Along our first 6 months of road life, we have been treated with good eats and drinks. Neither of us would ever consider ourselves, “foodies”, nor would we want to, but we love to eat, and enjoy experiencing a regional culture through its food. Because the list was getting too long, I am dividing this up into two parts, one focused on eats, the other on drinks. Here are a few “eats” spots along the way during the first 6 months that stood-out and may be of joy to you as well!
(Disclaimer: neither of us have food allergies and we are omnivores, so our diets consume everything).
In no particular order….
Pour it on Condiments
Portland, OR can “take the burger” when it comes to condiments. We couldn’t get enough of their slightly sweet Portland Ketchup and awesomely flavored Secret Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce. Most Portland restaurants will have these two condiments in stock, so give it a try for free and become as hooked as we were! So much so, we bought several bottles to clank along with us on the road.
Cal-Mex Food (& a side serving of Donuts)
When in SoCal, eat as much Cal-Mex food as you can! One of the signature dishes to come out of the San Diego area is the “California Burrito,” which typically replaces the beans and rice with French fries. On a mission to eat our way through the city, we discovered a blog that was entirely dedicated to the California Burrito and provided great info on size, price, location, and quality. Using this as a treasure hunting map (of sorts), we visited nearly a dozen locations and our favorite, for both California Burritos and fresh fish tacos, was The Taco Stand in downtown San Diego. Their California burrito was a perfect mixture of seasoned meat, grilled tortilla, evenly dispersed condiments, and crunchy fries. The taco selection, of which there are several, were all amazing, and the sauce condiment bar is self-serve happiness. We especially liked their fresh grilled fish tacos.
As an added bonus to their downtown San Diego location, if you are in need of a sweet fix after dinner, right next door is Donut Bar, with a vast array of different varieties and sized donuts.
The other SoCal taco spot that we highly recommend was TJ’s Oyster Bar in Bonita, CA. They have two Bonita locations that are close to each other, but we only tried the smaller, original, location. Loving “pulpo” (grilled octopus), I was incredibly excited to find that they serve grilled octopus tacos, which were super tasty! We tried several different types of tacos and also loved their Seafood Soup. They even feature a taco Happy Hour for their fried fish tacos.
Under the Radar “Great Eats” Town
The most unexpected of “great eats” town presented itself in Mount Vernon, WA. We laid low here for a few days after returning from B.C., Canada, and were not disappointed. Working from a cafe, we came to discover the Shambala Bakery & Bistro. Their restaurant/ cafe location offers lots of seating space eclectically decorated with local art. They serve up some of the best baked goods we have tried on the road and we came to find out afterward that everything we sampled was gluten free (which is not a dietary restriction of ours).
Across from our campground in Mount Vernon was a local Mexican restaurant called Mexico Cafe that we really enjoyed (we especially liked the large serving of fantastic ceviche and Caldo de Mar seafood soup). And, it featured a very happy “happy hour” that started at 2pm until closing. So, cheers!
The most unexpected of finds was a small hole-in-the-wall Thai place called Rachawadee Thai Cafe. There are only a few stool seats at the counter, and it seems this place is always packed with locals willing to wait for some of the best Thai food we have tasted outside of Thailand. The menu is limited to a few popular Thai dishes. Though limited, each item they serve-up has been perfected and was amazing. We tried their signature Pad Thai noodles, Tom Kah soup, and a yellow curry squid dish.
New Grocery Store of Choice
Our standard go-to grocery stores tend to be Trader Joe’s, Sprouts Farmers Market, and Aldi. Traveling around the U.S., we have come to learn that there is no consistency in what grocery store you will find in each state. So, we switch-up our diet according to the products carried in regional grocery stores. As we traveled through Texas, we had the happy pleasure of discovering H-E-B, which had a fantastic selection of some of our favorite food items at cheaper prices than your typical Safeway-type grocery chain.
Lots of people have heard of Tillamook and have come to associate the name with cheese products. While traveling through Oregon, we decided to switch-up our yogurt products in favor of the local brand and came to discover the creamy magic of Tillamook yogurt. The further we traveled away from Oregon, the less often we were able to find it in supermarkets, but continue to hunt & search as we might!
BBQ- Nuff Said
I almost scratched this highlight off the list as I know BBQ is an incredibly divisive topic in Austin, let alone much of the South. As I have established, we have no ambitions to be “foodies”, and I on principle I relish in rejecting that which others have deemed so popular it requires waiting until your deathbed to try. Having established that, we both refuse to go to Franklins BBQ. For good BBQ suggestions that we have tried and feel are still attainable without wasting your entire day, here are our top two choices.
My personal favorite was the food truck of Micklethwait Craft Meats. Fantastic brisket, ribs, pork, and sausage, but what really pushed this over the edge for me was that they didn’t just focus on the traditional BBQ markets. In addition to what you would expect to find at a great BBQ joint in Austin, they slaved over some of the tastiest pulled lamb I have ever tried. Lamb!- the most underrated meat in America!! AND, they focused on their sides, which included a very innovative lemon seed poppy coleslaw, jalapeno grits, and potato salad, all of which we couldn’t get enough of.
