There are a lot of old restaurants along Route 66.
McDonald’s began along the old route. So, did Steak & Shake.
In fact, the entire idea of fast food was born on the Mother Road, where diners needed to get their meals quick and put a few more miles under their wheels before nightfall.
Of the restaurants that remain, only a handful are truly iconic.
A few others maintain enough nostalgia to keep them firmly planted in the past.
These are the “must-stop” restaurants on Route 66, the ones you should put first on your dining list if you’re driving the old road.
You may not be able to eat at all of them (or maybe you will – we don’t know your stomach), but these are the historic Route 66 restaurants to pick from if you’re really trying to capture the spirit and old-school experience of the Mother Road.
Illinois Route 66 Restaurants of Note
Though the start sign for Route 66 now lies on Adams Street (due to the influx of one-way streets), the original Route 66 through Chicago only ran along Jackson Boulevard, and Lou Mitchell’s restaurant was right at the start of it.
Founded in 1923, Lou Mitchell’s was affectionately called “the first stop on the Mother Road” and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
Location: 565 W. Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL
Opened in 1946 in its current location, Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket is known for its classic fried chicken recipe and its neon sign.
Both the restaurant and sign were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
Location: 645 Joliet Rd, Willowbrook, IL
Opened the same year Route 66 was commissioned, the Old Log Cabin Restaurant was both gas station and restaurant.
Now a restaurant/bar, little else about the place has changed.
Location: 18700 Historic U.S. 66, Pontiac, IL
Opened in 1949, Cozy Dog Drive In was the first Route 66 location of the Cozy Dog franchise.
The originators of Cozy Dog claimed to have invented the modern corndog (but so have a lot of other people).
Regardless, they still sell them up at eye-poppingly low prices.
Location: 2935 S 6th St, Springfield, IL
In continuous operation since 1924, The Ariston Café moved to Route 66 in 1935.
The café was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006, and, like the Old Log Cabin Restaurant, not much about the place has changed in the years since.
Location: 413 Old Rte 66 N, Litchfield, IL
Originally called “Tourist Haven” when it first opened in 1938, Weezys still sports that original sign on its wall, along with plenty of other Route 66 memorabilia, making it half restaurant. half museum.
It may not be the same as it once was, but it still retains loads of that Old Road vibe.
Location: 108 S. Old route 66, Hamel, IL
Missouri Route 66 Restaurants of Note
Founded in 1929, the Route 66 branch of Ted Drewes opened in 1941 and quickly became the local chain’s most popular location.
Today, it serves up the same frozen custard with all the trimmings and nothing else.
Which is all it needs.
Location: 6726 Chippewa St, St. Louis, MO
Originally built as part of a “cabin court,” a cabin hotel for passing tourists, the main building of this roadside rest is the only thing left standing.
Today, it’s the Big Chief Roadhouse and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
Location: 17352 Manchester Rd, Wildwood, MO
Housed in an old Route 66 gas station, there’s not much inside this modern-day eatery to indicate its storied past.
But the outside definitely delivers the nostalgia.
Location: 102 W Washington St, Cuba, MO
The Vintage Cowgirl is a new restaurant, but Wrink’s Market is a Route 66 institution.
Along with the restaurant, the general store is back in business with a firm eye on the building’s historic past.
Location: 135 Wrinkle Ave, Lebanon, MO
Kansas Route 66 Restaurants of Note
Opened in 1925, the year before Route 66 was commissioned, the Old Riverton Store has scarcely changed in the time since and still serves up sandwiches the same way, straight from their deli counter.
The store has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2003.
Location: 7109 KS-66, Riverton, KS
Oklahoma Route 66 Restaurants of Note
First opened in 1987, two years after Route 66 was decommissioned, Tally’s looks older than it is.
The inside is done up like a 1950s diner.
While the restaurant itself is new (at least in terms of Route 66), the building is old and did house restaurants that once served the drivers who took the old road.
The décor might be a throwback, but the nostalgia and diner food are legit.
