When we first took on a month-long house-sit in Phoenix, Arizona we were completely up in the air about where to go when it ended. We had our car, so were looking for inspiration for a road trip… At some point along the line I realized that Route 66 was only a couple hours north of Phoenix, in Flagstaff, Arizona. So an idea started brewing… Why not use Route 66 as a loose basis for a road trip towards Ontario, where we’d then visit family for a couple weeks! Being foodies, it was a pretty natural fit to turn that road trip into a hunt for the best Route 66 diners! We didn’t make it to all that we wanted to, thanks to closing times and days. But we hit as many as possible. This list is the culmination of 3 weeks of Route 66 diner hunting and sight seeing. I hope it gives you some ideas of places to hit on your next road trip!
Best Route 66 Diners: The Best Eats on the Main Street of America
- Henry’s Drive In Cicero, Illinois
- Cozy Dog Drive In Springfield, Illinois
- Ted Drewes Frozen Custard St Louis, Missouri
- Dairy King Commerce, Oklahoma
- Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger Miami, Oklahoma
- Clanton’s Cafe Vinita, Oklahoma
- Brownies Hamburgers Tulsa, Oklahoma
- Ollie’s Station Restaurant Tulsa, Oklahoma
- The Rock Cafe Stroud, Oklahoma
- Pops Arcadia Arcadia, Oklahoma
- Sid’s Diner El Reno, Oklahoma
- Kix on 66 Tucumcari, New Mexico
- 66 Diner Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Twisters Soda Fountain Williams, Arizona
Henry’s Drive In Cicero, Illinois
We drove Route 66 backwards, so Henry’s Drive In was actually our last stop on our road trip. AND it was our first exposure to a Chicago dog (and the associated disproving looks for asking for only ketchup.. but we didn’t know any better yet!). The dogs served at Henry’s are a bit different than the typical Chicago style though… We learned later that they are nicknamed ‘depression dogs’, because they come with fries on top and are served as ‘a meal in itself’ (as the neon sign out front reads).
There’s only about 10 tables, and the walls are decorated with news articles and old photos from when Route 66 was young. Food here isn’t anything you’ll write home about, but we established early on in this road trip that the diners we visited were about the EXPERIENCE, not about finding the next great culinary craze. I do regret that I didn’t know what a Chicago dog was before I started, so be sure to sort that out before you get here so you don’t get the same looks we got!
Cozy Dog Drive In Springfield, Illinois
Cozy Dog is known for a few things.. Namely that they invented the corn dog! In 1946 Ed Wildmire had an idea for a hotdog coated in batter and deepfried. After a few years of testing, he opened up a roadside stand beside his house to sell his new ‘cozy dog on a stick’. Soon after that he and his wife opened a second location on Route 66. Years later, in 1996, they opened the current location, still on Route 66.
The second reason Cozy Dog has gained notoriety is thanks to Ed and Virgina Wildmire’s son, Bob. Bob lived much of his adult life travelling along Route 66 in his VW van, creating maps and artwork showcasing landmarks along the Route. Some of his artwork is showcased at Cozy Dog Drive In, and you can see his van and bus up the road at the Route 66 Hall of Fame in Pontiac, Illinois. He was also the inspiration behind the character ‘Fillmore’ in the Disney movie Cars.
Alright… enough history! Let’s talk about the food!!! Let me preface this by saying that I’m not really a fan of corn dogs… Like most of you, I’m sure, I’m accustomed to those frozen guys that you bake/fry and eat at home. Not my favourite meal! So coming here, I was a little skeptical. But obviously I had to try one, being that were were on a culinary mission eat at all of the best Route 66 diners.
We placed our order at the counter, then watched them dip our dog and put it in the fryer with a funky gadget. While waiting we took the time to browse around the restaurant. The walls are covered with bits of history and pieces of Bob’s artwork. And there’s a little ‘souvenir store’ in the corner selling both local and Route gear.
After a few minutes our order was ready and it was time to give it a taste…. And man, I was hooked after the first bite! I’m now a fresh-made-cozy-dog convert! The fries were also delicious- thin and fresh cut, our favourite style. And those prices… Gotta love a place where we can both eat for $8!
