You can call it a landslide. The people have spoken, and the No. 1 restaurant on Route 66 won by nearly a 2-to-1 margin over the runner-up.
More than two weeks ago, we launched an online poll via PollDaddy.com to find out from readers what they considered to be Route 66’s top 10 restaurants. More than 11,000 votes were cast. Voters were allowed one ballot per week. And we’ll say this about the results: Midwesterners were motivated.
We’re listing in order of votes the top 20 restaurants, with capsule descriptions of the top 10.
Here are the first 10:
20. Comet II Drive-In, Santa Rosa, New Mexico.
19. Crossroads Diner, Mount Olive, Illinois.
18. POPS, Arcadia, Oklahoma.
17. 66 Diner, Albuquerque.
16. Turquoise Room in La Posada, Winslow, Arizona.
15. Snow Cap Drive-In, Seligman, Arizona.
14. Whirla-Whip, Girard, Illinois.
13. Green Chile Kitchen on Route 66, Yukon, Oklahoma.
12. Cattleman’s Steakhouse, Oklahoma City.
11. The Chili Parlor, Springfield, Illinois.
And here are the top 10:
10. Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, Kingman, Arizona. Mr. D’z reportedly started as the Kingman Cafe back in the 1930s and even served as gas station for a while. But for the past 15 years or so, it’s acquired a reputation far and wide for its classic diner-style decor and food, plus homemade root beer that made Oprah Winfrey rave with delight. Mr. D’z often serves as a refueling point for western Route 66 travelers before they start their climb into the Black Mountains on Oatman Road.
9. Weezy’s Route 66, Hamel, Illinois. Weezy’s has undergone a few ownership changes in the past 15 years. It was Scotty’s in one incarnation and Ernie’s in another. But little else has changed with this Midwestern roadhouse since it was constructed in the 1930s. It remains a fine place for travelers and locals to enjoy a brew and some grub before heading out on the old Mother Road.
8. Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo. The restaurant began as a barbecue joint on Amarillo Boulevard (aka Route 66), but found its footing when it served steak dinners amid an Old West atmosphere. The Big Texan then found international fame when it started advertising its free 72-ounce steak dinners if you ate it all in an hour. Many have attempted the challenge, and few have succeeded. But the 72-ounce steak spectacle continues to draw visitors from Interstate 40, and many return because of the food and the recent addition of its craft brewery.
7. Golden Light Cafe, Amarillo. This stalwart has continuously operated on its old Route 66 site since 1946. It’s known for its burgers, fries, Frito pies and old-fashioned atmosphere of license plates and neon beer signs. The Golden Light also has earned acclaim in recent years as a superb live-music venue for assorted Texas and Red Dirt acts.
6. Missouri Hick Bar-B-Que, Cuba, Missouri. Decades ago, Missouri’s Ozarks brimmed with tourist traps that played off the region’s rough-hewn hillbilly image. Although it’s a relative newcomer, Missouri Hick plays up that image with cedar-carved furnishings. But it’s the restaurant’s meats — smoked for 12 hours — that keep people coming back. The fact the historic Wagon Wheel Motel sits a few hundred feet away is a bonus for travelers.
5. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, St. Louis. It’s not just an ice-cream stand, but a legend in the region. Started in Florida in 1929, the stand soon migrated to St. Louis and opened its second place in 1941, which happens to be on Route 66. The recipe for the frozen custard — so thick, it won’t budge upside-down — remains a secret, although Drewes revealed substituting honey for sugar during World War II rationing inadvertently improved it. Whatever it is, Drewes’ frozen custard continues to draw large crowds of Route 66ers and fans after Cardinals and Blues games.
4. Old Log Cabin, Pontiac, Illinois. The restaurant and lounge is known for having two alignments of Route 66 outside its doors. Built in 1926, the lunchroom and gas station faced Illinois Highway 4 that became Route 66. When 66 was realigned to the west, the owner used a team of horses to lift and turn the restaurant to face the new road. All these years later, the Old Log Cabin continues to draw praise for its retro atmosphere, comfort food and friendly service.
3. Cozy Dog Drive-In, Springfield, Illinois. The Cozy Dog has a lot of things going for it. First, it’s sat in about the same Route 66 location since the mid-1940s. Second, it was built by Ed Waldmire, who perfected the corn dog. Third, it is the unofficial headquarters for much of the work by the late Route 66 artist Bob Waldmire. Fourth, it has long been a supporter of the Mother Road. Add up those things, and you have a Route 66 classic.
2. DeCamp Junction, Staunton, Illinois. Its strong finish in the poll came as a bit of a surprise, but it probably shouldn’t have been. Built in 1931, it’s the only survivor of an coal-mining settlement along the old alignment of Route 66. The bar-and-restaurant contains a lot of memorabilia from those days. Jocks also enjoy the softball diamond and volleyball court that are on the premises.
1. Ariston Cafe, Litchfield, Illinois. The restaurant earned almost 1,200 votes and more than 10 percent of the total — an impressive feat considering voters were allowed to pick 10 restaurants from dozens of options. The Ariston, which dates to 1935, has won just about every conceivable accolade, including the National Register of Historic Places and the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame. Run by three generations of the Adam family, the restaurant proves to be a bundle of riches — many cuisines and a dessert plate, the old-fashioned wooden booths, and a touch of class. That’s why the Route 66 community reacted with sadness when Nick Adam announced last fall he was putting the Ariston up for sale (although the restaurant would continue to run in the meantime). May the eventual new owner operate it with as much integrity.
(Images of Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner by Debs; Weezy’s Route 66 by John Hagstrom; Big Texan Steak Ranch by Tim Anderson; Golden Light Cafe by Laura Bittner; Missouri Hick Bar-B-Que by jimsawthat; Ted Drewes Frozen Custard by sarahmilford; Old Log Cabin by John Hagstrom; Cozy Dog Drive-In by John; DeCamp Junction by John; Ariston Cafe by JJohn Hartnup and IanP., all via Flickr)