The South's Most Delicious Detours
Discovering good food in surprising spots makes a road trip truly memorable (or bearable).
We've mapped out the best gas stations, walk-up windows, counter cafes, and roadside stands to grab a bite.
- Bayou Fresh Seafood
- Near: I-22
- Gas station sushi? Just trust us on this one. Bayou Fresh Seafood serves up sculptural sashimi and artful avocado rolls that defy expectations. Prefer your fish cooked? They also offer fried, blackened, and grilled options.
- Blue Pacific at Hoover Food Mart
- Near: I-65
- In this mini-mart, owners Pranchit and Sam Aroon use recipes from Pranchit's grandmother's restaurant in Thailand. Try the locally legendary Pork Noodle Soup, which is served only on Thursdays. The herbs for their spicy basil fried rice grow in pots outside the door.
- Pig Trail Bypass Country Cafe
- Near: State 16
- This Ozark Mountain cabin doesn't exactly scream "Iranian food," but inside, owner Hooshang Nazarali seasons an American-style thin patty with his secret blend of Persian spices to create his namesake Hooshburger.
- Ms. Lena's Pies
- DeValls Bluff
- Near: I-40
- What Kim Barnhill's shop (named after her mother) lacks in the way of subway tile and other aesthetics it more than makes up for in meringue-topped slices of chocolate, cherry cream cheese, lemon, and caramel pie—the kind you can eat with one hand still on the steering wheel.
- Bob Roth's New River Groves
- Near: State 818
- Come for the Instagram op in front of The Big Orange, a vehicle in the shape of the state's official fruit. Stay for the honeybell tangelos, fruit smoothies, and Key Lime pie at this remnant of Old Florida.
- Cuban Sandwiches To Go
- Near: I-4
- While the foolproof order is a foil-wrapped Cuban, the classic combination of ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard, is mandatory, don't miss the Elena Ruth. A sweet-and-salty stratum of turkey, cream cheese, and guava jelly, it's placed between soft slices of Medianoche bread, Cuba's version of Challah.
- We Suki Suki
- Near: I-20
- Just a block past a slew of fast food chain outposts, We Suki Suki doubles as a destination pho and banh mi shop and an international micro food hall, The Global Grub Collective. Only 1,440 square feet, you don't have to travel far to sample Chicken Tanjiya from Morocco and coconut stew from Ghana.
- Ball Ground Burger Bus
- Ball Ground
- Near: I-575
- Burgers abound on rural highways, but in Ball Ground, they're served in a cherry red-and-white 1950s Atlanta Transit Authority bus retrofitted with several booths and a stool-lined counter. Order the 1386 Burger, a reference to the bus' original number, with housemade pimento cheese.
- Yoder's Deitsch Haus Restaurant and Bakery
- Near: I-75
- Members of the local Mennonite community meld Southern country cooking with their traditional dishes (like shredded ham with mac and cheese and sausage-and-sauerkraut with cornbread). In the bakery next door you'll find more than a dozen different pies, but try a piece of Pennsylvania Dutch shoofly pie made with Southern molasses.
- Morris Deli & Catering
- Near: I-64
- Revealed as a favorite hidden gem by a few of Louisville's best chefs, this liquor store-deli combo offers a quintessentially Kentucky creation: the Country Ham Salad Sandwich, made with meat from nearby Father's Country Hams.
- Acadian Superette
- Near: U.S. 90
- Lynn Derenthal (the original owner) and Jerry Oquain—"Ms. Lynn and Mr. Jerry" to locals—have returned to this plate-lunch landmark after a brief retirement. Pass through on Fridays for shrimp stew and crawfish étouffée.
- The Best Stop Supermarket
- Near: I-10
- Aptly named, The Best Stop Supermarket is indeed one of the state's greatest purveyors of boudin, a rice-and-pork sausage and regional delicacy of Acadiana. Don't leave without filling a plastic bag with their crazy-crunchy Cracklins, heavily dusted with sharp, spicy Cajun seasoning.
- Manchu Food Store
- New Orleans
- Near: I-10
- While locals know this royal purple-painted corner store for its chicken wings, Man Chu's menu also contains an edible history lesson of New Orleans' food culture with a mixture of Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Creole, African-American, and working class food traditions. That blend is embodied in a bowl of yak-a-mein, beef noodle soup topped with a boiled egg and green onions.
- Biscuit Pit
- Near: I-55
- The "BP" at this gas station stands for Biscuit Pit. Made from scratch, each featherweight biscuit is cut by hand with the opened end of a tin can. On their busiest day, the cooks can crank out over 1,000 of them. When a regular customer passes away, he or she is remembered with a painted mug displayed on a shelf that's referred to as the "cup ministry."
- Fratesi's Grocery
- Near: U.S. 82
- At the counter behind the beer coolers and shelves of bait and ammunition, the three Fratesi brothers still serve the same fried olive po'boys, Italian sausage, and spaghetti their grandparents did back when they started their original store in 1941. Mississippi Deltans refer to Fratesi's as the East Leland Country Club after 5 p.m., when locals come to pop beer tabs and swap stories.
