First of all, thanks to whoever recommended Coco Bolo in Manhattan! Although if I said it were the best food we ate prior to heading further west, that wouldn't be such an impressive compliment, it was really a neat little place. It wasn't as "upscale" as I'd thought, or perhaps as their website & online menu appeared -- just a large, open, noisy place with a prominent bar & tall bistro tables -- but the menu was eclectic, some traditional Mexican, some Cuban-influenced, some Tex-Mex, just an interesting mishmash. We're typically low-Carbish people which was a bit tough, but we both splurged & ate Cuban pork sandwiches which were really & truly excellent, tender & spicy. We also watched the bartender spend our entire lunch hour juicing real lemons to fill up their lemonade pitchers, so I'd bet it's also darn good lemonade.
Then to Salina, where we were limited by our desire to find a sports bar with a satellite TV but had a unique experience at the soon-to-be-reopened Coach's Grill & Bar. It probably already is by the time you read this but wasn't the night we showed up in search of a particular NCAA basketball game -- however, the new manager was on premise training staff, the new chef was trying out the menu, & the *very* nice new owner let us stay, taste-test the food, watch the game all for absolutely free. So this is basically a shameless plug simply because we were treated so hospitably! But I'll also say that while I'm not typically a big fan of sports-bar fare, the dishes we tried were a step above most -- the quality of their chicken, in particular, was very good. I am incredibly particular about "restaurant chicken." The chef does have culinary training rather than merely being a line or fry cook, & she was a very nice lady who seemed to take her job in earnest. It'll be interesting to see how the new management executes, but I'd like to think they're off to a good start.
For the two days we spent in Garden City, I will do a brief plug for Kadee's Coffee House, a small all-in-one coffee house/luncheonette/gift shop toward downtown G.C. I can only vouch for their Italian sodas & lattes, but for a small & independent establishment, both were excellent. They also did a brisk lunch business which looked adequate if perhaps pre-made.
The last review I'll do is of Garden City's most-prominent (& perhaps only?) upscale dinner restaurant, The Grain Bin Supper Club. The Grain Bin is one a "series" of locally-owned restaurants which are affiliated with the two Best Western Hotels in town -- following BW's recent trend (at least in the Midwest) of renting their restaurant space to local operations, which I do applaud. Anyway, The Grain Bin resembles many of the "upper-scale" restaurants in remote areas... ambitious, not cheap since they're trying to support their existence, large quantities, etc. It wasn't terribly inventive or creative food, & the appetizer menu was too full of various-things-fried, but the cuts of meat were good, the sauces flavorful, & our server better than any server in a town that small deserved to be. She was truly excellent. The Grain Bin is striving hard for the total restaurant experience -- bus staff dressed in tuxedo jackets, traditional "plate on plate" dinner settings, etc. -- & they do get an "A" for effort if a "B" for execution. It was really a fun night, & my only serious culinary complaints would be the soup, which tasted suspiciously like a pre-mix, & the bread basket, which should've been better considering the number of ladies who likely bake-from-scratch in town.
So I guess those were the highlights of our 1,500 mile trek. Thanks for all the advice I received beforehand.