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.

Bangkok–Amarillo, TX

Bangkok Restaurant
5901 E. Amarillo Blvd.
Amarillo, TX
(806) 383-9008
Bangkok Restaurant

Bangkok Restaurant


Bangkok is one of several Southeast Asian restaurants along the old Route 66 in Amarillo that have become some of my favorite places to stop when I am passing through. I not only like the Thai and Lao food served at the multiple restaurants within a 5 or 6 block strip, but it seems that something will always be open late at night (Bangkok is open until 11:30 p.m.), and many of them are open holidays such as Christmas (I am not sure about Bangkok in this regard). I have not even come to the point that I have a favorite among these restaurants–I just know that I have had good meals at all of them.

My first visit to Bangkok was in about 2005, and it immediately impressed me with two things–the good food and the fact that there was no smoke. I do not know if in fact it is a non-smoking restaurant because in Amarillo each restaurant can make its own choice, but I just know that I have not experienced anyone smoking in my three visits there. If I am mistaken about their smoking policy I will say that the dining room is large enough that you could stay away from the smoke (if there is any). Probably the thing that would be of concern to most people, though, is the fact that it is cash only (they do not take checks or credit cards). The prices are so cheap, though, it makes me think this is how it could be at all restaurants if they stopped taking credit cards.

From the old and new menus I have picked up, I noticed that some new dishes have been added but there have been minimal price increases on the old ones. The “kaprao” dish I ordered in 2019 appears to be a little smaller than a similar “krapao” dish I had in 2009 (so perhaps they have reduced the portion size a little bit). I am not saying this to discourage anyone, but on the contrary I found that you still get good servings at very good prices. Plates are still very filling even if they are smaller than before (and I do not know if this is the case). In any case, you get a very good portion of rice with the plate, and this is not the case at all Thai restaurants.

Some Menu Items

Chicken kaprao

Chicken kaprao

Chicken Kaprao is a very flavorful and somewhat spicy dish that is so good it makes it hard to try anything else on the menu (I ordered the “krapao” on an earlier visit). Pad kra pao is actually the translation for holy basil, one of its main flavor components but one which was not mentioned on the menu. Instead, the following were mentioned or were items that I saw in the dish: green beans, Thai eggplant, and green, red, and orange chiles.

I should mention that the spice level you would like in the food is what you should order. The spice level is not adjusted for American tastes–the one here is the real deal.

They gave me some chiles on the side but I ended up not using them (this was my insurance in case the food was not spicy enough, but the extra spice was not necessary).

Chicken panang

Chicken panang

My dining companion ordered Chicken Panang, and we shared the dishes. I liked this because I got to sample one of Bangkok’s curry dishes and to be able to say that it was excellent as well.

Items from the “Old” Menu

Krapao

Krapao from the old menu

When I visited in 2009 I also ordered the chicken “Krapao” which visually looks a little different from the current dish but I believe it is the same thing. The chicken was ground (now I believe the pieces are a little larger). I noted that this one had eggplant, bamboo, and green beans (I believe the current one has the same ingredients). Both the old and new one had mushrooms. I did not notice the red and orange chiles in the old version but perhaps they were there. In any case, this was essentially the same dish with the rice served on a separate plate (rather than now when the main dish and rice are on the same plate).

From an even earlier visit I noted that the Chicken Soup was very good (I do not have photos of it). It came in a large bowl, almost big enough for a meal, (and comes in an even larger bowl if you want it). The broth was almost clear, with lemongrass, ginger, and other herbs mixed in for a flavorful base to the very good white meat chicken. Small mushrooms were the only vegetable included. I am not sure the amount of food in the smaller bowl would be enough to make a satisfying meal for the average person, but the flavor was more than satisfying (I ate it as an appetizer). The current menu lists both a chicken soup and chicken coconut soup (I believe the former is what I got).

My Appraisal
This is very much a home style restaurant where you feel that you are sharing a family’s meal. I also feel this way because of the absence of overly-sweet curries and things that some restaurants do to try to adjust their food to American tastes. Here you get a Thai taste, although they will of course adjust the spiciness level and anything else you need because of dietary restrictions, etc.

The thing that is difficult about the menu is that it lists items such as “chicken soup,” without telling you that this is a very complex chicken soup with Asian flavors which include lemongrass, etc. I have observed many customers come in who seem to be regulars, and know what dishes they like. I do not think there would be anything here that I do not like, but of course when I come to a place that cooks in the real Thai style I like to take advantage of it as much as possible. The kaprao dish is something I like to order here because I cannot find it at a lot of Thai restaurants, and certainly few dishes that are as good as the one here. Nevertheless, if you feel like getting something simple (such as chicken soup) I would say that if you are in the mood for it, it can be equally satisfying.


RATING: 25

Cuisine: Thai
Cost: $
Hours: Closed Wed.
Accessible: Yes
Smoking: No smoking
Special Features: Cash only

Most Recent Visit: Jan. 11, 2019
Number of Visits: 3
Best Items: Chicken Kaprao, Panang Curry, Chicken Soup

 

Asian Food Details

Tea: Thai Tea
MSG: N/A
Buffet: No
Special Ratings
star 5 Chicken Kaprao
star 5 Panang Curry with Chicken
star 5 Chicken Soup

 

Menu (Jan. 2019):