Category Archives: Grand Junction

My Best Road Trip Meals of 2013: Part 2

Jen Castle and a photographer friend at her Hell's Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah

Jen Castle and a photographer friend at her Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah. It’s my “middle of nowhere” food pick for 2013

Best Food Trucks

As if there’s any surprise, both my choices are in the mecca of Portland, Oregon, which boasts some 700 food “carts”, meaning they’re stationary. My overall winner is Wolf & Bear’s, which transforms the often throat-catching falafel into a wrap of silky beauty with hummus, caramelized onion and grilled eggplant. (Guess this one could also make my vegetarian list).

Fantastic felafel at Wolf & Bear's food cart in Portland, Oregon

Fantastic felafel at Wolf & Bear’s food cart in Portland, Oregon

     Honourable Mention: In the “how the hell does this combination work?” category, The Egg Carton takes fried egg, strawberry jam, cheddar, bacon and spicy mustard and sandwiches it between two thick, custardy slices of French toast to create something that could easily make my Best Breakfast list.

French toast/egg sandwich at Egg Carton in Portland. You know you want one

French toast/egg sandwich at Egg Carton in Portland. You know you want one

Best Microbrewery

Again, many contenders, but how can you beat the story of a microbrewery whose products can pretty much only be found, at least locally, in liquor stores because of the higher alcohol content? I’m talking about that drinking hotspot of Utah, of course, where Epic Brewing is overcoming the odds and turning out a great line of rich, complex ales and lagers.

But you'll have to go to a state liquor store to get higher-test beers like the excellent Epic Brewing ales, produced in Salt Lake City

You’ll likely have to visit a Utah state liquor store to buy the excellent, higher-test beers produced by Epic Brewing of Salt Lake City

Best Happy Hours

Happy hour is the route to some great deals at often more upscale places. The big bowl of chunky guacamole and first-rate salty chips goes down nicely with a discount margarita at Phoenix’s elegant Gallo Blanco Cafe & Bar, which offers happy hours an unusual seven days a week.

Great happy hour guac and chips at Gallo Blanco Cafe & Bar in Phoenix

Great happy hour guac and chips at Gallo Blanco Cafe & Bar in Phoenix

If you’re thinking $2.75 is no Mexican street-food bargain for tacos, head to San Diego’s South Beach Bar & Grille, where my happy hour mahi mahi and wahoo fillings are nearly the size of filets.

The fish tacos at South Beach Bar & Grille, in San Diego, are nearly the size of filets

The fish tacos at South Beach Bar & Grille, in San Diego, are nearly the size of filets

Best Mexican

I spent a lot of time in 2013 in the southern U.S., so I ate my fair share of Mexican, authentic or not.

Tacos: Taqueria Pico de Gallo is a no-frills stucco taco shop in Tucson, Arizona that churns out excellent Mexican street food, like my fine fish and lengua (tongue) tacos, for a grand total of $3.75.

... like these fish and lengua (tongue) tacos

Fabulous  fish and lengua (tongue) tacos for a total $3.75 at Tucson’s Taqueria Pico de Gallo

Chilaquiles: I have trouble pronouncing it but no problem devouring the steaming dish of toasted tortilla strips, scrambled eggs, red and green chile sauce and melted cheese at MartAnne’s Cafe, in Flagstaff, Arizona.

The ultimate chilaquiles breakfast at MartAnne's Cafe in Flagstaff, Arizona

The ultimate chilaquiles breakfast at MartAnne’s Cafe in Flagstaff, Arizona

Enchiladas: The chicken-and-cheese filled tortillas at Santa Fe’s The Shed are great, as is the posole topping, but what blows me away is the best red chile sauce I’ve had in a busy week of New Mexican dining.

I went for the stacked enchiladas at The Shed, but it was the red chile that blew me away

I went for the stacked enchiladas at The Shed, in Santa Fe, but it was the red chile that blew me away

Best Middle of Nowhere Dining

The drive on Highway 12 through outstanding sandstone country to Boulder, Utah is half the journey, but dining at world-class Hell’s Backbone Grill certainly completes the experience.

