Road trips and food – what to pack and where to eat

‘I want to try everything once’

As a little girl, I remember my mom popping popcorn and placing it in bread bags in preparation for our summer vacation. We’d always have a big bag of Brach’s assorted candies and a few cans of Pringles.

Food is an important aspect of any road trip, both what you eat while driving and what you eat when you arrive.

On the road

I’m a big believer in having special treats they don’t normally get at home. It can help pass the time when they’re ready to be out of the car but you’re not there yet.

We also pack breakfast items like granola and protein bars, fruit, yogurt, and occasionally pop-tarts (which we never have at home), and then sandwiches, chips and raw veggies for lunch. These can be eaten while driving or at a rest area or park when a little stop along the way is needed.

Travel Snack Boxes - "Road trips and food – what to pack and where to eat." Travel. Kids. Family. Summer.
Travel Snack Boxes

When our kids were younger, on an especially long road trip, I came across a new idea – travel snack boxes. I picked up containers I found in the craft section that had tiny compartments where different snacks could be divided.

It gives your children a variety of sweet and salty food options — nuts, dried fruit, Goldfish, Cheerios, gummi bears and the like — so they can choose for themselves.

We set some guidelines as to when they could have the treats, spreading it out over the length of the trip. And it worked out amazingly well.

At our destination

My biggest road trip tip: don’t be afraid to try something new.

Depending on the length of the trip and the destination(s), we generally plan one special meal each day, frequenting local restaurants (not chains) that are popular in that community.

And plan ahead. Research what locals eat and read reviews. Once you’re there, ask hotel employees or gas station clerks or anyone about their favorite places.

If we’re someplace we’ve traveled before, we usually stop at our favorite places but also try new things, too.

When we’re in Los Angeles where my husband is from, we always take a special trip to Olvera Street, the oldest part of downtown LA, just for the taquitos at Cielito Lindo. The sauce is amazing and the taquitos are unlike any others.

Olvera Street. Los Angeles. Taquitos at Cielito Lindo. "Road trips and food – what to pack and where to eat." Summer. Travel. Family. Kids. Foodie.
The taquitos at Cielito Lindo in Olvera Street are simply amazing.

LA is also one place we break our rule of no chains by eating at In-N-Out (our favorite burgers) and El Pollo Loco (fabulous flame-grilled chicken, veggies and tortillas).

In-N-Out. "Road trips and food – what to pack and where to eat." Summer. Travel. Family. Burgers. Double Doubles. Fries. Shakes.
In-N-Out … best burgers ever.

In recent years, we’ve started another tradition – finding a place featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Here are a few we’ve visited: Tune Inn in Washington, DC; Darwell’s in Long Beach, MS; Victor’s 1959 Café in Minneapolis; Donatelli’s in White Bear Lake, MN; The Blue Door in Minneapolis; The Dari-ette in Minneapolis; Vito & Nick’s Pizzeria in Chicago; Sam’s No 3 in Denver; Charlie Parker’s in Springfield, IL (you can read more about this one in our Road tripping with the kids to the Land of Lincoln post); The Oinkster in Eagle Rock, CA; YJ’s Snack Bar in Kansas City; Tip Top Café in San Antonio; Lone Star Taqueria in Salt Lake City.

 

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There are, of course, tons of other great local places to eat wherever you travel. A few at the top of our list include The Market Café in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Gloria’s (a Salvadorian restaurant) in Dallas, Del’s in Tucumcari, NM, and Carmine’s Pie House in Jacksonville, FL.

The Market Café in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Travel Snack Boxes - "Road trips and food – what to pack and where to eat." Travel. Kids. Family. Summer. Foodie.
The Market Café in the French Quarter of New Orleans
Del's Restaurant in Tucumcari, NM. Travel Snack Boxes - "Road trips and food – what to pack and where to eat." Travel. Kids. Family. Summer.
Del’s Restaurant in Tucumcari, NM
Carmine’s Pie House in Jacksonville, FL. Travel Snack Boxes - "Road trips and food – what to pack and where to eat." Travel. Kids. Family. Summer.
Carmine’s Pie House in Jacksonville, FL

Anthony Bourdain, host of Parts Unknown, said: “Do we really want to travel…eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald’s? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat… I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.”

I want it all, too.

What about you? What are your favorite road trip must-haves? Or your favorite restaurant destinations? We’re always looking for new recommendations.

 

 

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