Cheap Eats Across America

Our Roadfood experts reveal where they go for a good meal at the right price in every state—plus D.C.


Alabama: Bogue’s

Though souvenir matchbooks proclaim “It’s vogue to eat at Bogue’s,” this urban hash house is far from fashionable. And that’s just how we like it. The place makes a killer Southern breakfast, built around hot biscuits with pepper-cream gravy and lavish hot lunch. 3028 Clairmont Ave., Birmingham (205-254-9780)

Alaska: Swiftwater Seafood Cafe

Sit inside on stools at the counter, or dine outdoors for a ravishing view of the harbor and mountains. The bill of fare includes local seafood and the best cream chowder north of Seattle. 8 Triangle Lease Area, Whittier (907-472-2550 or 907-248-6087;

Arizona: Pico de Gallo

This little family-run taquería serves tacos in soft, homemade corn shells and boasts such South Tucson specialties as pico de gallo (here, chile-spiked fruit salad) and coctel de elote (cheese-corn stew). 2618 S. 6th Ave., South Tucson (520-623-8775;

Arkansas: Craig’s Barbecue

Even Craig’s mild sauce packs a pleasant punch; the hot version is diabolical. Both are a fine match for superior pit-cooked barbecued pork. Stuffed into the bun atop the meat is cool cole slaw to cut the heat. Highway 70, DeValls Bluff (870-998-2616)

California: El Paisa Taco Truck

This is one of America’s great traveling vans, offering taco fillings from chicken to beef brains to unbelievably succulent pork carnitas. There is no seating other than a few available curbs in the lot where the truck parks. 2900 International Blvd., Oakland (510-384-5465)

Colorado: Conway’s Red Top

“One’s a Meal” is the motto of Conway’s, which dishes out genuine whoppers—plate-wide burgers served on broad-domed buns, accompanied by shoestring potatoes and titanic pitchers of soda. 1520 S. Nevada Ave, Colorado Springs (719-633-2444;

Connecticut: Super Duper Weenie

Firm-fleshed dogs are split and cooked on a grill until their outsides crisp up while the insides stay juicy. Served on fresh buns, topped with your choice of made-from-scratch condiments, the dogs are great. 306 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield (203-334-3647;

Delaware: Woodside Farm Creamery

Woodside Farm’s ice cream is extraordinarily thick and dense, but also as pure as a sunny summer day. It’s made from milk from the Jersey cows you can see grazing as you sit at an outdoor picnic table and spoon into a sundae. 1310 Little Baltimore Road, Hockessin (302-239-9847;

Florida: Blue Heaven

Join the flock of hens and crowing roosters on the outdoor terrace of this ultra-casual café, where breakfast means banana pancakes with maple syrup and nutty-flavored granola with fresh fruit. Coffee mugs are inscribed with the house motto: “Blue Heaven: you don’t have to die to get there.” 729 Thomas St., Key West (305-296-8666;

Georgia: Mary Mac’s Tea Room

An old-fashioned urban lunchroom in the heart of Atlanta, Mary Mac’s is known for such Dixie classics as Brunswick stew, pot likker with a cornbread muffin, and chicken with dressing. Macaroni and cheese is not to be missed. 224 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta (404-876-1800;

Hawaii: Leonard’s Bakery

This humble bakery is the place to taste hot malasadas, featherweight puffs of deep-fried dough dusted with sugar or cinnamon sugar and served too hot to handle. Prepare to wait in line; Leonard’s has earned legions of fans. 933 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu (808-737-5591;

Idaho: Hudson’s Hamburgers

A Huddy burger is cooked until it develops a light crust and retains massive amounts of juice that ooze at first bite. There are no side dishes at all: no French fries, no chips, no slaw, not a leaf of lettuce in the house. In the century it has been open, Hudson’s has honed its trade to simple perfection. 207 E. Sherman Ave, Coeur d’Alene (208-664-5444)

Illinois: Cozy Dog Drive In

You don’t have to be a street-food connoisseur to discern the difference between an ordinary corn dog and a Cozy Dog, as served at this landmark restaurant along old Route 66. Dipped in batter and deep-fried to order, the Cozy has a corn jacket with vivid crunch; the dog inside snaps when bitten. 2935 S. 6th St., Springfield (217-525-1992;

