

Texola, Oklahoma

The farthest west town in Oklahoma along the old Route 66

Route 66 in Texola, OK

Route 66 in Texola, OK

According the the old highway maps which are available for download at the ODOT web site, this section of Route 66 in Oklahoma was widened to four lanes in 1958, and served as the main highway until 1976 when this section of Interstate 40 was completed. Much of the existing Route 66 in Oklahoma today is this same type of four-lane highway, particularly through cities and towns. Because the Interstate largely did not go through the center of towns in western Oklahoma, this left large portions of Route 66 intact and this is another very good place to explore the old road.

Businesses along Route 66 in Texola

Businesses along Route 66 in Texola

Texola has a few businesses along Route 66 which seem to cater mainly to tourists. I was there late in the day and probably after their closing time, but I did see a few cars parked in front (I think they probably get more business during the day).

Texola is a good example of much of the 1960’s version of Route 66, but the south frontage road of Interstate 40 in Wheeler County Texas was of great interest to me as being an original section of the highway from the 1940’s and earlier.

El Paso Restaurants that Closed Before I Could Write a Review (2019 Edition)

One goal of this blog is transparency–I try to review every restaurant I visit and give the good and bad features I find at each one. There are various reasons why I am unable to write a timely review of every restaurant, and I would say the main one is lack of time.

Sometimes I intentionally wait until I am able to make multiple visits or I think there is a good chance I will do so and have a better or more complete picture of the food. It is always a judgment call, but in my mind is always the idea that when a review is published it should present an accurate picture of a restaurant. Still, though, while there is a purpose for waiting to write some of the reviews, some are merely ones that fall through the cracks.

This article presents short summaries of the El Paso restaurants which closed in 2019 before I could write blog articles about them. At this point it does not really make sense to write reviews of restaurants which are already closed, but I did want to acknowledge their disappearance from the city’s restaurant scene.

 

Mehmaan

7130 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX

Mehmaan

Mehmaan

Mehmaan was an Indian restaurant in Colony Cove on N. Mesa Street that I discovered in time to visit twice before it closed. It seemed to have problems with visibility, and even more problems with the parking once people found it (after years of experience with the Colony Cove shopping center I would be greatly surprised if people did not have problems with parking here).

Aloo matar and chicken curry

Aloo matar and chicken curry

I thought the main dishes here were excellent, although the naan was pretty lackluster. A friend and I ordered the aloo matar and chicken curry shown in the photo. To me the restaurant’s sign saying it was “Authentic Indian Cuisine” seemed truthful, and I thought this food was very good. I thought the spice level was good as well as the flavor. The restaurant seemed to have good business, although nothing like I have seen at Indian Hut since it opened (I think its opening pretty much coincided with Mehmaan’s closing).

The pricing was a bit of a problem here. The main dishes were reasonable, but I had to pay extra for naan, chai, and soup (at India Hut in the buffet you get the whole meal including naan for the same price that Mehmaan charged for just the main item). I did think that Mehmaan had food that was largely on par with the good Indian restaurants in larger cities, although with a few exceptions such as the naan.

Personally I questioned whether Mehmaan merited frequent visits because of the amount of my bill when they added all the extras I wanted in a meal. On the other hand, the food was very good. I felt like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof who kept debating about whether his daughter should marry a certain man and saying “on one hand…, but on the other hand…”, and went through this process quite a few times.  Ultimately I would have gone back to Mehmaan because I really like good Indian food, but apparently the majority of diners either disagreed or never had a chance to find this restaurant because it was so well hidden inside the catacombs of Colony Cove. There is still the good news that both India Hut and India Palace are on the west side and have good Indian food (at the moment I think India Hut offers the best bang for the buck but India Palace has my favorite dish which is the chana masala).

 

Just Fit Foods-Elevated

865 N. Resler Dr.
El Paso, TX

Elevated on Resler

Elevated on Resler

Elevated was a place that had prepared food that you take home and heat, but as the name implies it was several steps above what you typically find with this type of food. In fact, I have recently been getting prepared dinners at Sprouts but remembering that the ones at Elevated seemed to be a step above (originally called Just Fit, and later Just Fit Foods–Elevated).