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard St Louis, Missouri
This isn’t so much a Route 66 diner as it is an ice cream stand… But that doesn’t make it any less of a worthwhile stop! Pop by for a snack on your way out of town, I promise you won’t regret it!
Frozen custard is similar to ice cream, but… creamier. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard has been a staple on Route 66 since its opening in 1941, though the business actually began in 1929 Florida. They are famous for their ‘concrete’… A frozen custard blended with flavour add-ins that is so thick it’s served to you upside down!
Ted Drewes has a couple other seasonal locations, but this is the one that’s open year round, apart from the month of January. They offer a walk up counter and there are a few picnic tables outside, but not much seating otherwise. So grab your ice cream and go for a walk, or take it with you as you continue your road trip.
Dairy King Commerce, Oklahoma
Dairy King is pretty lax on the ‘diner’ front, but it’s still a great place to stop on this tour of Route 66 diners! It began in the early 1930s as a Marathon service station, and over the years turned into the diner it is today.
Now owned and operated by Treva and Charles Duboise, a mom and son team (yay for mom and son partnerships!), they offer a small diner menu and their famous, self-designed, original Route 66 cookies.
We stopped in here just to get a cookie and to check out the town, and ended up talking for half an hour with Treva! She told us all about the towns history including all about the shootout with Bonnie and Clyde, Mickey Mantle growing up down the street, and the story behind the Hole in the Wall Conoco across the street!
Even if you’re not hungry, stop in here for a cookie, a story and a look around!
Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger Miami, Oklahoma
Ku-Ku Burger was a popular chain in the early 1960’s. At one point there was over 200 locations nation wide! This one opened in 1965. By 1969 most others had shut down, and now this is the last remaining one in operation.
Eugene Waylan bought this Ku-Ku Burger in 1973 and has worked nearly every day since, except of course the 4 holiday days a year that they are closed!
Ku-Ku Burger is a fast food place that serves a variety of burgers and sides, and a selection of milkshakes and cyclones (their version of a ‘blizzard’ or ‘mcflurry’). The food was tasty, and the milkshake was a satisfying after a hot days drive!
Clanton’s Cafe Vinita, Oklahoma
Clanton’s Cafe in Vinita, Oklahoma is a piece of history you really can’t miss on your quest to visit the best Route 66 diners! This restaurant has made history as the oldest continually owned family restaurant on Route 66. It was established in 1929, and has been passed down for generations. This location has been feeding hungry travellers looking for the best Route 66 diners since 1947!
Walking in the door you are immediately greeted by old school decor and a display of memorabilia that covers nearly every wall. The menu is filled with fairly typical home-style diner fare… and that’s nothing but a good thing! My chicken fried chicken burger (the first I’ve ever had!) was delicious, and had the perfect crunch to it. Seth’s fries were fresh cut- as only the best are- as were the chips we shared. And at $1.49/side, as budget travellers we were more than satisfied! The menu is priced very well, which means it also fits the bill for our low budget traveller lifestyle! We were too full for dessert, but since everything is homemade from scratch, I have no hesitation in suggesting you try a piece of pie during your visit ;).
Brownies Hamburgers Tulsa, Oklahoma
Full disclosure, Brownies isn’t technically ON Route 66, but just 2 blocks off of it. Having stopped in for lunch while passing through Tulsa, we can definitely attest that it belongs on this list of great Route 66 diners!
Brownies Hamburgers has been serving breakfast, grilled burgers, homemade pie and fresh root beer since 1957. We actually arrived around 1030am, which was a bit early for lunch. Since we were going in for burgers we opted to head out and explore Tulsa for an hour while waited. (Which led to the discovery of Hurtz Donuts… Another must try if you come across one!)
Once our wander around downtown was done, we headed back to Brownies for lunch. And with perfect timing! Not long after we arrived and claimed a booth, the place filled up! Clearly we were in the right place!
