Late summer road trips are in full swing, and the open road is calling your name. Sometimes hunger can strike at the most impromptu moments— the road feels longer than you thought, and your final destination is far too far away. Don't let a pit stop stump you on your journey! These chefs have got you covered.
With their go-to meals from major places like Popeye’s and Buc-ee’s, to regional off-the-highway eats, you'll have plenty of inspiration. So buckle up—your road trip got much more exciting.
Paola Velez: Candied nuts at Buc-ee’s, Texas
If you find yourself in Texas, pastry chef and founder of Bakers Against Racism Paola Velez avidly recommends dropping by Buc-ee’s.
Velez recalls her first-ever visit to Buc-ee’s, embarking on a road trip to Houston, Texas, for the Southern Smoke Festival. This isn't just a simple rest stop visit in passing; it is an experience of its own.
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"I had the opportunity to stop at my very first Buc-ee’s and gosh I'll tell you, it was an experience! It was better than an experience. It was crazy,” says Velez. “My mind was absolutely blown to see such a robust, bustling, rest stop. Between you and I, I may or may not have run through the aisles like a kid in a candy shop. It is absolutely bonkers and so cool."
Her favorite pick in this bustling road stop shop? The candied nuts. "They are just so good—so, so good—so much so that when I went to Austin this year, I stopped at a Buc-ees even though it was admittedly out of the way." Perez is already plotting her next visit during this October’s Southern Smoke festival.
Amethyst Ganaway: Fried Chicken at Dodges and Fried Chicken Gizzards at Parkers, Charleston
Next is chef and food writer Amethyst Ganaway hailing from Charleston, South Carolina. She introduces us to a unique southern tradition of the tastiest fried chicken and chicken gizzards served at your local gas station stops, namely Dodge's Southern Style and Parker’s Kitchen.
Ganaway recommends the fried chicken at Dodge’s as the go-to road trip snack when traveling through Georgia or elsewhere. "Dodges in particular has a location outside of Charleston on Savannah highway. This has been the number one spot to stop and get some of the best fried chicken I've ever had."
As for Parker’s Kitchen, Ganaway shares that their fried chicken gizzards are the unsung hero of their menu. "Parker’s are fairly new to the area, but they're taking over like crazy. They have the perfect fried chicken gizzards."
It's funny to Ganaway that people outside of the South wouldn't walk into a gas station and expect fried chicken, or fried gizzards. “I love that it's a little piece of home for those of us from the south as we travel,” says Gangway. “And, no one judges you for ordering what you get."
Champ Peralta: Steak and Eggs at Alexis Diner, Troy, New York
You can usually find Champ Peralta doing what he loves: cooking Filipino comfort food at his restaurant Chee-bog in Cohoes, New York. However, he has fond memories of daydreaming about American diners while growing up in the Philippines. He says, "I always fantasized about going to a diner to get a cup of coffee with breakfast and read the newspaper as a kid." For him, his local off-the-highway spot Alexis Diner in Troy, NY, brings that inspiration to life.
His typical order at Alexis? A hearty appetizer of crunchy onion rings, followed by their breakfast steak and eggs. The steak surprised him, as he revealed, "I was surprised with their breakfast steak because it's marinated the way I would marinate a steak." He complements this with their home fries, bell peppers and onions.
His love for diner food fare knows no bounds, as he also confesses, "I always order a side of their sausage links — they're really good."
Jon Kung: Popeyes Fried Chicken on the Go and Eastern Market Stalls, Detroit
Jon Kung, chef, content creator and a Detroit, MI native, takes comfort food to the next level during long drives. His road trip staples have always been the savory goods from Popeyes. "Okay, so my road trip staple has always been Popeyes. I honestly hate being in the car for long, so if I am, I'm just going for my favorite comfort foods, which on the road, is always fried chicken."
But for those who find themselves in Detroit, Kung strongly recommends making a stop at the historic Eastern Market. an open-air farmer's center that also happens to be the country's largest flowerbed market.