I know the location on Resler is closed, but I am not sure about other locations. Google Maps shows a location at 2609 N. Mesa which only has a few recent comments, and Yelp lists a location on Montwood which does not have any comments later than 2017 (and I think must be closed). The Resler branch was convenient for me and I have not tried to seek out the others, but I was certainly impressed by the food.

Green chile chicken

Green chile chicken

The recipes seemed to be very innovative, and some did not have a flavor that I particularly wanted to try again, but others were quite good. I think my favorites were the green chile chicken and the juicy lucy. The latter was ground turkey stuffed with mozzarella cheese and turkey bacon. It was like Ripe in the sense that every time I went the menu was different, and the juicy lucy seemed to be particularly hard to find on different visits. I could always find something, though, that was more than suitable for dinner (and easy to cook because all you need to do is heat them).

Juicy lucy

Juicy lucy

It seemed that on every dinner the vegetable was broccoli, and I was not crazy about this, but I certainly enjoyed the meals as a whole. The price was not too bad and the portion size was right. Although it was take-out only, I considered it to be one of my favorite restaurants.

 

Poke3

865 N. Resler Dr.
El Paso, TX

Poke3 on Resler

Poke3 on Resler

Poke3 (which I believe is pronounced “Pokay Cubed”) is a local chain for a cuisine that is now very hot around the city. The food, though, is served cold including the fish, which is why I was not a big fan (as opposed to sushi which I think is much more enjoyable). Poke3 went into the space vacated by Elevated, but I think it was even more short-lived than Elevated. There are still some other locations of Poke3 around El Paso, though.

Poke classic

Poke classic

The dish I tried was the Poke Classic which was filled with good flavors, but I was not a big fan of the poke version of raw fish. I wish I could have tried other items on the menu since I believe you can get ones without fish or perhaps other types of fish.

Although other branches of Poke3 are still open, I believe this location suffered from too much competition from similar restaurants on the west side. I have yet to try the other ones, though.

 

Mediterranean Restaurant

4111 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX

Mediterranean Restaurant

Mediterranean Restaurant

Mediterranean was not a restaurant that closed suddenly, but one which I frequented for a number of years after its opening in 1991 before it mostly fell off the radar for me. I went back twice in 2018, but when I tried to go in 2019 I discovered that the building was vacant and there was no sign of an active restaurant inside. I actually thought that it had closed earlier when it looked similarly vacant, but I believe the earlier time had been a false alarm when the owner was probably on vacation (he was a geology professor at El Paso Community College and took trips to all parts of the world in order to do geologic studies).

Libyan soup

Libyan soup

I definitely thought the food was worth the effort to try to catch the restaurant when it was open. My favorite dishes were the ones that seemed to be from the owner Sulaiman Abushagur’s family recipes such as the Libyan Soup. I have not had this soup at any other Middle Eastern restaurant in the country, and I think it is my favorite of this type of soup I have tried. Fortunately I had one last opportunity to try it on my 2018 visits.

Syrian platter

Syrian platter

One quirk of the restaurant seemed to be that you got more for your money if you ordered a very large plate, such as the Syrian Platter I tried on one of my last visits. I thought two of the items were especially noteworthy (the fataier and the hummos), as well as a very strong and delicious hot tea which I ordered as a drink.

Chicken gyros sandwich

Chicken gyros sandwich

The Chicken Gyros Sandwich was an example of one of the lighter meals I had here–it was a sandwich I had not had anywhere else (nor have I had any since). Thus I can say this is the best chicken gyros I have ever had (and it really was quite good, as was all of the food here).

Pine nut baklava

Pine nut baklava

The Pine Nut Baklava was another example of how the food here was always very special. It was a “mini roses baklava” which I believe was not actually made with any parts of the rose plant, but which followed the traditional method of making baklava so that customers got the authentic version of this popular Middle Eastern dessert.

I am not sure if the restaurant’s closing signals that Sulaiman has left El Paso or retired from teaching, but I wish him well and remember his food fondly.