Many of us are hitting the road this summer to reach vacation destinations. And let’s be honest, sometimes quick fast-food stops — or a hastily packed cooler — aren’t going to cut it when it comes to hunger on the highway!
Foodies need not despair, however. There are many hidden gems right off the interstate where you can find everything from haute cuisine to home-cooked comfort staples, terrific snacks, and sumptuous desserts!
Here are 14 different stops off Interstate 70, spanning three Midwestern states, where you’ll be able to satisfy your cravings and experience a bit of Americana along the way.
Sometimes, you’re just in the mood for good, old-fashioned diner food. If that’s the case, head to Englewood Cafe in Independence. A quick drive from Historic Independence Square in the city’s charming downtown, the cafe is located in the quirky Englewood Station Arts District, where eclectic galleries and shops line Winner Road.
Since the 1960s, Englewood Cafe has served up comfort classics for visitors and locals alike. Whether you’re stopping in for a breakfast scramble, a skillet, or pancakes or for a later-in-the-day meal of chicken-fried steak, a burger and fries, or maybe even a meatloaf sandwich, you’re not going to leave Englewood Cafe with an empty stomach. Make sure you save room for a slice of homemade pie or cake from the front case, too!
J&B Meat Market
Equal parts burger shack and butcher shop, J&B has been an interstate favorite for some time. Locals go to purchase bulk meat orders; visitors rave about the cheeseburgers, fries, and ice cream treats including shakes and sundaes.
Pro Tip: Don’t sleep on the cheese curds or the onion rings!
Gibson Health Mart
For a true taste of sweet nostalgia, take the exit for WaKeeney and head straight to Gibson Health Mart. While it’s a great place to pick up anything you might have forgotten to pack for your road trip (think aspirin and toiletries), this spot is best known for its vintage soda counter. It has been open since 1892 and still serves up fantastic ice cream sodas, malts, phosphates, and even Green Rivers, the bright-green lime drink first made famous generations ago in the upper Midwest. Pull up a stool, stretch your legs, and soak in the old-fashioned vibe!
Gella’s Diner And Lb. Brewing Company
Steeped in both Wild West and railroad history, the town of Hays, Kansas, is often a stop-over spot for travelers on I-70. If you decide to pull up stakes here for the evening, and want to sample — or indulge in — some craft beer, try Gella’s Diner and Lb. Brewing Company, located downtown. While there are the usual suspects on this pub-grub menu, be sure to give the grebble a try. This Kansas staple, adopted from the Germans who settled here more than a hundred years ago, consists of deep-fried bread served sweet with maple syrup and other condiments. The bierock, a sandwich stuffed with beef, cabbage, and kraut and smothered in a rich cheese sauce, is also worth sampling. The brews to wash down all that delicious food are made on-site and include ales, stouts, and IPAs.
Kyla’s Cakes And Bakes
About 60 miles west of Kansas City, tucked away in a small retail building, you’ll find Kyla’s Cakes and Bakes. While it’s a bit difficult to find, make the time to do so! Kyla makes cheesecakes of all different flavors and sizes, and all are baked to perfection. Creamy, but not too dense. Sweet, but not cloyingly so. One bite, and you’ll understand why Kyla provides desserts to many KC restaurants. Call ahead to make sure the storefront is open. Her treats on offer are frozen and will keep well in a cooler until you reach your final destination.
Sometimes when you’re on the road, all you want is a slider. Or a sack of sliders. If that’s what you’re craving, the Cozy Inn in Salina, Kansas, has you covered. This historic stucco shack first opened in 1922 and has been slinging tiny, onion-topped burgers ever since. Through the years, Cozy Shack has been recognized by the Travel Channel, USA Today, and even Martha Stewart Living, and fans say the sliders absolutely live up to the hype. The menu is extremely limited, and the burgers are the star of the joint, although you can also grab a bag of chips and canned sodas to go along with them. There is limited seating indoors and outside, but most folks grab their sliders to go.