Location: 1102 South Yale Ave, Tulsa, OK
In business since 1957, Happy Burger is the oldest restaurant in Sapulpa and a longstanding feature of Route 66’s path through town.
Location: 215 N Mission St, Sapulpa, OK
The Rock Café has a major claim to fame as a Route 66 icon.
The café’s owner, Dawn Welch, served as the inspiration for Sally Carrera in the Disney-Pixar movie Cars.
Today, the café houses a host of memorabilia showcasing the café’s close relationship to the film.
The café itself was originally opened in 1939 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
Location: 114 W Main St, Stroud, OK
Lucille’s Roadhouse is not a Route 66 institution. But it is an homage to one.
The restaurant is built in the style of Lucille’s Service Station, a restored landmark just a few miles down the road in Hydro, Oklahoma.
So, you can stop in Hydro to take a picture of the real thing, then stop by Lucille’s to eat in the tribute.
Location: 1301 N Airport Road, Weatherford, OK
Texas Route 66 Restaurants of Note
Just a slip off Route 66 on Main Street in McLean’s historic district, Chuckwagon serves up the Route 66 vibe and décor.
It may not be as old as the road itself, but it is housed in an appropriately-aged building.
McLean’s entire historic district is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Location: 211 S Main Street, McLean, TX
First opened in 1946, the GoldenLight Café & Cantina is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Amarillo.
It lies in Amarillo’s Sixth Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
Location: 2906 6th Ave, Amarillo, TX
Built in 1928, the Midpoint Café went through multiple names and owners, but has been a staple on Route 66 from the very start.
The café sits at the midpoint of Route 66 between Chicago and Los Angeles (literally, directly across the road from the sign that marks it) and, like the Rock Café in Oklahoma, it has a Cars connection.
Fran Houser, who operated the Midpoint (then called Adrian Café) between 1990 and 2012 was the inspiration for Flo, while the characters Mia and Tia were based on two of the café’s former servers.
Location: 305 W Historic Rte 66, Adrian, TX
New Mexico Route 66 Restaurants of Note
Serving up foodstuffs since 1956, Del’s Restaurant has little changed in the years since.
Location: 1202 E Route 66 Blvd, Tucumcari, NM
Opened in 1959, Silver Moon Café is best known for its locally-inspired Mexican dishes and its interior which, like Del’s, looks much as it did during Route 66’s heyday.
Location: 2545 Historic Route 66, Santa Rosa, NM
Housed in a former service station, the 66 Diner’s 50’s vibe is a false throwback (the building wasn’t converted to a restaurant until the 1980’s), but the building, green chilies, and milkshakes are legit.
Location: 1405 Central Ave NE, Albuquerque, NM
Originally opened in the late-60s as one of Albuquerque’s first fast food restaurants, it’s hard to say what the Dog House is best known for – it’s footlong chili dogs (green chili option available) or its neon dachshund sign.
Either way, its car hops are still serving up grilled hot dogs with the same chili recipe of old, and it’s enough of an institution to be featured in the Albuquerque-set TV shows Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.
Location: 1216 Central Ave SW, Albuquerque, NM
Arizona Route 66 Restaurants of Note
Many diners along Route 66 are retro-fitted to look as if they’ve been around since the 1950s, and Galaxy Diner is no different.
It got its 50s-ication in the early 1990s.
However, this 50s diner has a catch. It’s a retro diner that has actually been there since the 1950s. (1958, to be exact.)
So, while the décor wasn’t there from the start, the building and good eats were.
Today, the Galaxy Diner serves up 100 different flavors of milkshake and a whole lot more.
Location: 931 W Rte 66, Flagstaff, AZ
Opened in 1906, twenty years before Route 66 was commissioned, Parks in the Pines General Store has outlived just about everything on Route 66.
Today, the cafe serves up sandwiches, pizza, breakfast, and other quick eats.