Indiana: Nick’s Kitchen

Nick’s claims to have invented the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, now a favorite throughout the lower Midwest. The huge slab of crisp-fried pork dwarfs its bun and remains a benchmark. Be sure to save room for excellent sugar cream pie or an apple dumpling. 506 N. Jefferson St., Huntington (260-356-6618)

Iowa: Bob’s Drive-In

The cheap-eats dish of choice in Iowa’s Siouxland is loosemeats—a sandwich of unpattied spicy ground beef that is like a very tidy sloppy Joe. There is none better than the one made at Bob’s, a mighty bunful with pickles and cheese. 235th Ave SW, Le Mars (712-546-5445)

Kansas: Doc’s Steak House

This personality-plus restaurant serves darn good steaks at extraordinarily good prices, but we most highly recommend it for its finely chopped garlic salad. The signature salad is available in double- and triple-strength versions, but even the normal one will bowl you over with its garlicky punch. 1515 North Broadway, Wichita (316-264-4735;

Kentucky: Bon Ton Mini Mart

Bon Ton chicken delivers a taste thrill like no other: shockingly spicy, salty, and crunchy white and dark meat are infused with a power-packed spice marinade of cayenne and garlic that penetrates to the bone. To salve your ravaged tongue, try the creamy-cool banana pudding. 2036 Madison St., Henderson (270-826-1207)

Louisiana: Rocky & Carlo’s

This great Italian-Cajun eating hall out in St. Bernard Parish serves its hearty meals cafeteria-style. Not to be missed is the crunchy-chewy-creamy macaroni and cheese, available plain, with savory beef gravy, or crowned with bright marinara sauce. 613 W. St. Bernard Highway, Chalmette (504-279-8323)

Maine: Maine Diner

One of America’s great diners, this is the source of such Downeast gems as lobster pie and Indian pudding, but also of classic blue-plate specials. The buttery seafood chowder has no equal. 2265 Post Road, Wells (207-646-4441;

Maryland: St. Mary’s Landing

This is one of the few restaurants that regularly offers the St. Mary’s County specialty of stuffed ham. In addition to the signature dish of pungent greens and pig meat, the friendly tavern makes good crab cakes and spiced steamed shrimp. 29935 Three Notch Rd., Charlotte Hall (301-884-3287)

Massachusetts: The White Hut

The White Hut’s brash, open, ultraquick kitchen does not offer a big selection, but the two things for which it’s known are unbeatable: cheeseburgers and hot dogs. A limp mantle of amber-colored grilled onions is the mandatory topping. 280 Memorial Ave., West Springfield (413-736-9390;

Michigan: Northside Grill

Ann Arbor’s favorite top-of-the-morning café specializes in breakfast skillets, oat-bran pancakes, and crisp-edged potato latkes accompanied by applesauce and sour cream. 1015 Broadway St., Ann Arbor (734-995-0965;

Minnesota: Lindstrom Bakery

Similar to a regular sinker, but richer, darker, and with a memorably crisp surface, Lindstrom Bakery’s Scandinavian doughnut comes plain, chocolate topped, glazed, or cinnamon-sugared. For a lighter option, try the raised doughnuts. 12830 Lake Blvd., Lindstrom (651-257-1374)

Mississippi: White Front Cafe

You can get anything you want to eat at this little wood-frame house by the side of Route 1, just so long as what you want to eat is a tamale. Two ways to enjoy it: Pick it up and squeeze out a mouthful of the steamy insides, or peel away the husk and use a saltine cracker to scoop some up. 902 Main St., Rosedale (662-759-3842)

Missouri: Ted Drewes

Ted Drewes’ frozen custard is deliciously fresh and is best enjoyed as the basis of a concrete, which is a milkshake so thick that the server hands it out the order window upside-down with a spoon and a straw planted in it, demonstrating that not a drop will drip out. 6726 Chippewa St., St. Louis (314-481-2652;

Montana: Sarah’s Mexican Food

The price is right in Billings’ blue-plate Mexican lunchroom, where you will eat massive red-chili-smothered burritos, crisp taquitos, and hot corn chips with smooth guacamole on the side. 310 North 29th St., Billings (406-256-5234;")

Nebraska: Surfside Club

Omahans have been dining on the banks of the Missouri River at the Surfside Club for decades. Choose between catfish and chicken (both fried), preceded by a basket of hot sweet-corn fritters. 14445 North River Drive, Omaha (402-451-9642)

