Like lots of people who really like to travel and really, really like to eat, I have conflicted feelings about long family car trips. On the one hand, there’s the pleasure of downtime with loved ones and the romance of the open road. On the other, there’s the prospect of greasy drive-thru dining and the sight of fast-food wrappers strewn like crime scene evidence in the backseat.
I know of just a few ways to avoid those pitfalls. One is to stock the car as if it were a stagecoach and survive on the provisions like a pioneer. Another is to map the trip in advance, traveling from big restaurant to big restaurant.
On our most recent adventure—a drive from Sacramento to Portland—my family and I opted for a third way: We chose to wing it, relying largely on friends’ recommendations and wise-sounding suggestions from the Internet. We took three days to cover the route, nearly 600 miles, stopping at more than 30 places, none more than a 10-minute drive from Interstate 5. Risky, to be sure. But our easy-going graze resulted in far more hits than misses, delightful bites that I’d be happy to return to the next time I head up that way.
Sacramento calls itself the Farm-to-Fork Capital of the country, so California’s capital made a perfect starting point. To scour the city’s Sunday farmers’ market is to marvel at the ever-changing bumper crop of fruits, nuts, meats, eggs, cheeses, and flowers that create an urban Eden in the heart of downtown. Amid pallets of persimmons and bushels of Bosc pears, we settled on a peck of Pink Lady apples, then swung past Temple Coffee for fresh-brewed java. Happily caffeinated and hungry for more, we hit the road again.
In the small farm town of Williams, about 60 miles north of Sacramento, Granzella’s is a true roadside draw, a family-owned inn, gift shop, restaurant, and deli. Its cases present smoked turkey and salami, imported cheese, and house-made muffuletta spread.
Mt. Shasta, CA
The interstate, created for expedience, convenience, and high volume, was lined with restaurants that followed suit. But we ignored the golden arches, intent on tiny treasures. We heard the engine of our midsize wagon whine as the freeway rose toward Mt. Shasta. Ordinarily, I don’t seek transcendence in a hamburger. But in a city filled with crystal shops and mystics, I found spiritual uplift less than a mile off the highway in a juicy burger at the Goat Tavern, a cozy pub with a ceiling decorated in beer taps.
Central Point, OR
Less than 20 minutes later we hit Central Point. Lillie Belle Farms’ lavender-colored building is a nod to chocolatier Jeff Shepherd’s lavender-and-sea-salt caramels, which Martha Stewart ordered by the dozen after her release from prison. But I couldn’t resist the blue-cheese-and-chocolate truffles, made with cheese from the Rogue Creamery two doors down; they ranked among the best sweets I’ve ever had.
In a city whose culinary scene makes national headlines, we found an array of options, including wood-fired pizza at Oven and Shaker.
But what better expression of road eats than the food trucks for which Portland is also famed? Dozens of mobile restaurants make their home at SW 10th Avenue and Alder Street. We zeroed in on Nong’s Khao Man Gai, a celebrated Thai outpost for a celebrated dish: poached chicken over rice, garnished with cilantro and cucumber and served with broth and ginger-chile sauce. We finished two orders, then bought a third to prevent a family fight.