1. Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket
All eight US states (Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California) covering the 2,448 miles of Route 66 offer a variety of roadside gourmet. Starting in Willowbrook, IL, Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket has been seen on numerous Route 66 documentaries and travel books about the famous highway. People come from all over the world to try their food with good reason—their fried chicken was chosen as the best fried chicken in Chicagoland more than 20 years ago and still lives up to its reputation. The restaurant opened in the summer of 1946. Thanks to the amount of traffic as well as its proximity to Chicago, the Chicken Basket is still the ideal stopping place 80 years later.
2. A Slice of Pie
Nothing says comfort in the Midwest more than a good slice of pie. In November 1986, just in time for Thanksgiving, Missouri public school teachers Ron and Mickey Hopson opened up their very own pie shop. They opened the store with only two regular stove ovens, and by the second week, commercial ovens were intact. This place has about 30 varieties of pie, cakes, cheesecakes, and no-sugar-added items always ready for their visitors at any time. Between pie of the month, pie for lunch, and holiday orders, this stop is a must for anyone who has a hankering for pie. Locals say it’s the best pie around.
Outside of POPS in Arcadia, OK, there’s a soda bottle that is 66 feet tall. POPS signature collection has more than 700 kinds of soda, sparkling waters, and other ice-cold refreshments, along with the best shakes, sodas, entrees, and just about everything else you could want. This unique and colorful tourist attraction is an iconic stop to make along Route 66.
4. Big Texan Steak Ranch
Don’t mess with Texas, but do try the steaks! In 1960, R. J. “Bob” Lee opened The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo on Route 66. After a fire in 1977, the restaurant reopened along with the famous large bull statue. The Big Texan is best known for its 72-ounce steak, nicknamed “The Texas King.” The steak is free to anyone who can eat it, along with some shrimp and a salad. If you can’t successfully eat the whole thing, the meal will run you $72.
Big Texan Steak Ranch has attracted competitive eating champs from around the world. As of 2015, 9,000 people out of about 55,000 have been able to accomplish this food challenge task. The restaurant can also be seen in the movie “Waking Up in Reno,” where Billy Bob Thornton takes the challenge. You may have also seen it happen on the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food”, where host Adam Richman successfully completes the challenge. In “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” Bourdain declines the challenge. His cameraman then steps up to the plate (so to speak) but cannot complete the task.
Along with the restaurant’s handcrafted beer, another selling point is the Big Texan Motel, which is adjacent to the property. It’s modeled after an old west town and even has a Texas-shaped pool.
5. The Summit Inn
This overlooked treasure was originally a roadside diner built. Located in San Bernardino County, California, this place is known for delicacies such as ostrich and buffalo. The original Summit Inn, which was running back in 1928, actually got its name from its location at the summit of the Cajon Pass between the westbound and eastbound lanes of US Route 66. The present location, also at the Cajon Pass summit, has been in operation since 1952. There are even ‘50s-era postcards that show a Horseless Carriage Rally at this very place. In 1966, Cecil “C.A.” Stevens bought the iconic Texaco filling station and the restaurant from original builder Burt Riley. Some familiar faces who have stopped by include Elvis Presley (who reportedly kicked down the jukebox and left without eating), Pierce Brosnan, Pearl Bailey, Clint Eastwood, and Danny Thomas. Sadly, a fire took down this landmark pit stop just this past August. However the owner plans to rebuild the stop and bring it back to its original glory.