We ordered, then watched the cook prepare our meal on the grill just behind the counter. I was a chef in my old life, so I can appreciate seeing the magic happen! Our burgers arrived rather quickly, but Seth didn’t mind waiting while he tested out their signature root beer. The burgers were delicious and the fresh cut fries were so good, we almost ordered a second order. Stop in here for a quick, cheap meal on your road trip to see Route 66 diners.
Ollie’s Station Restaurant Tulsa, Oklahoma
We actually only stopped at Ollie’s for a milkshake, because we were still full from Brownie’s earlier. But I knew as soon as I read about Ollie’s Station online that we HAD to stop in and check it out! They have been in business since 1891, and offer a pretty unique experience to diners… Around the perimeter and along the center booths of the restaurant run 10 trains of various scales! Whether you’re a collector, a fan or completely uninterested in model trains, you’ll find delight in watching these trains make their rounds!
Service was pretty slow while we were here, but the server and manager were both quick to apologize for the wait. We happened to stop right at lunch time and it was easy to see how busy they were. During lunch they offer what looked to be a great buffet selection and most patrons were taking advantage of this.
Our milkshake was tasty, however fairly standard. Having tried milkshakes all over the country, we’ve basically realized they are hard to make wrong ;). Our go-to flavour of cookies and cream was a welcome dessert after our lunch earlier! It was huge, so more than enough for us to share.
The Rock Cafe Stroud, Oklahoma
Truth be told, we actually almost skipped this one… We were tired, it had been a long day of driving and stopping and photo taking and sightseeing. The sun was setting as we pulled into the lot, ‘just to take a picture of the sign’, I said. As we walked around the building, I got a feeling that I would regret not going inside for a look, so we agreed to share a plate of fries, just to be able to say we had visited the home of Sally Carrera from the Disney movie Cars.
The Rock Cafe has a pretty cool history. It was built in 1936 from castoff stones from the building of Route 66 back in 1927, hence the name. Aside from a year closed to repair from a fire in 2008, The Rock has been open continuously since it opened in 1936- even functioning as a bus station during the war! In 2001 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Once we decided to head in, we walked across an empty parking lot, through an empty patio, and were greeted by a hallway absolutely covered by signatures and messages from past visitors. What a cool welcome to the restaurant! As we walked down the hall into the main dining room, we see that the walls are decorated with artwork and souvenirs from various Disney visitors. Since the owner, Dawn Welsh, was the inspiration behind Sally Carrera, Disney spent a fair amount of time in the area, getting to know their inspiration.
Unfortunately Dawn was on vacation the week we stopped in, so we didn’t meet her. But we enjoyed our fries, and our visit! Highly recommend a stop in here, even just to check out the building and to take a look at all the Disney memorabilia inside.
Pops Arcadia Arcadia, Oklahoma
Home to the world’s largest pop (aka soda) bottle! This is a relatively new addition to Route 66, but a great place to stop for a drink, and some photography fun! The 66 foot tall pop bottle can be seen in the distance as you drive along the Route, so it’s easy to find!
After you’ve finished playing around with your camera out front, head on inside to take your pick from over 700 varieties of pop!
We didn’t actually sit down for a meal here because we were both full from snacks on the road. But as soon as we walked and saw the menu posted, we were disappointed we weren’t hungry!! The posted sign showed off a daily happy hour special, with half priced burgers, so it’s definitely our kind of place. The reviews on Yelp are AWESOME, so we’re obviously heading back here for lunch one day!
Sid’s Diner El Reno, Oklahoma
Fried onion burgers are basically synonymous with Oklahoma. As soon as you enter the state you’ll start seeing them on menus everywhere. To us Northerners, we didn’t think there was anything special about a burger with fried onions… Until we started digging a little deeper. Turns out, El Reno- a little town 30 minutes east of Oklahoma city- is actually home to the origin of the fried onion burger. This burger gained popularity around 1926 when the cost of meat was at a premium, but onions were dirt cheap. So, in order to please the many passersby in search of a bite on Route 66, a man named Ross Davis began smashing his burger patties with a healthy serving of paper-thin sliced onions. When neighbouring establishments caught wind and began serving their burgers in a similar manner, it was clear a legend had been born.
