Since the bulk of my family still lives in Texas, I have found myself making the long drive along Interstate 40 (or the “northern route,” as it is called in familial parlance) from here to there often. The stretch of I-40 between Albuquerque and Amarillo—the point at which I turn due south—exists along the same path as the historic Route 66, and there are plenty of glossy signs along the way that tell you so. Though what’s now designated as “Historic Route 66” by the National Scenic Byways Program is much shorter than the original Mother Road, driving it still yields some of the kitschy charm that the old east-west route did. In honor of the recent reopening of the El Vado Motel, a little bit of Albuquerque Route 66 history, I wanted to talk about some of the quality eats and drinks that exist along the historic Route 66 in New Mexico to this day.
500 Central Ave. SW
Lindy’s Diner, a local Route 66 classic
The charismatic little diner sits on the corner of Central and Fifth, just across from another Route 66 historic landmark, the KiMo Theatre. Lindy’s began its life as Coney Island Cafe in 1929, making it one of the oldest continually operating restaurants on Route 66. In 1960 it was bought by the current owners and renamed Lindy’s Diner, but some of the classic dishes have lived on—most notably the Coney Island sandwich (which is just a chili dog, piled high with fries on the side, $6.45). There’s a slew of burgers that’ll make your mouth water, like the ultimate burger ($9.45), which has bacon, pepper jack cheese, chipotle mayo, avocado and a fried egg on top. There’s plenty of New Mexican dishes as well, and breakfast is served all day.
Ah, Frontier. If there’s a recognizable rooftop in the city it’s this one. This iconic New Mexican diner has been serving cinnamon rolls and fresh-squeezed orange juice since 1971—which, admittedly, was the tail end of Route 66’s heyday. Nevertheless, this sprawling dining establishment fed drivers (or motorists, as they were called in ye olden times) on their way from one coast to another out of its assembly-line-esque kitchen, and continues to do the same for college students at varying levels of sobriety. The walls of the dining rooms have long been covered in art, mostly of the Western and Southwestern variety—a good way for travelers to determine what part of the country they happen to be eating in.
The iconic Dog House sign has been a beautiful beacon to weary truckers and mom-visitors at its current location since 1969 (it had an earlier location that opened in 1939). The menu is short and simple, the food is greasy and immensely satisfying. Get either a half-long or a footlong dog with chile, cheese or just mustard—hot dogs is kind of what they do, if you didn’t already get the gist. There’s a few other things too, of course, like nachos, frito pie and fries, all available for obscenely cheap prices. But everyone knows what you’re really there for. Sit at the tiny counter and watch the cooks do their work while you eat. Then get out of their hair—there’s a lot of other people who want that prime real estate.
I’ve stopped at this little Santa Rosa diner several times, usually on the way back home after camping somewhere between there and Amarillo. Once I stopped in the middle of a pretty legendary thunderstorm, during which the lights and music flickered the whole time I spent there. Joseph’s Bar and Grill has been serving American and New Mexican food since 1956, when it was first named La Fiesta Drive-In. The place still has a ’50s classic diner look, with Coca-Cola curtains in the windows and those annoying little vinyl upholstered chairs. The food is pretty standard New Mexican fare, with a menu of hamburgers and other classic American diner dishes for the timorous tourist. Take a dip in the Blue Hole while you’re in town, and then try the Blue Hole margarita ($7.50) for some neon-flavored inebriation.