Nevada: Hash House Restaurant

The sign on the door boasts “Homemade Midwestern Cooking,” meaning nothing fancy, expensive, or pretentious. Party hash, made with beef and chicken, is especially delicious at this humble, off-the-strip breakfast-and-lunch cafe. Jellies for toast are all homemade. 2605 South Decatur Boulevard, Las Vegas (702-873-9479;

New Hampshire: The Friendly Toast

Décor is thrift-store retro and table settings are mix-and-match at The Friendly Toast, where the fine home fries are laced with caramelized onions and liberally seasoned with red pepper. There’s not a better breakfast for miles around. 121 Congress Street, Portsmouth (603-430-2154)

New Jersey: White House Sub Shop

Made on magnificent Italian loaves just hours out of the oven, White House subs are nothing short of awesome: Hot or cold, eaten here or to go, they set the benchmark for gigantic sandwiches. 2301 Arctic Ave., Atlantic City (609-345-1564)

New Mexico: Frontier Restaurant

You can eat any time of night or day at the Frontier, a quick-eats New Mexico landmark across from the U.N.M. campus. Hot huevos rancheros and just-made flour tortillas star at breakfast; for lunch, dig into green chili stew, plate-wide enchiladas, or great-value hamburgers. 2400 Central Ave. SE, Albuquerque (505-266-0550; )

New York: Doug’s Fish Fry

The fish sandwich at Doug’s—big moist filets encased in a sandy crust with just the right amount of crunch—is one of the nation’s best. It comes with pickly tartar sauce; cole slaw that is finely chopped and fetchingly spicy; and excellent fried onion rings and/or french fries. For dessert: thick custard with homemade seasonal fruit toppings. 206 West Rd., Cortland (607-753-9184;

North Carolina: Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen

Sunrise is a drive-through hut (no indoor seating) specializing in extra-large biscuits with creamy insides and a buttermilk tang. The kitchen splits them into halves and loads in such fillings as bacon and eggs, sausage, country ham, fried chicken, and richer-than-bacon streak o’ lean, creating some of the best breakfast sandwiches anywhere. 1305 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill; 919-933-1324

North Dakota: Farmers Inn

The people of Havana, North Dakota, gather here every morning for a breakfast of pancakes and hot cinnamon buns, coffee, and conversation. Once operated communally by the town, it is now in private hands, but it’s still the social center of farmland southwest of Fargo. 102 3rd Ave N., Havana (701-724-3849)

Ohio: Al’s Corner Restaurant

Here is an immaculate storefront luncheonette, open only for weekday lunch, where you can choose from a treasure-trove of such Hungarian meals as chicken paprikash, stuffed cabbage rolls, and pierogi. 545 Tuscarawas Ave., Barberton (330-475-7978)

Oklahoma: Van’s Pig Stands

One of the stellar barbecue outposts of the Southwest, Van’s serves two essential items: Glaze-crusted pork ribs and the “pig sandwich,” saucy hunks of pork in a bun with Van’s own bright relish. 717 East Highland St., Shawnee (405-273-8704;

Oregon: Ecola Seafood Restaurant & Market

Ecola (named for the nearby state park) is a no-frills seafood market and restaurant where you select your fish from a bed of ice inside a glass case and tell the staff how you want it cooked. Top choices include halibut ‘n’ chips, Dungeness crab, and salmon caught by the market’s own boat. 208 North Spruce Street, Cannon Beach (503-436-9130;

Pennsylvania: John’s Roast Pork

This 75-year-old sandwich shop (with picnic tables but no indoor seats) serves the best roast pork sandwiches in Philadelphia, ergo in the world. The pale, shockingly tender, thin-sliced meat is forked from a drippy trough and piled into a superb Carangi Bakery roll, then preferably supplemented by clumps of spinach sautéed in olive oil with plenty of garlic. 14 E. Snyder Ave., Philadelphia (215-463-1951;

Rhode Island: Allie’s Donut

The state’s premier place for doughnuts offers endless variety, including honey-dipped and glazed crullers and mighty jelly sticks. There is no place to sit here; all business is take-out. Many people dine off their dashboards in the parking lot. 3661 Quaker Lane (Rt. 2), North Kingstown (401-295-8036)

South Carolina: SeeWee Restaurant

The SeeWee is an old former grocery store where daily specials are chalked up on a board; they can include country-fried steak, whole catfish, and fish stew by the cup or bowl. In this part of the world, frying shrimp, scallops, and oysters is a fine art, and SeeWee is among its top practitioners. 4808 US 17 N., Awendaw (843-928-3609;

