On a recent road trip to Chicago, my girlfriend and I wound up eating far more Wendy's than normal people should. Driving through small towns and with options limited, sometimes fast food is the preferable option to the local truck stop with all the windowless vans parked out back.
I rarely eat fast food. If you didn't know, it's really, really bad for you.
But it's quick and cheap, and when you are trying to just get the hell out of dodge and back on the road, it certainly does have a place in a pinch. However, if you get really lucky, you get a small town whose chamber of commerce is making a push to be the big boy off the freeway. Sometimes it's a Cheddar's, sometimes it's a Chili's. Sometimes it's maybe even an Outback Steakhouse, if you're lucky.
We've all done it, and we will inevitably all do it again when hungry, tired and so compacted with french fries and ketchup that any place serving a salad looks like manna from heaven. There is a sliding scale of quality when it comes to national chain restaurants, but sometimes we all have to settle.
Here are a few spots to hit when on a road trip.
Settling isn't so bad, really.
5. Golden Corral
Okay, so first off:
If their TV ads are accurate, then that means they have a cotton candy machine AND chocolate fondue fountain in every Golden Corral. I don't know about you, but watching a bunch of toothy townies become awestruck at candy floss and flowing chocolate sounds pretty awesome.
There's a little something for everybody. In my case, it's a salad bar. My road trip rule of thumb is to consume as much fiber as possible, whenever possible.
4. T.G.I. Fridays
Because in there, it's always Friday.
No, I'm kidding. There's no real good reason why Friday's is on the list other than the fact that, according to a buddy of mine who was briefly employed by the city of Pittsburg, Texas, population 4,497, small-town Friday's are apparently where the night life is. So if you are looking for a little local flavor, Friday's is the place to go get some strange. Wink.
They have a full bar and are almost always located next to a Super 8 or some equivalent rat trap. I always imagine such seedy, shady hotels look like the bar in From Dusk Till Dawn when seen from the back, with a huge portal to hell lined with the cars of former patrons who've been taken.
Also, Guy Fieri has signature items on the Friday's menu. Winner winner chicken dinner. Or whatever.
3. Red Lobster
Landlocked? Right on the water? Doesn't matter. Same old shit at every Red Lobster in the world. Same tiny little frozen shrimp in the same garlic butter at whatever hell hole middle-of-nowhere town you might be passing through.
Also: Cheddar Bay Biscuits.
Seriously, the Red Lobster is by no means a great place to eat. You will, however, know exactly what to expect. The bar is set, and you will at least not be too disappointed when you are ultimately disappointed.
And you can get a Lobster-rita. That's one part lobster to three parts rita. They are delicious.
2. Outback Steakhouse
If the town has a major movie theater chain, then logic states there must be an Outback close by. They have a decent burger, at least, and you can certainly get a big beer and an average steak after a long day of ass-numbing driving.
My favorite thing to do at the Outback is to speak in an Aussie accent, but I guess I'm also a huge dick.
"Oi, miss, can oi getta Toombawoombah pasta? Ow' about a Fostassss?"
The servers all totally love it. You should give it a try.
1. Olive Garden
I'm not sure if you've gotten the memo, but the fuckin' Olive Garden is going off, bro. They are everywhere, now.
They are also right off the freeway, generally, so you don't have to traverse shady side streets where you might get sucked in to some dumbshit local roadside attraction like the world's largest cowboy hat or seeing a real live tiger at a truck stop. (The cowboy hat is dumb. The tiger stop is in Louisiana, off I-10, and it will make you feel sad.)
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Unlimited soup, salad and bread sticks make for a decent lunch when traveling. Remember: Fiber is king.
Traveling is great and road trips are an American tradition. They can also cause poor eating habits for the sake of convenience. Just remember to stay the course, have some fun and try to eat a salad every now and then.