After our recent three week trip from Indiana to the west coast and back (over 8,000 miles), deemed as my Great Western American Road Trip, we inevitably tried plenty of different restaurants! While we were near national parks, there didn’t tend to be a huge selection of options. However, three weeks is a long time and the foodie in me wanted to explore as much as I could!
Here are my top 17 meals, mostly in California (11 of the 17). Keep in mind that this is by no means a list of the “best” restaurants in the west. However, I did hit up several iconic restaurants and unique finds that I would 100% recommend for you to try if you get the chance.
Here we go!
1. Clover Bakery, CA
Located in San Jose, I put this spot on my list after a TikTok recommendation and it was, by far, one of the BEST SPOTS on our long trip through California for delicious food. Literally. Everything. Is. Delicious. Do NOT miss this spot. There is a very unique variety, from savory dishes like pork cutlet burgers, curry bread, and onigiri to sweet dishes like custard cream doughnuts, milk breads, and pastries. We tried probably a dozen items and all were fantastic!!! 12/10 would come back EVERY time even if it was an hour out of the way. There can be long lines as it is a small space and only so many are allowed inside at a time. We got there around 10am and it was empty, so we got lucky!
2. Shabuway, CA
This is right by Clover Bakery, so a good combo! After a large trip exploring the west coast and trying foods from all over - THIS - is the one spot that lingers in my mind as somewhere I would go back to. It was my first Shabu Shabu and it was - Delicious! The meats are cut fresh in front of you, amazing broths, the dips are NOT to be underestimated, and a great variety of vegetables. You can easily split a meat platter for a party of two (add on the veggies) or get your own or go unlimited if super hungry!
3. Ike's Love And Sandwiches, CA
Absolutely FANTASTIC sandwiches! Drawn here from a Tiktok about the "188. DOOMSDAY" sandwich (yes a bit pricier than their normal sandwiches - yes it has EVERYTHING). Split with 2 people and it was just the right amount of food, VERY delicious. It was amusing that they hadn't heard of this sandwich and had to look it up, so they had fun making it for the first time (I think; heard several times about how crazy it was that it has EVERY meat). Their Dutch Crunch bread is something OUT of this world.
4. Midpoint Cafe, TX
Iconic Route 66 Diner at the halfway point. I went here in 2009 during a two week journey with my best friend right after we graduated high school. A fantastic trip and getting to this halfway point was made even better by finding this cute little diner with fantastic diner food. I was excited to return this year, and it is pretty much the same! Very busy, great atmosphere. I ordered a double patty - that was a mistake. It was HUGE! Usually when you can order single, double, or triple patties that is an indicator they have thin patties. No. These are FULL burger patties. Two was gigantic! But it WAS very good!
5. El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant, AZ
Very busy, very popular, and for good reason. Your standard Tex-Mex options and all done well with very friendly staff. It was VERY busy so a reservation might be a good idea (we waited about 30 minutes). We split this "dinner for two" Tapatio Flaming, served literally flaming! It easily can feed four, and we were starving!
6. Tandoori Express, CA
Near Yosemite in the town of Oakhurst. The service was a bit slow, though admittingly we were there about an hour before close. We waited maybe 30 minutes to get seated, despite plenty of seats available. It was some of the BEST Indian I have had, however. Everything, from garlic naan to tikka masala to tandoori chicken - spot on. I do wish the masala was spicier, other than that - fantastic and would come back again!
7. The Ice Cream Bar, CA
Right outside Yellowstone, a great ice cream spot at ANY time of day. I love the atmosphere quite a bit and enjoyed coming here in the late evening. I tried 3 different flavors and all were delicious! Fudge brownie (maybe the best one), Mint Chip, and Carrot Cake.
8. Forest Café, CA
In the heart of the Redwoods region. I am very surprised by so many reviews of low stars for this restaurant on Google. We were here for a few days for the Red Woods and there were NOT many great food options nearby. Not only does this place have a fantastic atmosphere inside, but I was very surprised to find extremely delicious food (everything was great)! You won't find much better in a 20 mile radius (in my opinion)!
9. Taste Of China, CA
Also near Yosemite in the town of Oakhurst. I didn't have high expectations, simply with being in a somewhat "tourist town" by Yosemite with limited options. However, I would come here again and again if I could! The wait was worth it! It was very busy and so took maybe 45 minutes to get food. It was a bit more pricey. But everything we did have was exceptional. Bubble tea, pork buns, orange chicken, vegetable fried rice.
10. Iguana, OK
Great staff, awesome atmosphere! I loved all 3 different tacos I had and fantastic guac! A few things were off (such as very watery salsa and the queso being just kind of like nacho sauce). But I do think their elevated tacos are worth coming for! They bring the SPICE with their specialty salsas.
11. In-N-Out, CA
I KNOW this is a California staple, don't hate me! But, having tried most of the classic burger chains all over the country - This one was a bit disappointing. Maybe I set the bar TOO high for trying it. I tried, of course, the animal style fries and animal style burger. The shake - fantastic! Burger - Just 1 patty I felt like I didn't even taste beef. The secret sauce IS good, as are the onions, but not enough to pull it through. The fries - ok so the fries by themselves are just not crisp or seasoned. The sauce/onions - again - NOT enough to pull them through. I did NOT like just a slice of cheese melted on top (which just hardens back to a slice of cheese pretty quickly). This was HIGH on my foodie bucket list and I was just ... disappointed. STAFF / ENVIRONMENT - perfecto, don't change a thing.
12. Jack In The Box, CA
I don't usually review fast food chains, but I do like to review at least one of each of the big ones. This is my first time here (being from the midwest). Absolutely - FANTASTIC! One of the BEST burgers I have had for fast food (or otherwise). Their small box of tiny loaded tacos is...an experience! I do love their variety on the menu, from chicken and burgers to...tacos? Great stuff!
13. Haagen-Dazs, ID
Just west of Yellowstone. They don't do a good job of letting you know they are open (we were here in late April and many places were closed for the season), BUT delicious ice cream and cute little storefront to try this iconic brand.
14. N7 Draft Tea + Coffee, CA
In San Jose by Clover Bakery and Shabuway. I'll admit, I find bubble tea in most places fantastic. This spot, as expected, did not disappoint! Love their atmosphere and collection of bubble tea stuffed pillows.
15. The Branch Restaurant and Bar, ID
Just outside of Yellowstone. I can, of course, only judge the food off of what we tried. It was one of the best Caesar salads I have had! The swiss and mushroom burger was very straight forward (strong swiss and mushroom flavor) and I guess I would have liked to see it elevated with more flavors. Love the atmosphere and they seem to have many other great dishes that I'd be willing to come back and try!
16. The Junction, CA
Located just west of the Golden Gate Bridge, this is a very lively atmosphere and you can WATCH your pizza made fresh. We got this to-go and I thought it was very fresh and delicious. A nice thin and crispy crust with unique ingredients for toppings. We tried the Shroomer with Black Diamond Mushrooms, onion, garlic, fresh mozz, and tallegio cheese. My only complaint is that we ordered online and were told by text we would get a text when our order was ready. I called after 45 minutes and was told it was ready already. I do like getting food as fresh as possible, so despite having what looked like a robust online ordering system - that part in the process was annoying.
17. Wall Drug Store, SD
There is a lot to do here, as it is basically its own little shopping mall of unique shops all in a fantastic western atmosphere! To top it off, they serve delicious breakfasts. Nothing special, per say, but all your classics done WELL. Simple things like eggs, toast, and bacon all cooked to perfection with heart and soul.