World-class cuisine at Hell's Backbone Grill in the middle-of-sandstone nowhere Boulder, Utah

World-class cuisine at Hell’s Backbone Grill in the middle-of-sandstone nowhere Boulder, Utah

Honourable Mention: Okay, it’s right beside the I-15 in southern Idaho, but you can’t tell me Malad City is in the middle of somewhere. Just take the turnoff and pull up to Spero’s House of Barbecue, where half a dozen barbecues are slow cooking ribs, pulled pork and chicken.

Pull up to a half dozen outdoor grills at Spero's House of Barbecue in Malad City, Idaho

Pull up to a half dozen outdoor grills at Spero’s House of Barbecue in Malad City, Idaho

Miscellaneous

I created this category just so I could squeeze in elegant Seasons of Durango in Durango, Colorado, which serves me a fabulous lunch of fall-off-the-bone-tender Hoisin pork ribs.

Ribs and waffle fries add up to an outstanding, affordable lunch at Seasons of Durango in Durango, Colorado

Ribs and waffle fries add up to an outstanding, affordable lunch at Seasons of Durango in Durango, Colorado

Honourable Mention: The revelation at Crepes of Brittany, in Monterey, California, is the buckwheat galettes, slowly cooked till the crepe is a little crispy and the inner ingredients hot.

Thierry Crocquet  starts cooking his authentic Brittany crepes

Crepes of Brittany co-owner Thierry Crocquet starts cooking my buckwheat galette

Best Food Experiences

The most memorable road-trip experiences combine great food and wonderful interactions with the people that own or run the places.

I can’t tell you the name or the hours, and the little old Mexican lady with a hairnet that runs out from a nearby house to serve me doesn’t speak English. I just pull off the I-15 at Hamer, Idaho, and find the taco stand that serves me three great tacos for just $5.

The smile says it all at this little taco stand in Hamer, Idaho

The smile says it all at this little taco stand in Hamer, Idaho

The Venezuelan fare is excellent at Viva Las Arepas, mercifully off the Las Vegas strip. But what puts things way over the top is owner Felix Arellano cooking me a couple of mesquite-fired arepas, then hauling me next door to his gelato shop and then up the street to his taco truck.

Viva Las Arepas owner Felix Arellano delivers arepas to my table

Viva Las Arepas owner Felix Arellano delivers arepas to my table

They’re not kidding when they say the crab is fresh at Kelly’s Brighton Marina near Rockaway Beach, Oregon. A woman in rubber boots pulls a live one from a water bucket and cleans, cooks and delivers it in a tin to my picnic table, where I excavate the butteriest, freshest crab I’ve ever eaten.

Will this crab suit, I'm asked at colourful Kelly's Brighton Marina near Rockaway Beach, Oregon

Will this crab suffice, I’m asked at colourful Kelly’s Brighton Marina near Rockaway Beach, Oregon

Kelly Brighton, Rockaway Oregon

…Time to dig in

The floors are concrete, the lighting dim, the overall ambience dingy. But the century-old Grand Central Market, in downtown Los Angeles, is dripping with character and a great place to people watch and sample just about any ethnic cuisine you can think of.

You can't create the kind of atmosphere that's built up over a century at Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles.

You can’t create the kind of atmosphere that’s built up over a century at Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles.

Best Meal of 2013

626 on Rood in Grand Junction, Colorado hits every detail of what makes a meal memorable. Décor? How about wine glasses turned into chandeliers, water served from repurposed wine bottles or a bathroom decked out with cloth towels and olive oil hand lotion. Complimentary appetizer? How about a fresh French baguette slathered in house-made herb butter? And the blow-me-away highlight—an apple-wood-smoked duck club sandwich, with pepper bacon, Napa cabbage and roasted garlic mayo, all squeezed between two delightful slices of challah bread. All for the ridiculously cheap lunch price of $12. Descriptive words fail me. Just look at the picture. Then get in your car.

This duck club, at 626 on Rood, may be the best sandwich I've ever had

This duck club, at 626 on Rood, may be the best sandwich I’ve ever had. Just look and weep

            Honourable Mention: My best experience combined with outstanding food is at San Diego’s Alforon, where co-owner Samia Salameh’s sits down at my table for a chat. And then the other-worldly, from-scratch Lebanese fare—chicken pita pies to falafel to Turkish coffee, much of it unordered—keeps arriving. This is what makes 25,000 kilometres of driving in 2013 worthwhile.

Wouldn't you drive all the way down the west coast to visit lovely Samia Salameh, co-owner of Alforon in San Diego?