At Eastern Market, Kung shares that visitors can peruse DeVries, a 125-year-old specialty food and cheese shop, grab a slice from the popular Supino Pizza, or visit one of the many food stalls that attract about 45,000 customers every Saturday. “Stop in a refill at the gas station on Gratiot,” says Kung. “and help yourself to one of the last truly functional farmers market districts in the country."
Samer Khudairi: Smokin' Good BBQ, Bethel, Maine
Sometimes the best roadside spots are found spontaneously, like Khudiari's favorite –Smokin' Good BBQ in Bethel, Maine, operating out of a trailer in the parking lot of The Good Food Store off Route 2. "Roadside attractions and spots sometimes come miles down the road, and sometimes at the shout of 'Pull over!' Which I am glad we did after two days of snowboarding to eat smoke pit BBQ on top of our car."
Khudairi, who also is an award-winning beer writer, first heard about this place from a local TV ad. It was after a couple of days on the slopes when he spotted the bright orange stand and billowing smoke from the BBQ pit that he decided to give it a go. "All I remember is that when we pranced back to the car and dove into our combo-plated lunches, everyone was all smiles.”
In addition to their by-the-pound meats, Khudairi shares that the pork n' beans are not to be missed. “Though open all year, hearty food like this will heal any cold ache."
Grace Stephanie Aguilar: Nonc Kev's Specialty Meats, Rayne, Louisiana
Thanks to Grace Stephanie Aguilar, our culinary journey takes us next to Rayne, Louisiana. Originally hailing from New Orleans, Aguilar currently residing in Austin, TX,
Aguilar always finds her way back home. And her first stop? Nonc Kev's Specialty Meats . "Gas is the last thing you think of when coming to Nonc Kev's," Aguilar shares. A roadside paradise for any food Cajon lover. It's teeming with quick bites like boudin, chicken cracklin, and crawfish pies, as well as packed smoked meats and stuffed chickens for the road.
Their plate lunches have a following too. Sumptuous offerings include pork roast and mashed potatoes, fried pork chops, and meatball stew. But if there's one specific recommendation, it would be the chicken cracklin.
"It makes me not even miss regular pork cracklin’ because it's so delicious," says Aguilar. But her affection for this place and its offerings goes beyond their quality food. It's about memories and what this spot represents to her.
"It's nostalgic. As a kid, I would get off from school, go to similar gas stations, and buy links of boudin and a loaf of Evangeline bread to make boudin sandwiches. Every time I arrive, the first spot I hit is Nonc Kev's. Because it means I'm home."
Breana Jackson: Krispy Krunchy Chicken, Los Angeles, CA
Finally we're off to sunny Los Angeles, California, guided by our taste ambassador Breana Jackson.
Blink, and you might miss it. Tucked away in some corners of LA, you'll find a treat that perfectly epitomizes the city's surprise delights - Krispy Krunchy Chicken situated within unsuspecting gas stations. The mouthwatering scent of fried chicken and bubbling hot grease is the hearty welcome that greets you as you fill up or grab a bottle of water.
"The glass case display of biscuits and chicken may scare one away, but don't let it!" Jackson laughs. "The chicken is juicy and well seasoned, the honey butter biscuits are fluffy, only made better by more honey on top."
Jackson's go-to? An 8-piece dark chicken with biscuits, and if she's really hungry (and hits the right location), a side of Lo-Mein. A gas station fusion that sizzles on your palate!
Finger-licking good chicken is not just about the flavors but the memories it evokes. "There's definitely some nostalgia attached to Krispy Krunchy Chicken for me." She reminisces. "The Chinese food reminds me of my time in NY while the fried chicken and biscuits hark back to my southern roots. Though I didn't eat here often as a child, I remember running in after a sports game, so eager to bite into each piece of chicken, savouring the honey sliding slowly down my wrists."