The Cheese Store
Sweet Springs, Missouri
Tucked away in tiny Sweet Springs, Missouri, there’s a small provisions shop that truly exceeded our expectations. The Cheese Store stocks locally produced cheddar and other cheeses (more than 90 different types!), curds, and a whole host of other special picnic-type delights including meat sticks, sausages, jellies, dips, desserts, and even wines. It’s the perfect place to pull over and stock up your travel cooler, especially if you tend to be a bit more selective with your snacking options. Foodies will not be disappointed by this I-70 stopover!
Aunt Netter’s Cafe
If you’re looking for a big breakfast or lunch with some terrific sweets on the side, Aunt Netter’s Cafe is worth a stop on your road trip! All of your home-style favorites are served up at this charming country cafe, including scrambles, biscuits and gravy, burgers, and BLTs. But what makes Aunt Netter’s stand out from other small-town eateries is its cupcakes and pies. Cupcakes come in standard and mini sizes and feature flavors including chocolate dream, lemon glaze, cookie dough, and strawberry white chocolate. Pie more your speed? They’ve got everything from classic apple to blackberry, cranberry crunch, and even cantaloupe meringue and pear in season.
Free State Brew Pub
Folks passing through Jayhawk Country know that Lawrence is home not only to the University of Kansas but also Free State Brewing Company, the perfect place to grab some suds and a delicious bite to eat. The founder’s passion for brewing runs deep: during Prohibition, his grandfather was sent to federal prison for alcohol distribution, and he worked to ensure Free State became the first legal brewery in Kansas post-Prohibition. Open since 1989, this spot, with its extensive tap list and delicious, eclectic menu, is a Lawrence legend. Another plus: You can grab a six-pack to go if you’d like!
For a blast from the past combined with a true slice of Americana, Marlene’s Restaurant just off I-70 is the perfect place to stop for breakfast or lunch. This cafe, with a wide variety of breakfast favorites, sandwiches, and snacks, also houses Crane’s Museum. This fascinating collection features a wide variety of historic mid-Missouri artifacts. You’ll travel back in time as you wander the exhibits while waiting on your food. We loved the almond chicken salad sandwich, and leave room to try a hand-dipped shake or dessert, crafted with Central Dairy ice cream (made in nearby Jefferson City!).
Bates City BBQ
Bates City, Missouri
Missouri is well-known for its barbecue, so if you’re looking to sample some of the best around, plan to pull over at Bates City BBQ. Since 1976, this spot has specialized in a Kansas City-style preparation, which means expertly seasoned, slow-cooked meats smothered in tangy sauce. Short ribs, burnt ends, turkey, and pulled pork are all menu standouts, as are the sides, which include beans, slaw, and potato salad. Portions are good, and prices are even better at this small-town counter-service cafe.
Columbia, Missouri — lovingly referred to as CoMO by the locals — is best-known for the University of Missouri, its thriving music and arts scene, and Shakespeare’s Pizza. It is practically a rite of passage to grab a Shake’s slice — or entire pie — while visiting Mizzou. Established back in 1975, this pizza joint has served generations of students, and it’s the place they’re most likely to visit for a bite and a brew when they return to campus as alums for football games or graduations. While there are now three locations in Columbia, our favorite is the one downtown, close to campus.
Blue Springs Cafe
If your road-trip cravings include fried chicken with all the fixings, Blue Springs Cafe in Highland, Illinois, is worth a visit! Not too far from St. Louis, the cafe cooks up classic favorites and takes special pride in its handcrafted pies. With its blue-checked tablecloths and homey feel, you will settle right in as you tuck away dinner served family-style with pickled beets, real mashed potatoes, and green beans, plus biscuits with apple butter. Entrées include that incredible fried chicken as well as meatloaf, ham steak, walleye, and chicken-fried steak. Bottom line: There’s zero chance of going hungry at this I-70 stop!
For a farm-to-table feast featuring elevated fare, the rustic-chic Firefly Grill in Effingham, Illinois, is a terrific bet. The building was constructed from recycled and reclaimed materials, and much of the produce served at the restaurant is grown on-site on the adjacent farm or is locally sourced. The food is delicious, elegant, and simply prepared, with Firefly’s menu including a beautiful selection of steaks, seafood, and poultry. The care taken with the food is evident in both the presentation and taste of everything that comes out of Firefly’s kitchen, and the cocktail list is just as impressive.