Nowadays fried onion burgers can be found everywhere in Oklahoma, but you owe it to yourself to stop in El Reno and have a burger at one of the 3 restaurants in town known for theirs. We chose SId’s Diner, because as well as being budget travellers and food hunters, we’re also big fans of the Food Network. And as the sign out front so proudly proclaims, Sid’s has been featured more than once!
A fried onion burger honestly isn’t much to look at. It’s messy, the bun is flat, and the meat is hard to see under all those onions (and added toppings, because I like to add to the chaos that is already present). But MAN is it delicious!! The flavour of the fried onions seeps into the meat, and the flattened bun is just there to give a vehicle to those flavours. Make no mistake though… you’ll need a few napkins by the time you’re done! The mark of a truly great burger, if I’ve ever known one 😉
Prices here are excellent for a sit down eatery. Seth splurged on a milkshake, and we each got a burger with a shared order of fries. The 1/2 order was HUGE, and only $2.50! Our whole meal came to under $15, and it was well worth that!
Kix on 66 Tucumcari, New Mexico
As you’re driving Route 66, you will encounter some pretty awesome little towns. Ones that seem frozen in time from the years of Route 66’s heyday. Tucumcari is one of these towns. From the WigWam Motel to the old Ranch House Cafe sign or the TeePee Curios shop.. The minute you enter this town you’ll feel as though you’re back in the golden days of Route 66. It’s also known as a ‘the city of murals’! Print off a map from this site and see as many as you can!
Kix on 66 is a local restaurant serving breakfast and lunch to locals and travellers. It is a very new addition to the Route, so isn’t one that was frequented during Route 66’s prime, but it’s worth a stop if only to check out the kitschy decor and old school charm.
Seth was happy to indulge in breakfast, while I opted for a grilled cheese sandwich and fries. None of it was particularly remarkable, but I personally don’t go to diners like this for world class food! We left feeling full, and glad we had stopped in to check it out. Breakfast here was a great way to start off our day of exploring around Tucumcari!
66 Diner Albuquerque, New Mexico
This 50’s diner was a fun stop while in Albuquerque. We spent a few days in town, so we feel like we got to know it pretty well! This diner is one of the more famous Route 66 diners, with people coming from all over the world to get a bite of authentic Route fare.
Immediately upon pulling into the parking lot you’re through back into the early days in advertising when you see the ‘burma-shave’ style signs pulling you in for a milkshake. These ads are fun to spot on Route 66!
Walking into the diner you are transported back to the 1950’s, with the checkered counter and teal booths. The restaurant is decorated with Route 66 memorabilia, which offers an abundance of things to look at! A you walk towards the back of the restaurant (where I’d recommend sitting!) notice the hopscotch court… That area used to be a mechanics service bay back when the building was a Phillip’s service station,, and underneath the hopscotch court is the old hydraulic lift!
Our meal was tasty, however still average diner fare. No complaints here though.. in places like this, you’re going for the ambiance and the experience! Though we’ve heard amazing things about their weekend breakfasts… So I recommend stopping in for that if you can!
Twisters Soda Fountain Williams, Arizona
Since we were driving Route 66 the ‘wrong’ way (west to east), and because we actually started in Arizona instead of California, Twisters was the first Route 66 diner we stopped in. And what a great opening for us. It was a great start to our week off-Route at the Grand Canyon, too!
This Route 66 diner is jam packed with checkers and Coca-Cola memorabilia, which is a fun throwback! The menu features typical 50’s diner fare with a complete ice cream bar and soda fountain.
Our road trip along Route 66 took place in September, which isn’t really a popular time on the Route, so we weren’t surprised to find Williams pretty quiet. So quiet that we were the only ones in this diner the whole time we were here!
We weren’t too hungry when we got here, so we decided to share a hotdog and fries. I didn’t ask for it to be split, but when our server brought our trays he had cut the hotdog and split the fries, which was a nice touch! The hotdog was simple but good, and the fries were thin cut. Definitely recommend a stop in here on your search for the best Route 66 diners!
And there you have it! Our list of the best Route 66 diners, from east to west! Use the map to help plan your trip and include as many as you can!
Ready to plan your next road trip? Check out this post about road tripping on a budget for help planning!
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