Wouldn’t you drive all the way down the west coast to visit lovely Samia Salameh, co-owner of Alforon in San Diego?

... which is matched by a chicken tawook flatbread that's out of this world

… which is matched by a chicken tawook flatbread that’s out of this world

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Best Sandwiches in the U.S. Mountain States

Honking big, glorious sandwiches at Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe in Sedona, Arizona

Honking big, glorious sandwiches at Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe in Sedona, Arizona

I don’t often get excited about sandwiches on road trips. That’s because they’re often, well, boring. But occasionally, some place bowls me over with a sandwich that’s incredibly fresh, creative and served, of course, between two pieces of great bread that definitely weren’t pulled from a bag. Here, then, are the top sandwiches I feasted on during a recent trip through the U.S. mountain states.

Creative chandeliers  at 626 on Rood in Grand Junction, Colorado

Creative chandeliers at 626 on Rood in Grand Junction, Colorado

If you’re craving some excellence on a long road trip, please, please take a short detour off the dreary I-70 in southwest Colorado and navigate your way through Grand Junction to its historic downtown and 626 on Rood. Yes, it’s a more upscale place, where you’ll pay a pittance for street-front parking, get linen napkins and heavy utensils and have your water glass filled from a long-necked wine bottle. None of this matters, nor does the menu, frankly. Just order the smoked duck breast club sandwich, and you’ll never be able to look at an ordinary club the same way again. It’s that oh-my-God good. Besides the incredibly succulent and plentiful slices of apple-wood-smoked duck (adequate adjectives fail me) there’s pepper bacon, Napa cabbage and roasted garlic mayo, all squeezed between two delightful pieces of challah bread.

This duck club, at 626 on Rood, may be the best sandwich I've ever had

This duck club, at 626 on Rood, may be the best sandwich I’ve ever had

Oh, and get some fantastic sweet potato fries as your side, and start things off with a complimentary plate of French baguette slathered in house-made herbed butter. It might be the best $12 you’ll ever spend on lunch. The duck club isn’t listed on the dinner menu, but just ask and they will deliver: They promised me.

626 on Rood
626 Rood Avenue, Grand Junction, Colorado
Monday to Saturday 11 am-11 pm, Sunday 4 pm-10 pm
626 on Rood on Urbanspoon

I’m taking a two-hour detour for lunch, one that carries me steeply up through dense pine forests and around 15 mph-switchbacks en route to Silver City, in the southwest corner of New Mexico. The Curious Kumquat is just one of those nationally-recognized, destination restaurants you go out of your way for; they’re even sponsoring an NPR program I’m listening to on the tortuous approach.

What makes the Kumquat special? Consider that chef-owner Rob Connoley likes to forage for wild edibles—like cattails, forest moss and crawfish for today’s evening menu. For a relative bargain of about $40, I can enjoy a five-course tasting dinner featuring jerk rabbit, Catalan duck and smoked roots.

Fabulous mole-chicken sandwich at Curious Kumquat in Silver City, New Mexico

Fabulous mole-chicken sandwich at Curious Kumquat in Silver City, New Mexico

But I’m here for a real lunch deal ($7.50), a fantastic Oaxacan sandwich, with plentiful, moist pieces of shredded mole chicken, avocado, goat cheese and apple, served on lovely, seed-crusted ciabatta. The included side salad is no afterthought but a carefully constructed mix of quinoa, grape and sliced vegetables. The server brings around a couple of spectacular-looking desserts, but there’s no room, even for a jelly-filled sandwich cookie. It’s too bad I have to drive, otherwise I’d sample one of their 70 listed international beers.

Curious Kumquat
111 East College Avenue, Silver City, New Mexico
Tuesday to Saturday, lunch 11 am-5 pm, dinner 5:30-8:30 pm (final seating)
The Curious Kumquat / Cafe at the Kumquat on Urbanspoon

“You been on Man Vs. Food?” a customer asks the server as he soldiers through his sandwich at Sedona Memories Bakery & Café, in Sedona, Arizona. “You serve halves?” I add, eying the monsters anchoring tables in the gusty winds. “No, just entire sandwiches,” she replies. “You’ve got to eat the whole thing. We tie you to the chair till you’re finished.”

