This was our best-of list from the 2003 trip:
BEST RESTAURANT MEALS (SIT-DOWN CATEGORY)
In no particular order
- Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, Jackson, Wyo.: Great steak, and amazing huckleberry brie. Scores extra points for being the place where I discovered Fat Tire beer.
- Japengo, LaJolla, Calif.: We had absolutely incredible sushi at this place, which had won San Diego’s Best Sushi award like eight years running. It deserves the awards..
- Ramsi’s Café on the World, Louisville, Ky.: This was one of our best accidental discoveries of the trip, as our intended destination was closed. It had a great range of ethnic foods, and all were delicious.
- Restaurant Louis Hebert, Quebec City, Quebec: Despite a standard-issue snotty French waiter, the food was undeniably excellent.
- Salmon River Burger & Brew, Stanley, Idaho: This place, which made creative gourmet burgers, was only discovered after a tour bus of 60 senior citizens beat us to our intended destination. We’re glad they did.
- Loveless Café, Nashville, Tenn.: One of the South’s great restaurants, the Loveless has amazing Southern-tinged food, a perfect down-home atmosphere and service with a smile. The blackberry preserves were one of the single best things we ate on the trip.
- Chuy’s, Austin, Tex.: The best Tex-Mex we had on the trip, this is the place where the Bush girls got busted for underage drinking. I could have been busted for over-the-top eating.
- The Salt Lick, Driftwood, Tex.: Generally considered one of the finest BBQ places in America, this place lived up to its rep. Joan liked the pecan pie so much she bought an extra one and carried it onto the plane when she flew home the next day.
- Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, Tex.: While this place is known more for its 72-ounce challenge – if you can eat a 72-ounce steak plus sides in one hour, it’s free – we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of a regular-sized steaks and the classic Texas atmosphere. We did not take the steak challenge, thus allowing us to survive the remainder of the trip.
- Samoa Cookhouse, Samoa, Calif.: One of the last true cookhouses in America – featuring long tables and a fixed menu for local lumber workers – this was another place that combined a great food and great atmosphere.
BEST RESTAURANT MEALS (TAKE-OUT CATEGORY)
In no particular order
- Hudson’s Hamburgers, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: One of the two best burgers we had on the trip, Hudson’s also combined great local color and a secret sauce that was out of this world.
- Pollo Rey, Boise, Idaho: One of the few places we ate at twice, this downtown Mexican joint had fabulous burritos.
- Clam Shack, Kennebunkport, Maine: We ate here so long ago that we both remembered the place as being called the Crab Shack, but alas, we were wrong. But we’re not wrong when we say the lobster rolls we had here might damn well be the best thing we ate the entire trip.
- G&R Tavern, Waldo, Ohio: Ah, the fried bologna sandwich. As thick as a hamburger and topped with melted cheese, this meal was so good we almost decided to cruise through Waldo on our way home as well.
- Peppermint Twist, Delano, Minn.: This was the other great burger of the trip. Joan went for the chili dog, and was similarly impressed. Add in that this was our first stop at a true drive-in on the trip, and this was a classic meal.
- Mo’s Chowder, Newport, Ore.: This chowder, with bits of bacon, was the best we had, and the shrimp salad sandwiches were equally as good.
- The Chieftain Restaurant, Navajo, Ariz.: A complete hole in the wall, this was a desperation stop as we headed into the desert. Instead, we discovered Navajo fry bread – I had a Navajo burger and Joan a Navajo taco.
- Café du Monde/Central Grocery combo, New Orleans, La.: When you get the U.S.’s most famous beignets and muffalettas in the same meal, how can you go wrong?
- The Mountain Restaurant, Lake Louise, Alberta: Another accidental discovery, this was a rarity – a good restaurant inside a national park. I even was feeling lucky enough to order a Korean stew, and it was excellent.
- Ridgewood Barbeque, Bluff City, Tenn.: This place gets an extra boost because it came during a moment of great crankiness on my part, a few hours after my Virginia speeding ticket. After eating this meal, it was all smiles.
- A.J.’s Tiki Bar, Destin, Fla.: We have this meal to thank for convincing us it was time to drive all night to get home. Amazingly, every course was worse than the one before.
- Taco Bell, Salina, Kan.: They must have thought we asked for the re-flied beans.
- Ruby’s Canyon Diner, Bryce, Utah: Bad service, bad food, good riddance.
- Arthur Bryant’s, Kansas City, Mo.: The difference between this and a regular fast-food meal was merely a hair, that being the hair Joan found in her food.
- Sonic, Demopolis, Ala.: The food was clearly pulled from under a heat lamp, which was good only because my ass was freezing from sitting in the lemon slush I’d spilled on the seat of my car.
FAVORITE FAST-FOOD CHAINS
- In-N-Out Burger: Couldn’t get enough of this place when we were out West.
- Quizno’s: Two words: toasted bun. Mmmmm.
- Eegee’s: Located only in Tucson, we made two stops here, and fell in love with the lemon Eegee drink.
LEAST FAVORITE FAST-FOOD CHAINS
- Taco Bell: We were already starting to lose faith in TB when Joan found the now-famous fly on her taco. This led to it being the first banned fast-food outlet on the trip.
- Sonic: Two stops, two stomach aches.
- McDonald’s: Yes, believe it or not. Despite Joan’s early obsession with McGriddles, the honeymoon period finally ended, and late in the trip, we finally decided we’d had enough of the golden arches.
- Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland, Ohio: We got upgraded to a great, huge suite because of Fred, and this hotel ranked high on the Fred ass-kissing scale.
- Le Meridien King Edward, Toronto, Ontario: Home of Susan, the best concierge we have ever seen, this hotel was human- and Fred-friendly, and was very nice to boot.
- Loews Le Concorde, Quebec City, Quebec: Any place that is willing to call our beagle “Monsieur Fred” for two days is already ahead of the game. Add in the great view of the city, great location and a sizable room, and it was a big win.
- Westin St. Louis, St. Louis, Mo.: This Westin, right by Busch Stadium downtown, is relatively new. Located in an old warehouse, it is spacious and gorgeous. Our room was big and perfectly logical in its set up. The outlets were near the desk, you could see the TV from the desk, etc. You’d be amazed at the Rube Goldberg setups required at some other hotels to get all our electronics plugged in, etc.
- Coeur d’Alene Resort, Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho: Other than the fact the room had a doorbell that drove Fred insane and the food was only OK, this was a perfect place, located right on Lake Coeur d’Alene and with amazing service. The 80-minute massages were kind of nice too.
- Westin Horton Plaza, San Diego, Calif.: This had everything we like about Westins -- big rooms, great service, excellent food, beautiful lobbies – and lacks the thing we don’t really like about W Hotels – a pseudo-chic clientele that features lots of folks that resemble Dieter from the “Sprockets” skit on Saturday Night Live. Only down side was the hideously ugly fountain out front.
- Town Line Motel, Weirs Beach, N.H.: This was the only place we stayed that had no phone. We might have been willing to overlook this had we not had a bathroom slightly larger than Saddam’s spider hole and a cabin that had a Camp Crystal Lake feel to it. This place was so bad we had to pay for all three nights in advance, and we still decided to leave after one night.
- The Stanley, Estes Park, Colo.: It took me a whole day to figure out this hotel was the inspiration for “The Shining,” which was surprising, considering what an absolute horror this place was. This hotel generated the one question we asked on the trip that we were glad to not have answered: “What exactly caused those brown streaks across our curtains?”
- Best Western El Rancho, Morro Bay, Calif.: Moving from the car the room was a downgrade in both size and quality. I can’t even remember much about this room anymore, other than that it sucked.
- Best Western Hospitality Lane, San Bernardino, Calif.: This featured the skeeviest clientele of any place we saw out west, and the quality of the room did not help. The bright spot (for Joan) was that the wheels on the desk chair were off-kilter and I fell right on my ass while trying to turn around.
- Best Western Ruby’s Inn, Bryce, Utah: This was part of the Ruby-dominated town of Bryce. We had a terrible meal at Ruby’s Canyon Diner and stayed in this fleabag where they had to gall to demand a room check to make sure Fred had not done anything that would have made the room worse. Other than spontaneously combusting, we could not figure out how that possible.
- Comfort Suites, Montgomery, Ala.: Let’s see. We were infested by ants, Joan had a sweatshirt stolen from her and both rooms we stayed in smelled bad.
BEST HOTEL CHAIN (LUXURY CATEGORY)
BEST HOTEL CHAIN (NON-LUXURY CATEGORY)
- Comfort Inn
- Quebec City
- San Diego
- San Antonio
- Coeur d’Alene
- South Dakota
FAVORITE SCENIC DRIVES
- Pikes Peak Highway, Colorado Springs, Colo.
- Beartooth Highway, Montana and Wyoming
- Adirondacks scenic drive, New York
- Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
- Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana
- Oregon coastline
- Avenue of the Giants, northern California (through the redwoods)
- Joan’s face plant on a Montreal sidewalk, broken only by her digital camera.
- Fred’s collision with the passenger side window as he made a dash for prairie dogs in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
- Joan asks for Ball Balm instead of Bag Balm at a pharmacy in Estes Park, Colo.
- Fred jumping back and forth over Hemingway’s grave in Ketchum, Idaho
- Joan without pants in Topeka.
- Having our car egged in Denton, Tex.
THINGS WE REGRET MISSING
- Crater Lake, Oregon
- Corn Palace, Mitchell, S.D.
- The Gulf Coast, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
- Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park
… and, finally…
OUR 25 FAVORITE PLACES
25. Bryce Canyon National Park, Bryce, Utah
24. Four Corners, Arizona/New Mexico/Colorado/Utah border
23. Alcatraz, San Francisco
22. Headwaters of the Mississippi, Lake Itasca, Minn.
21. Field of Dreams film site, Dyersville, Iowa
20. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio
19. Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California border
18. Flight 93 memorial, Shanksville, Pa.
17. Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, N.Y.
16. Mackinac Island, Michigan
15. Redwood National Park, northern California
14. Yosemite National Park, near Mariposa, Calif.
13. Grand Teton National Park, Jackson, Wyo.
12. Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, Colo.
11. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
10. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Carlsbad, N.M.
9. Custer State Park, near Rapid City, S.D.
8. Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit, North Dakota.
7. Death Valley National Park, southeastern California
6. Oklahoma City Memorial & Museum, Oklahoma City, Okla.
5. Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona border
4. Banff National Park, Banff, Alberta
3. Yellowstone National Park, northwestern Wyoming
2. White Sands National Monument, near Alamogordo, N.M.
1. Badlands National Park, near Wall, S.D.
BEST UNUSED PHOTO
Why didn’t we use this? Hey, we could not give away the trip’s big secret…