Just thought I'd report back from an eight day road trip to: Tonto Basin and Winslow, AZ, then Grand Canyon North Rim, Bryce Canyon (UT), Torrey, UT, (outside Capitol Reef Nat'l Park), then Page, AZ (Lake Powell), and Sedona.
The goal was to avoid fast food at all costs and I'm pleased to say we were totally successful.
Had a really great American diner food experience at the Butcher Hook, in the Tonto Basin area of AZ. Had probably the best BLT, on sourdough toast with fatty, crackling bacon, fresh lettuce, sweet tomatoes. Fries were perfect with a hint of jacket on. Husband had a smoky hot beef sandwich, open face, with gravy, fries. Daughter had a sterling cheeseburger, reminiscent of your absolute best and favorite diner burger; son had a roast beef plate with gravy and real mash potatoes which he demolished. Service was friendly and efficient, and the crowd scene was local cowboys/ranchers and it was very relaxed and warm. Highly recommended if you find yourself north east of Phoenix on Rt. 188 around the Roosevelt dam area.
Ate dinner that evening at the fabulous Turquoise Room, in Winslow, AZ. Off the mother road: Rt. 66. The Turquoise Room is located in the old La Posada hotel, c. 1930, one of the last great Fred Harvey establishments along 66 and the Atcheson, Topeka & Santa Fe RR. The restaurant serves contemporary southwestern: game (elk, bison, venison), chops, Mexican inspired. I had a vegetable plate starring a fine roasted poblano chili stuffed with three cheeses, accompanied by little samples of things like tamale stuffing and roasted root vegetables. Their prime rib is outstanding, buttery, and their soups, like a surprisingly complex black bean, are delicious. The best thing on the menu was the squash blossom appetizer, offered 4 months out of the year, and it's like a chili relleno, with a jalapeno roasted and stuffed with cheese, but the batter fried shell reminds of a light and frothy beignet rather than the usual deep fry texture of most rellenos. Their Cadillac margarita is not to be missed, cold, salty, sour, layered tastes of tequila, lime, just the right thing after a day on the dusty trail. Stay at the hotel if you can, it's a real treat with the towering cottonwoods and the freight trains that pass by (which won't disrupt your sleep at the hotel). And it's also haunted.
Next, we came to Bryce Canyon area. In So.West. Utah. We ate at Best Western Ruby's Inn twice. It's right outside the park and you can't miss it, in a tourist complex of restaurant, shops, inn, gas, horse rentals, before the main park gate. Ruby's offers buffet and menu options. We all had buffet ($10.95) except daughter who wanted her cherished quesadilla (which wasn't half bad). The best thing on the buffet are the sweet and rich boneless pork ribs. There's also the simple and lovely American potato salad, absent of overdoing with the mayo, lots of cold salads, and don't bother trying the soups, very serviceable roasted chicken thighs and drumsticks, lightly seasoned, very good mashed potatoes with gravy, in sum, many notches above the country buffet/golden corral. Staff is a little absent-minded but super friendly. Their soft ice cream cools in the heat.
The Bryce Park Lodge has really good food. I didn't mention the North Rim Grand Canyon Lodge dining, because it's terrible, both the main dining room and much cheaper cafeteria. Really dreadful fare, but I have to cut them some slack because it's probably very difficult to get purveyors and sources of good and fresh food to that very remote spot. I did have a passable red bean and rice plate which was no frills, almost tasteless, yet very filling for hikes.
Anyway, back to Bryce Lodge. The Lodge dining room is the only food service option in the park. It's under a timber and beam roof and you'll sometimes be accompanied by 2 gold mantle squirrels which are named by staff and run around on the floor. For breakfast we had hearty and delicious multi grain pancakes with choice of maple or "Bryceberry" syrup, a bittersweet concoction of various extracted berries, also a perfect yogurt and fresh fruit and homemade granola parfait. All of the standard egg and sausage/bacon and biscuit/ potatoes breakfast plates are just the ticket for hikes. Everything is fresh and dispatched with speed and care. Prices are not unreasonable, running in the $6 and $7 range.
