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.

 

Stray Dog Cafe–6722 N.W. 39th Expressway, Bethany, OK

Stray Dog Cafe

Stray Dog Cafe in downtown Bethany

Stray Dog Cafe is best known for its breakfast and hot dogs, but it is open for dinner two nights a week (Fri. & Sat.) with specials not normally on the menu such as El Pollo Loco served with a ghost pepper mayo. Probably most people would be more interested in the very Route 66 style American food they usually serve.

 

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.

Current Day French Culture in Lafayette, LA

While growing up, my dad and uncle shared their household with my great grandmother from Belgium, giving our family a very strong link to the French culture. My dad’s generation had never attempted a serious study of French that I know about, and French conversation in the household consisted of a few phrases.

These stories, though, prompted an interest on my part to become at least a little familiar with this part of my family tradition. An obvious place of interest to me is Lafayette, the unofficial capital of French Acadiana where French families settled after they had been “kicked out” (I believe that is the technical term) of Nova Scotia and surrounding provinces by the British settlers during the “Great Expulsion” from 1755 to 1764. Some of these refugees found homes in the Thirteen Colonies, but a large number arrived as a group in 1765 in what was then the Spanish ruled colony of Louisiana. Because of their numbers, though, they and other French colonists preserved French as the predominant language of the area, and Louisiana fell back under French control shortly before the time it became the American “Louisiana Purchase” in 1803.

Remarkably, French remained the primary spoken language in Acadiana through at least the 1930’s and early 1940’s (the boundaries of Acadiana being based on the areas where French was spoken). When I visited in 2017 I can say that I really never heard any French spoken by the residents there. I was searching for it (such as listening to French radio stations, etc.), and I know it exists, but today this is not a French speaking area.

Through sources such as YouTube you can find videos of Cajun French, and it is obvious that the expert speakers are primarily of the older generation. In the short term the language has not died out because there is a diligent effort by much of the younger generation to keep it going. In the long term, though, it is hard to know what is going to happen.

This narrative is meant to give a background for some things you can see when you are in this beautiful and totally enchanting area.

Hotels along Pinhook Rd.

Hotels along Pinhook Rd.

An area that may at first look like downtown is the “commercial district” along Pinhook Rd. located just south of the historic city center. This area has a wide choice of hotels and is away from the Interstate traffic (Interstate 10 is about four miles to the north).

Rosa Parks Transportation Center

Rosa Parks Transportation Center

A good place to start an exploration of downtown Lafayette is at the Rosa Parks Transportation Center at Jefferson St. and Cypress St. To get here from Pinhook Rd. go east to the Evangeline Thruway where you turn north, turn left when you get to Jefferson Boulevard and go about four blocks until you see the large public parking area (parking is free). This is also the parking lot for Amtrak, Greyhound Bus, and several city and parish offices.

Entranceway to downtown

Entranceway to downtown

While headed west on Jefferson you will also notice this entrance sign to downtown Lafayette (this is the historic downtown area). This view is looking west from the parking lot shown in the last photo. The building at the left edge of the photo is Dat Dog, a casual restaurant that I went in to investigate, and found that it could be of interest to foodies (although I was not able to try it at that time).

Along Jefferson St.

Along Jefferson St.

Along Jefferson Street are some shops, restaurants, bars, etc. that could be of interest to visitors. Mainly I thought it was very visually appealing, and not typical of what you would see in a city’s downtown (just south of this area is the main part of downtown with more traffic, parking lots, etc.).

Dwyer's Cafe

Dwyer’s Cafe

I wasn’t there at the right time, but Dwyer’s Cafe (323 Jefferson St.) is known as the home of the “French Table” where people gather at 7:00 am to enjoy breakfast and speak French. Of course I think Dwyer’s also has good food (which I also was not able to try on this visit).

There is a YouTube video in French showing the group who meet at Dwyer’s as well as other efforts to promote the French Language: Louisiane 2010 – Parler français. The video caption says some of the people who come learned the language from their grandparents but did not know where or when they would have a chance to practice it today (and the meeting at Dwyer’s gives them the opportunity).

In fact, if you wish you can find a multitude of videos about Cajun French on YouTube. My big takeaway from visiting Lafayette, though, is that they speak English. If you want to practice your French you may have to seek out someone who can converse with you.

For those not interested in the language the Cajun food is reason enough to visit Lafayette (but I think there are opportunities to experience the language as well). Most of all, though, this is a very livable mid-sized city with plenty of food choices of all types, and it is a good base from which to explore the surrounding area.

This area of Louisiana certainly seems to rank with northern New Mexico as being one of the most unique cultural areas of the United States. One commonality of these two areas was the homogeneous language and cultural group each had that allowed their native language to survive, and which to some extent is present today.

My Restaurant Guide lists some restaurants I tried as well as ones that look good and would be on my list for future visits: Louisiana Restaurant Guide.

I want to be sure to mention Poche’s, in Breaux Bridge a few miles east of Lafayette, for excellent home style Cajun food.

“Lagniappe” (Additional Information Available on the Internet)
While Lafayette and the surrounding area may not always exude an obvious French culture in its day-to-day life, there is much to discover just below the surface, or simply by knowing where to look. An excellent source seems to be the Lafayette Travel web site, with links to events, attractions, food, and any other information that might be of interest to residents and visitors (I compliment them on the amount of information that is available on the site).

Outdoor concert series are often scheduled multiple times per week (with the most taking place during the best weather seasons of spring and fall or at the appropriate time of day for the musicians’ and audience comfort). Indoor concerts and dances are also available on a frequent basis.

Much of the local music is performed in Cajun French or has French roots, and this music has continued through the generations at dances and just about anywhere people got together for a social occasion or to have a good time. The Lafayette Travel web site seems to provide information about the easiest ways to find whatever musical event is going on.

Lafayette and all the surrounding cities celebrate their French roots through the local cuisine, and the Lafayette Travel site offers a multitude of suggestions. My experience is that a little bit of searching on web sites can result in very positive results in finding Cajun food or other types of local cuisine. In fact, even many people in New Orleans say the best Cajun food is not there, but in Acadiana.

The web site even has a list of places with a “French Table” where people can get together to practice French (and usually enjoy food at the same time). I was unable to find this list through the web site’s menu, but located it through a Google search which I will share:

French Tables (for Practicing French)

According to the list Dwyer’s Cafe has their meeting every Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. This is only one of nine places currently listed in Lafayette which have a French Table, with others available in surrounding cities.

My Overview of All of This
I really have a couple of takeaways from visiting the area: (1) If you are interested in exploring any aspect of French culture in Louisiana it is easy to find with a little bit of searching, although it will definitely not be a situation where you will feel like you are in a foreign country and do not know the language, and (2) If you are coming primarily for Cajun food I think it will definitely be worth the trip–any cuisine is its best at the source, and I definitely found that to be true here.