Location: 12963 Old Route 66, Parks, AZ
Housed in a 1930s Route 66 filling station, Cruisers Café 66 is both an homage to the Mother Road and to the cars that traveled it.
Location: 233 W Route 66, Williams, AZ
Built in 1953, Delgadillo’s Snow Cap has been serving up simple eats and laughs to Route 66 travelers ever since.
Like many Route 66 restaurants, it also has a connection to Disney-Pixar’s Cars. Both Juan Delgadillo and his brother Angel were interviewed during the research process and thanked in the film’s credits.
It’s also entirely possible Seligman was the inspiration for Cars fictional setting of Radiator Springs. (Though, we think you can find it a few miles back in Williams.)
Location: 301 AZ-66, Seligman, AZ
California Route 66 Restaurants of Note
Opened in 1978, Wagon Wheel Restaurant wasn’t around for Route 66’s true heyday, but the building it’s housed in was.
Today, the family-owned restaurant is one of the oldest in continuous operation in Needles.
Location: 2420 Needles Hwy, Needles, CA
First opened in 1947, Emma Jean’s Holland Burger Café is the oldest restaurant in Victorville.
And very little has changed about it in the years since.
It’s such a true slice of Americana, and so conveniently close to L.A., it has featured in films, music videos, and food specials, yet has still managed to hold on to its quirky (and reasonably-priced) small city vibe.
Location: 17143 N D St, Victorville, CA
Got time for a fancy meal in a building that was around long before Route 66 passed it by?
Sycamore Inn has been serving travelers since 1848, two years before California became a state.
The inn isn’t one of the oldest restaurants in the state by a technicality (it was an inn that served food and not a restaurant for its first many years).
But, in reality, it is one of the oldest, if not THE oldest, continuously-operating restaurants in the state.
And plenty of celebrity diners, including Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne, have been rumored to grace its iconic tables.
Location: 8318 Foothill Blvd, Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Just down the road from Sycamore Inn (within literal sight from its parking lot), the Magic Lamp Inn isn’t quite as old, but houses just as much Route 66 history. (Maybe more, because it was specifically built along the Mother Road in her prime.)
The restaurant was constructed in 1955 on the site of another Route 66 restaurant, “Lucy and John’s,” that had been there since 1941 before it burned down.
Ironically, today the Magic Lamp Inn is known for its sign, which features an open flame at night (one of only three such signs in the U.S.) and its stunning interior and exterior design.
Location: 8189 Foothill Blvd, Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Last on, but certainly not at the bottom of, our list of historic Route 66 restaurants is this former roadhouse that’s perfect for pulling into at the end of a long road trip.
Barney’s Beanery opened on Route 66 in 1927, just a year after the old road was commissioned, moving from its original location in Berkeley, California.
Over the years, the bar-restaurant became a pitstop for the famous and the not so famous, attracting well-known names from every decade to its barstools.
Clara Bow, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Bette Davis, and Errol Flynn were all regulars.
The Doors was partly filmed at Barney’s due to the band’s love of the place.
And it was here Janis Joplin spent the last night before she died.
It should be noted Barney’s wasn’t always welcoming for everyone.
The Berkeley location didn’t permit women, and as West Hollywood was becoming West Hollywood in the mid-1960s, Barney was staunchly and loudly anti-gay.
When it comes to history, though, you have to take the bad with the good, and Barney’s Beanery has survived the changing landscape of the country, setting up shop in its West Hollywood location before it was even an incorporated part of Los Angeles and adapting to the times (even if reluctantly) to make it to nearly 100 years in operation.
As such, there may be no restaurant on Route 66 which better captures the Mother Road’s unique history as a pathway that was modern for its time, but had to let itself be swept along by progress in order to survive.
Other Route 66 Reading
Planning a Route 66 road trip? Here are some other articles you might find of interest:
- Route 66 Maps For An Epic Road Trip
- What States Does Route 66 Go Through?
- Route 66 Cities & Towns
- Things To Do On A Road Trip
Happy road tripping!