Sedona Memories doesn’t seem much concerned about aesthetics. Faded red-and-white checked plastic tablecloths cover scuffed beige plastic tables, with chairs to match, and the patio area overlooks a dusty gravel parking lot. This means all the energy goes into producing wonderful, thick, thick sandwiches, all for a bargain $7.25 in tourist-choked Sedona. Eschewing standards like egg and tuna salad or roast beef, I opt for one piled with veggies, cream cheese, avocado and sunflower seeds. What brings it all together is the house-made bread, especially the moist, dense whole wheat or seven grain. Forget getting my mouth around it; I have to stretch my hand just to contain it.

This bad boy holds down the tablecloth at Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe

This bad boy holds down the tablecloth at Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe

Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe
321 Jordan Road, Sedona, Arizona
Monday to Friday 10 am-2 pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday
Sedona Memories Bakery Cafe on Urbanspoon

“Many have eaten here… few have died,” declares a sign in Big D’s Downtown Dive, a colourful Roswell diner featuring a collage of New Mexico license plates and tables covered in laminated maps. The Dive is known for its hamburgers and my choice of a cheesesteak sandwich, which seems a bit steep at $8.99 till it lands with a shudder on the table. If they hadn’t cut it in half, it would have measured at least 16 inches of soft roll absolutely stuffed with grilled steak, onions, peppers, mushrooms, green chiles and melted Swiss (my only quibble is it’s a tad salty, for me). This quivering mass is still steaming as I struggle onto the second half, with enough spillage to soak three napkins. It’s a good thing I don’t opt for the double meat (an added $3). That may have been sufficient to trigger my premature demise. One nice detail here is the cucumber-flavoured tank of water.

Hearty cheesesteak sandwich at Big D's Downtown Dive in Roswell, New Mexico

Hearty cheesesteak sandwich at Big D’s Downtown Dive in Roswell, New Mexico

Big D’s Downtown Dive
505 North Main Street, Roswell, New Mexico
Monday to Friday 11 am-9 pm
Big D's Downtown Dive on Urbanspoon

It takes a while for my lunch-hour order to be taken at *Guava Tree Café in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but I don’t mind. It lets me peer into the kitchen and watch the fastest-moving cook I’ve ever seen. She’s a literal whirling dervish, assembling Cuban-style sandwiches and Venezuelan arepas, featuring unleavened corn-meal bread. The guy behind the counter isn’t much slower—taking orders, delivering food and whipping up delicious fresh tropical juices. After agonizing deliberation (I really want to order an arepa pocket stuffed with shredded beef, plantains and black beans), I opt instead for a larger Pernil sandwich ($7.50). It’s a fantastic mix of slow-roasted pork, sweet caramelized onion, Swiss cheese and garlic sauce, warm pressed on Cuban bread. Add a side of yuca crisps and a coconut flan for dessert, and I’ve got a full Caribbean dining experience. My only advice: Don’t be in a hurry. The staff’s got that covered for you.

Savoury Cuban-style sandwiches at Guava Tree Cafe in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Savoury Cuban-style sandwiches at Guava Tree Cafe in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Guava Tree Cafe
216 Yale Boulevard SE, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Weekdays 9 am-4 pm, weekends 11 am-3 pm
Guava Tree Cafe on Urbanspoon

Honourable Mentions for a couple of great places where I tried something other than their most famous sandwiches.

Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli (Salt Lake City, Utah) is one of America’s top delis and renowned for its Caputo sandwich, loaded with prosciutto, mortadella, salami, provolone, olive oil and balsamic ($8.25 for a monster whole, $4.85 for a half).
Caputo's Market & Deli on Urbanspoon

Check out the cheeses, meats and great sandwiches at Tony Caputo's Market & Deli in Salt Lake City

Check out the cheeses, meats and great sandwiches at Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli in Salt Lake City

Verde Lea Market Deli & Grill (Cottonwood, Arizona) makes grilled-steak tortas (big, $7 Mexican sandwiches) that are “three-quarters-of-a-pound of heaven in your mouth,” a server tells me. I do try the toasted telera, far superior to any of the round torta breads I’ve had elsewhere on this trip.
Verde Lea Market Deli and Grill on Urbanspoon

Try a great torta at Verde Lea Market Deli & Grill in Cottonwood, Arizona

Try a great torta at Verde Lea Market Deli & Grill in Cottonwood, Arizona