South Dakota: Bob’s

Fans of diner food will think they’ve entered heaven the moment they walk into this 11-stool hash house and inhale the aroma of bacon (extra thick) sizzling under a press that makes it crisp and flat, with hash browns alongside absorbing the flavors of the grill. For lunch? Try the Megabob special: a ¾ pound hamburger with ¾ pound of french fries on the side. 1312 W. 12th St., Sioux Falls (605-336-7260;

Tennessee: Elliston Place Soda Shop

A soda shop and meat-and-three lunchroom that seems not to have changed in the last half century, Elliston Place serves an iconic Southern repertoire that starts with country ham and biscuits for breakfast and features fried chicken and smooth lemon icebox pie for lunch. 2111 Elliston Place, Nashville (615-327-1090)

Texas: Little Diner Restaurant

In an out-of-the-way neighborhood restaurant north of El Paso, you will find Tex-Mex food at its best, including a definitive “bowl of red” (classic Lone Star chili con carne), flautas, gorditas, and freshly-made tortillas. 7209 7th St., Canutillo (915-877-2176;

Utah: Mom’s Cafe

A vintage café in an old cowboy crossroads town, Mom’s offers a full menu, including noteworthy pies for dessert, but breakfast is best. That’s when you want a hot scone, which in Utah means a puff of freshly fried dough served with honey on the side for dipping. 10 E. Main St., Salina (435-529-3921)

Vermont: The Blue Benn Diner

The Blue Benn boasts not only classic meat loaf, pot roast, and turkey dinner, but also such international exotica as Syrian roll-ups and vegetarian enchiladas. Breakfast is served all day, presided over by a team of waitresses whose dexterous repartée is as bracing as a mug of strong coffee. Great pancakes, doughnuts, and turkey hash. 314 North St., Bennington (802-442-5140)

Virginia: Doumar’s

Doumar’s founder, Abe Doumar, invented the ice cream cone. You can still get your ice cream served in a freshly made waffle cone, but before dessert, the drive-in is a fine place to eat cheeseburgers and hot dogs as well as peppery barbecued pork sandwiches. 1919 Monticello Ave., Norfolk (757-627-4163;

Washington: Mike’s Chili Parlor

Mike’s does not serve fancy-pants, celebrity-chef chili. It is a rugged urban outpost outfitted with pool table and pull-tab Lotto where you get chili made from coarse-ground beef with a manly quotient of grease. Beans, grated cheese, and chopped onions are optional; and the chili can be had by the bowlful or as a topping for hot dogs, hamburgers, or plates of spaghetti noodles. (Mike’s is a bar, so minors are forbidden.) 1447 NW Ballard Way, Seattle (206-782-2808;

West Virginia: Coleman’s Fish Market

Coleman’s fish sandwich is simplicity itself: two pieces of soft white bread holding a cluster of sparkling-fresh fried-fish filets. It is delivered across the order counter, wrapped in wax paper; then you find a table somewhere on the broad floor of the renovated century-old Wheeling Centre Market House, unwrap it, and feast. 2226 Market St., Wheeling (304-232-8510;

Wisconsin: Charcoal Inn

The brats (short for bratwursts) in a Charcoal Inn sandwich are perfumed with spices that burst into blossom as the sausages cook over a smoky charcoal fire. Thick and resilient but thoroughly tooth-tender, the brats are brushed liberally with melted Wisconsin butter and sandwiched in a first-class bakery roll. 1313 S. Eighth St., Sheboygan (920-458-6988)

Wyoming: Lisa’s

Lisa’s is best loved for breakfast, which isn’t served until some time in May: great corned beef hash, huevos rancheros, and pork chili with polenta. But lunch and dinner at this handsome western-themed restaurant at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains feature gorgeous hunks of beef and classic Tex-Mex dishes; the place also hosts community barbecues on the weekend. 200 Greybull Ave., Greybull, WY. (307-765-4765)

Washington, D.C.: Ben’s Chili Bowl

Home of the unique D.C. smoky link known as the half-smoke, Ben’s has become a beloved institution in the Capital. Blanket your sausage with chili and get french fries on the side with sweet-potato cake for dessert. 1213 U St. NW, Washington, D.C. (202-667-0909;

Subscribe to Gourmet