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- Saltbox Seafood Joint
- Near: I-85
- At his critically acclaimed walk-up window, chef Ricky Moore seasonally sources a selection of fish, shrimp, and oysters from the North Carolina coast and serves them along with his take on hush puppies, which he calls Hush- Honeys. They have fluffy, corn kernel-studded interiors and fennel seed-speckled exteriors.
- Saxapahaw General Store
- Near: Highway 87
- A braised short rib dinner and windshield washer fluid doesn't require two separate stops in the mountain town of Saxapahaw. The general store not only serves locally sourced eggs on housemade biscuits and slices of pan-seared duck breast over greens from another nearby farm, but also keeps its shelves stocked with provisions for customers filling up outside.
- Buckshot's Restaurant
- Near: U.S. 17
- One of a handful of restaurants specializing in Gullah-Geechee cuisine, Buckshot's is planted where the roots of Lowcountry and West African traditions meet. Many of the menu's veggie-based sides from okra to collard greens come from owner April Mazyck's family farm, but don't pass up the Gullah-style red rice, made with crushed tomatoes and bacon.
Peter Frank Edwards
- Tomato Shed Cafe at Stono Market
- Johns Island
- Near: U.S. 17
Although its famous tomato pie may not be in season around the holidays, the Wadmalaw Island BBQ Plate, featuring pulled pork covered in the area's signature mustard-based sauce, makes a worthy replacement.
- Fishnet Seafood
- John's Island
- Near: U.S. 17
- Printed on computer paper and taped to the wall, the menu at this fuel stop seafood market has the standard selection, but one item stands out: Jesus Crab. What is the Lord's name doing next to a crustacean? Instead of deviled crab, the owners decided to use a more heavenly adjective. Fitting as the crabs here are perfectly cooked not just for roadside standards.
- Bolton's Spicy Chicken & Fish
- Near: I-65
- Why wait in a long line at one of Nashville's flashy new hot-chicken joints when one of the city's great originals sits right off I-65? Expect honest heat and juicy meat at this cinder block shotgun spot.
- Carver's Orchard & Applehouse Restaurant
- Near: I-40
- Nestled in a holler on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Carver's Orchard started in 1942 now encompasses over 40,000 trees set against postcard-perfect views. The Applehouse Restaurant still sells fried apple pies and glasses of warm cinnamon-spiced cider, along with Appalachian-style breakfast spreads.
- Kwik Chek
- Near: I-240
- Across the street from Ardent Studios where artists like Big Star, Sam and Dave, and Isaac B. Hayes have recorded, Kwik Chek serves another kind of locally produced hit: the Bi Bim Bop Burger, influenced by the Korean rice dish of the same name. Kwik Check tops a beef patty with stir-fry veggies, a sunny-side-up egg, go-chu-jang sauce, and mayo on a sesame seed bun.
- Various locations
- These Texas-size truck stops—with their immaculate restrooms, supermarket selection of snacks, and cult-followed beef jerky—inspire a level of fan enthusiasm to rival the Cowboys. Don't be surprised if you leave with a "Follow Me To Buc-ee's" sticker across your bumper and a bag of Beaver Nuggets (a salty-sweet corn snack) in your passenger seat.
- H&H Car Wash and Coffee Shop
- El Paso
- Near: I-10
- Don't mind the grouch behind the cash register. As regulars will tell you, "That's just Maynard being Maynard." They mean Maynard Haddad, who started this communal El Paso car wash and Tex-Mex cafe with his brother and his father in 1958. It endures as much for the community gathering as it does for the Carne Picada Burritos and Chile Relleno Colorado.
- Royers Round Top Café
- Round Top
- Near: U.S. 290
- Like a long-lost movie set from Willie Nelson's Honeysuckle Rose or Paul Newman's Hud, Royers manifests a hyper-Americana nostalgia, especially in its menu (a healthy chunk of which is devoted to its famous pies). Finish your meal with a slice of Junk Berry, named after neighboring antiques shop Junk Gypsy.
- Veracruz All Natural
- Near: U.S. 290
- In the parking lot of Radio Coffee & Beer, just a block from one of the most traveled highways in Texas, you'll find Veracruz All Natural's turquoise food truck, serving what some locals say are the city's best tacos. For breakfast, order up a mess of migas tacos loaded with scrambled eggs, tortilla strips, avocado, pico de gallo, and cheese. They'll be ready by the time you grab your coffee.
Czech Stop and Slovacek's
Kolaches continue to spread beyond Texas as non-natives discover this Czech pastry with its yeasty, pillowy dough encircling savory and sweet fillings from sausage to lemon cream cheese. Kolache lovers exchange a few fighting words over who makes the best in the tiny hill country town of West, Texas: Czech Stop or Slovacek's. Taking teams is a tasty task.
- Southern Kitchen Restaurant
- New Market
- Near: I-81
- With old-school pistachio green booths and stools, this trapezoid-shaped diner serves retro-style dishes, including peanut soup. Also known as "Tuskegee Soup," it was a product of George Washington Carver's research on this legume at Tuskegee University and became popular in Virginia.
- Dragon Mart
- Near: U.S. 250
- While the outside of Dragon Mart might seem beige and boring—much like a pepperoni roll (West Virginia's official food)—you will find a pleasant surprise inside: made-from-scratch rolls oozing with garlicky cheese and pepperoni slices.