When many people think of "American food" they envision fast food -- McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell and the like. These have their place -- inexpensive, reasonable meals, quickly served and widely available. Those who have traveled with children know how handy stopping at a McDonalds with a play gym can be. Fast food is successful because people support these restaurants. That said, except when needing a quick meal while traveling, I rarely eat at fast food chains.
That's because I enjoy reasonably priced, family-run restaurants which prepare great food, of which there are thousands in the United States. You might find some of these by searching "Yelp" or "TripAdvisor", but by far the most useful website for me is roadfood.com. Like TravelGumbo, it's a volunteer project whose contributors who help make roadfood.com a road warrior's best friend. I've been using this site for years to help plot out places to eat when traveling across the USA and to date I've not been disappointed.
I'm going to quote directly from roadfood.com to help you better understand what they're about:
"Roadfood means great regional meals along highways, in small towns and in city neighborhoods. It is non-franchised, sleeves-up food made by cooks, bakers, pitmasters, and sandwich-makers who are America’s culinary folk artists.
Roadfood is almost always informal and inexpensive; and the best Roadfood restaurants are colorful places enjoyed by locals (and savvy travelers) for their character as well as their menu.
It is our intention that Roadfood.com will lead the way to:
- great local color
- the best regional specialties
- unforgettable diners, celestial barbecue, and four-star pig-outs galore!"
Now that's a mission statement that catches my attention! Just to emphasize again that roadfood.com is not about fancy places, but about good and unique food.
In this blog, I'm going to give one specific example to illustrate how using roadfood.com can be useful. We recently visited San Juan Capistrano and I was hopeful we could find a small eatery in town with roadfood.com's help. We did -- El Campeon! This is a fairly small place at the back of a strip mall that I never would have otherwise known about.
El Campeon is largely a take-out restaurant serving the area's Mexican population, so Spanish is definitely the most commonly spoken language here (although there are also lots of Gringos around and all the staff speak English as well). You walk up to a counter where you'll likely have to wait a few minutes as the place is popular, place your order from the large display of fascinating dishes (including gallon sized take out orders if you're so inclined), pay for your meal and the beverage of your choice. You wait while your food is prepared and either take it home or eat at one of a dozen or so simple tables outside. You come here for the food and definitely not the ambience.
But the food at El Campeon was absolutely terrific! Everything my family ordered, they enjoyed. I had a carnitas burrito one night and several small tacos another (goat, carne asada and chicken) -- everything authentic and very tasty. There's a small Mexican grocery store and bakery adjoining the restaurant and part of El Campeon.
So I highly recommend you use roadfood.com when traveling around the USA and if in San Juan Capistrano, definitely visit El Campeon....even if you just want something from their great bakery (see some of the tempting goodies below):