We didn't eat lunch in the lodge, we went back to Ruby's Inn for the buffet. Take that as a definite endorsement.
Dinner was our best meal at the Lodge, with cherry glazed pork chops and red trout almandine, which comes from Utah or Idaho. The cherry glazed chops were surprisingly inspired. These dishes came with oven roasted potatoes and tasteless steamed vegetables easily doctored to taste with a squeeze of fresh lemon, or salad dressing and salt and pepper. The flatiron steak is good, but not great.
Next it was on to Torrey, UT, outside the awesome and formidable Capitol Reef Nat'l Park, which we had to ourselves. Didn't see another soul there in that exhilarating place. We stayed at the very funky Capitol Reef Inn, in Torrey, and ate dinner at their little cafe. Daughter had a HUGE plate of spaghetti, which was overcooked. I had the underwhelming and salty lasagne, served in a small ramekin with good garlic bread on the side. Husband had a cheeseburger, which was good, nothing to write home about, and son had the steak sandwich which he enjoyed, but certainly didn't rank in the top steak offerings for him (he's a young but very diligent connoisseur of steak) . The best offering at this cafe is the dinner salad, which uses the best and freshest assortment of produce. It's also gigantic and if you're a light eater, it'll be all one needs for sustenance. It's a delicious layered pile of the freshest, local grown-tasting cucumbers, shredded carrot, sprouts, red leaf lettuce, tomatoes, etc., and the dressings are all wonderful. The service is again friendly, but a little absent-minded and very slow as they were, at least while were there, understaffed and everything is cooked to order by one very overworked hippie. Don't eat here if you're ravenous, plan to enjoy a protracted repast and among an international crowd. While we were there French, German, and Asian tourists ruled the room.
For breakfast go to Castle Rock Coffee and Candy at the junction of 12 and 24 for bagels and breakfast sandwiches.
Wish we had tried Brink's Drive-in for burgers and shakes, it set off my 'restaurant radar' . Next time.
We ate at the classic deco Thunderbird Restaurant at Mt. Carmel Junction, UT. Food took forever to arrive and it was all pretty 'cardboard '.
At Lake Powell we stopped at the Bene Pizzaria for dinner, at the Lake Powell Resort (Wahweap Marina, Page). Crust is thick looking like Chicago deep dish, but light and crusty. Sauce is nothing special, like a gourmetified Papa Johns, and they do the inexcusable and layer cheddar in with the mozz. No cheddar on pizza!!! Lake Powell is terribly polluted and the brown haze created by the Navajo coal-fired generating station across from the marina is downright depressing. Moving on...
The last great meal of our trip was the Mesquite Grill in Sedona. Off the main drag, a local favorite, they have the very best ribs and cowboy beans. The ribs are in a word: Killer, and, quoth the husband: "very authentic, smoky and sweet, alternating chewy and tender, some bites melt in the mouth like butter, other bites are carmelized ...really liked the textural differences... and the baked beans are the best I've ever had. Period." The fries are classic, but again, the beans are amazing, with hints of mesquite smoke and roasted chilies. Mesquite Grill is ultra casual and easy to miss, to just ask and you'll be pointed to the half-hidden and dilapidated looking shack. If you park in the heart of town, it's an easy walk up one street over from the main drag, and well worth the stop. Like everything in Sedona, it's not cheap (a full rack with 2 sides is $20 and that'll definitely serve 2 people), but it's a cheaper option than just about anything else and it's damn good.
We've been going to Sedona for years and never saw it so crowded. The bees have definitely discovered this hive. Sedona is ruined with all the new construction of southwestern Disneyland structures for the multi millionaires. It used to be laid back and quiet and had character and it was a serene place. No more.
On the plus side, good American road food is alive and well, just seek and ye shall find. We were very successfully able to avoid McDonalds and the rest of the gang (BK, Wendy's, Taco Smell, etc.) with culinary surprises everywhere.
One last tip: On your way to and from Grand Canyon country, have the mouth-watering Indian fry bread taco among gorgeous Navajo rugs and under the tin stamped ceiling at the historic Cameron Trading Post. See: http://www.camerontradingpost.com/