There are times, driving in the West, when the distance from point A to point B seems to expand, no matter how many miles you travel to shrink it. The mountain range or sagebrush or red rocks scroll by on an endless loop, and the next town only seems to get farther away.
Eventually the ergonomics fail. The lower back gives in. The steering wheel grows ever sharper on the palms. Most of all, the stomach stirs. But here it comes, on the next bend. A high-carb oasis. A place to stop and let the family pour out of the car and into a booth. The slap of the menu on the table. The waitress who calls everyone — mom, dad, the kids — hon. Then, sweet relief. The eggs any way you like. The BLT stacked so high it’s javelined with what seems like the whole box of toothpicks. The strawberry shake as cold as an ice planet.
The point is, there’s nothing like a summer road trip in the Intermountain West, and besides the enviable Instagram wall of scenery at every turn, the best parts are the eating spots in between. So earlier this year, Deseret Magazine staff fanned out across the land to discover or rediscover the Intermountain West’s most iconic greasy spoons, cafes, steakhouses and diners. Here are the delicious, odometer-punishing, noncardiologist-approved results:
- Get your kicks frozen, malted and delicious on Route 66 at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap.
The sign of a large, chocolate-dipped cone sits atop Delgadillo’s Snow Cap in Seligman, Arizona, drawing drivers off Route 66 for burgers that come out quick — and a gentle razzing by Snow Cap staff. Ask for a straw to go with your shake, and the woman behind the counter is likely to offer you a handful of dry straw. Cashiers have been known to feint squirting youngsters with mustard. All of it in honor of the Snow Cap’s founder, Juan Delgadillo, the self-described “clown of Route 66.” Read more
- Slay a monster in the Nevada desert at Middlegate Station.
“We had 28 military guys in here the other day,” Lorna, a server at Middlegate Station, says. “Only six of ’em finished.” The item in question, the “Middlegate Monster,” comes with one and one-third pounds of ground beef, three slices of bread and heaping handfuls of classic burger fixins. “Myth or legend,” the menu description reads. “You decide.” Read more
- Make yourself at home on Interstate 80 at The Griddle.
My mom loved California, but her heart was always in Utah; for me, growing up and moving around so much, neither ever felt like home. But here at The Griddle, no matter which way I’m headed, I’m halfway there. Read more
- Have dinner with Ernest in Sun Valley at The Ram.
The Ram, according to local lore, was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite hangouts. Imagine him bespectacled and wavy-haired, sipping a scotch and soda in a sports jacket. Read more
- Get nostalgic in the shade of Zion at Thunderbird Restaurant.
I visited with my wife on a Friday night. Our waiter, Lloyd, recommended the chicken fettuccine alfredo. “It’s just mac ’n cheese for adults,” he said with a grin before heading back to the kitchen. From our booth, I stared up at a neon bird perched above the original sign — the restaurant’s eponymous red, orange and green mythical fowl welcoming weary travelers. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “The Midnight Special” hummed in the background over the clang of ceramic plates and metal spoons. A baby cooed in a high chair as his mom snapped on his bib. Read more
- Enjoy an award-winning breakfast in Wilson, Wyoming, at Nora’s Fish Creek Inn.
“Dad, is this a real trout?” a man asks his father sitting across the wooden table. In Nora’s Fish Creek Inn’s 40-year existence, it’s a question a hundred sons have undoubtedly asked a hundred fathers. Read more
- Retreat to civilization in the Uintas at The Notch Pub.
Surrounded by the ponderosa pines, rushing brooks, dewy meadows and abundant wildlife, the high Uintas offer a mountain paradise for campers in search of getting away from, well, everything. The Notch Pub, found on a gray gravel road past a sign reading “Families welcome,” straddles the world between that unspoiled wilderness and a warm bowl of buffalo wings. Read more
- Discover a new culinary tradition in Weber Canyon at Taggart’s Grill.
You could be forgiven for missing Taggart’s Grill, since all you can see from Interstate 84 is a lawn sign poked into the hillside, but you might not forgive yourself. Hidden in the narrows of Weber Canyon, where the river bends around a granite cliff face, this gem is a true family affair, serving housemade comforts in Utah portions. Read more
- Beat the rush in Kingman, Arizona, at Mr. D’z.
It was barely 9 a.m. on a Saturday, and all the pink vinyl booths in Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner were full. Hungry patrons kept pushing through the restaurant door. “Motorcycle riders welcome,” it says on the glass, and from the looks of the parking lot, many of those customers were. Read more
- Indulge in a classic with a twist in Elko at The Star Hotel.
Downtown Elko, Nevada, is the modern West; a town alive with growth and cash and a horizon of possibility. But inside the Star Hotel, things have hardly changed since the place opened in 1910. Read more