Our second favorite is the more popularly known, La Barbecue, which has changed locations and moved into a quick-e-mart of sorts (which also serves beer). La Barbecue keeps with the more hipster tradition of serving up their meats on a metallic lunch tray lined with wax paper. The meat was good, very tasty, and smoked very well. The meat selection we sampled there was more limited to what you would traditionally find in a BBQ spot, and their sides, were honestly not as tasty as Micklethwait, and it all came with a higher price point. But, the BBQ was excellent and had we have not tried Micklethwait first, this would have been our first choice amongst the many of the not-named BBQ joints we tried!
Feel Good Cafe
While boondocking at the local casino in the very small town of Canyonville, OR, we were on the hunt for a caffeine fix and a place to work, and stumbled across a local cafe called Oregon Sunshine Expresso. Converted from a home, this very friendly cafe has good Wi-Fi, and a relaxed & welcoming vibe– and tasty bagels! It is the kind of place that feels like home and is in no rush to push you out the door.
The perfect cure to a wet day in the PacNorth is chowder, and we ordered every chowder we could get our hands on while traveling through Oregon. Our favorite traditional clam chowder was enjoyed at the Harbor Light Restaurant in Reedsport, OR. Which according to the menu, has been a family traditional perfected over many many years, and certainly tastes like perfection.
Having recently lived in California, where In-N-Out burgers have a cult following, we are willing to risk the wrath of furry and proclaim that, in our opinion, the best fast-food burger chain out there, is Culver’s. Not only is their Butterburger far tastier and doesn’t need a secret menu to dress it up, but it can be accompanied with cheese curds, and custard!
We covered fast-food, which has the benefit of being found in lots of spots, but for some of the tastiest burgers that come more sparingly, here are two destinations we picked as our favs so far.
If you find yourself in the SoCal area, then a trolley line ride out to the burbs can conveniently land you in the town of Santee, CA. We found ourselves here wandering around a strip mall. In this mall, Annie’s Fine Burger serves up some of the tastiest burgers we have tried so far and offers several different variations. Our favorite so far is the “Sand Dune”, which is a fancier twist on a cheeseburger with teriyaki sauce and bacon, ‘cause bacon makes everything better.
Another fantastic cheeseburger we tried was at a local favorite in Jerome, AZ called Haunted Hamburger, which greets you with a friendly skeleton hanging from the signage. To be honest, everything we tried was great, which we weren’t prepared for given how popular it was, we feared it may be more of a tourist gimmick. The cheeseburger was killer, as was the seasonal chicken pot pie chowder we had. Even the croutons on their salad were homemade and infused with olive oil and rosemary- unlike any other croutons we have tried. Definitely a great stop for food, and since Jerome is a fun town to visit, worth the trip!
Not Hype When It’s Fact
Anyone who ventures to Austin, TX knows they are famous for their food truck scene, and a standard favorite, which has led to multiple locations throughout the state, is Torchy’s Tacos. Worth every word of praise, the tacos at Torchy’s are inventive, unique, and addictive. Just to add to its cult status, there is a “secret” menu, which frankly, is obnoxious, but the allure of in-crowd antics is a draw for many. However, the Ace-of-Spades is found on their “secret menu” and is our favorite taco. From the regular menu, we love the Alabama Shake and the Crossroads.
My Guilty Pleasure- Pizza
Pizza, my favorite of comfort foods and guilty pleasures. I want pizza all the time. Having tried several pizza joints over the past 6 months, this one is a little bit of a cheat as it is not something we “discovered” while on the road, but no other chains have compared! Selfishly, I am going to plug our favorite pizza chain, Pizza My Heart, in hopes that they branch-out of northern California. Served-up by the slice on plastic frisbees, there are so many tasty varieties that I have been missing while on the road (my favorite is still the Saturday “Figgie Piggie” special!). With a generous loyalty point system that earns free drinks, slices, and salads, and cheap t-shirts to boot, Pizza My Heart is my favorite “chain” pizza place out there and needs to go nation-wide!
Chillax and Hookah
We stumbled across a fun little Mediterranean restaurant and hookah lounge in San Antonio, TX called Habibi Cafe. They have a large outdoor patio area with plenty of cushioned seats (and heaters for cool days). For no extra charge, you can get an iced hookah, which is a special pipe that holds water and is frozen to give a “chilled” smoke experience, and something we had never tried before. The food was really yummy and plentiful– we shared a Shawarma plate and Gyro Pizza, and the price-point was really reasonable.
A Meal with More
One very rainy day in Houston, TX, we were in need of an indoor activity and decided to head to the Museum of Fine Arts. It was right around lunch time, and Cay discovered that if we ate at the MFA Café, we could use our receipt for free museum admission as well. Pretty great deal and the Café food was really tasty– not at all the “ho-hum” cafeteria food one may expect at a museum. The Café is in the basement and you can walk directly into the museum from the Café without having to exit to a central admission point. We noticed afterward that the website mentions the meal and free admission only works from 12pm-2pm on weekdays, but we were there on a Saturday and never had a problem as no one ever inquired about tickets.
Food icons by Trinh Ho via Dribbble