Route 66 is perhaps the most legendary roadway in the United States, even if it no longer technically exists. "The Mother Road" was established in 1926 and ran from Chicago through Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, then into California and all the way to the ocean in Santa Monica. It opened at the right time and ran through the right places to make it synonymous with U.S. expansion, as people moved west to look for work during the Great Depression, and then just kept moving west because everyone liked big cars and big backyards - two things strongly associated with Los Angeles.
The highway was officially decommissioned in 1985 after years of sections being renamed and rerouted, but the mystique endures, and people still follow its route to learn a bit about Americana. Here are some of the restaurants to check out as you cruise the streets that make up Route 66, most of them holdovers from mid-century road culture.
The Donut Man
If you’re traveling east to west, The Donut Man in Glendora is a great first stop in L.A. County on your road trip. It opened in 1974, so technically after Route 66 was decommissioned, but it’s associated with it enough that it’s even been a Jeopardy! question. (“Sometimes you go to Glendora to visit Donut Man on this famous route.”) In spring and summer, check their Instagram feed to see if the shop has its famous strawberry and peach doughnuts available - the tiger tails are available year-round. And they’ve got devil’s food cake batter in them. In other words, a dozen might not last till the Santa Monica Pier.
Given that it’s only been open since 1976, Le Roy’s in Monrovia is one of the newest restaurants on this list. But, it embodies the Route 66 ethos with its roadside atmosphere, long menu of sandwiches, and its choice to label two pancakes a “tiny” stack. (A full stack is five.) Get a slice of the cinnamon-walnut coffee cake and mind your manners: unruly customers are threatened with a fly swatter.
Fair Oaks Pharmacy & Soda Fountain
This South Pasadena landmark is a truly traditional soda fountain - it’s attached to a compounding pharmacy, a true rarity in this century. The building was financed by developers Gertrude (Keck) Ozmun about 1913, and the soda fountain has had the corner unit since 1915. You can get all manner of classic treats like phosphates and egg creams here, plus more outlandish desserts like the “Huntington Heath” (caramel, hot fudge, vanilla ice cream and a crumbled Heath bar), and the 13-pound “Kitchen Sink,” meant for groups of at least four. (But no judgment.)
Cindy’s Coffee Shop
Located in L.A.’s eastside, the Eagle Rock neighborhood is a low-key, mostly residential area - but it’s got this one diner that’s been a set for countless movies, TV shows and music videos. That’s because, even though it’s changed ownership a few times, Cindy’s Coffee Shop still retains the mid-century looks it’s had ever since Colorado Boulevard was officially part of Route 66. That’s even before the Beach Boys were singing about it. You can figure out where you’ve seen it before as you eat a BLT or fried chicken and gravy: a murder mystery? A Justin Timberlake video? Cindy’s has lived a lot of lives.
Connie and Ted's
Continuing west on Historic Route 66, Connie & Ted’s is the next stop-worthy restaurant. The building’s been there for years, but this seafood palace just opened about five years ago. It’s modeled after an east coast-style fish restaurant (L.A. doesn’t have many of these), but because it’s California, there are no rules: here, lobster rolls can be made with both butter and mayo, and neither choice will raise eyebrows. There’s also fresh grilled fish, fried clam strips, and well-crafted, delicious desserts.
This West Hollywood icon has been open since 1964, and is still as celeb-studded as ever. The food at Dan Tana’s is classic red sauce “Italian,” with a lot of dishes named after celebrities. The place is always packed, but you can sit at the bar, eat some cheesy toast, and watch the schmoozing and glad-handing Olympics.
Chez Jay opened on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica in 1959, and has been the scene of all kinds of crazy Hollywood-style shenanigans ever since - it really peaked in the 1960s and '70s, when rock stars, cult leaders and steak restaurants had a lot of overlap. Located just a few long strides from the Santa Monica Pier, this is the last (or first, depending on where you’re driving from) notable restaurant on Route 66. The food probably won’t blow your mind, but it’s solid throwback stuff like shrimp scampi and surf’n’turf. Plus there’s sawdust on the floors, an easygoing beach attitude, and a ton of history.