Those Golden Arches may look like the light at the end of the tunnel after driving 90 miles on the same endless highway. And that Hard Rock Café might just be the place to go after walking for hours in Philadelphia because they have your favorite burger. But when you're on a road trip - seeing new sights and new places - why not try new foods too?
Here are some highly recommended eateries that I first tried with my good friend on our road trip through New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore and West Virginia:
1. The Bagel Nook - Freehold, New Jersey
These bagels are every New Jerseyans dream, and they will undoubtedly be yours too. In addition to having regular bagels, The Bagel Nook also has specialty bagels such as Oreo, Fruity Pebbles, Rainbow, Coco Puff and Flaming Hot Cheetos bagels, just to name a few.
But it doesn't end there.
The Bagel Nook also specializes in Bagel Overloads and Muffin Overloads, which are essentially bagels and muffins that include various toppings such cookies, chocolate sauce, candy and specialty cream cheeses. The featured photo is actually the rainbow bagel (with M&M cream cheese) and the photo included above is an Oreo Overload Bagel (cookies and cream cream cheese and Oreos on an Oreo bagel).
For more pictures, follow The Bagel Nook on Instagram: @the_bagel_nook.
2. Bamboo Restaurant - Exton, Pennsylvania
I never would have thought Vietnamese food in suburban Pennsylvania could be so good until I visited Bamboo Restaurant - Noodle House & Fine Vietnamese Cuisine during one of our overnight pit stops.
One of their popular dishes (pictured above) is the pan fried noodles with a choice of chicken, beef, pork or shrimp mixed with vegetables. The bed of noodles is at first crispy, then becomes softer and easier to eat, giving it an ideal balance of crunch and malleability. I ordered fried rice with chicken and was very pleased when the waiter brought out a mound of fried rice approximately the size of my head.
Offered to us were different spice sauces (sriracha, chili, etc.) and mixing them into my mountain of fried rice gave it an added kick that I savored.
3.Pat and Geno's Challenge - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
You cannot expect to get the full Philadelphia experience without obtaining a real Philly cheesesteak. And you cannot get the full Philly cheesesteak experience without completing the Pat and Geno's Challenge: buying a cheesesteak from both Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks in Philadelphia.
These rivalry cheesesteak vendors are located directly across the street from one another; their lively outdoor appearances compete to lure in customers from the street.
My friend and I first bought a cheesesteak from Pat's first. The layers of shredded steak among the provolone stuffed between soft bread worked in harmony to create a fantastic flavor (it hid the flavor of the onions which I was reluctant to try).
Next up was Geno's, and this cheesesteak was everything I hoped a real Philly cheesesteak would be. It had a special juicy, salty, cheesy flavor that Pat's didn't have, making it the Philly Cheesesteak Challenge Winner.
4. Franklin Fountain - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Located in Philadelphia's Old City, the Franklin Fountain is the perfect place to curb your sweet tooth after a long day of exploring the city. Luckily, I got a satisfying portion of the Whirly Berley - chocolate with nougat, salted chocolate caramel and cocoa nibs. It came in a hearty-sized waffle cone that I enjoyed down to the very last crumb. Other unique flavors include Caramelized Banana, Ginger, Peanut Butter, Teaberry Gum ("a central Philadelphia folk favorite"), just to name a few. There are also vegan ice cream options.
5. Café Gia - Baltimore, Maryland
Secluded in the heart of Baltimore's Little Italy is Café Gia, its interior and exterior painted with cutesy Italian scenes, giving it a homey and comfortable vibe. I enjoy all things Italian, so I was excited that my friend and I finally picked an Italian place to dine. They have pizza, pasta, salads, sandwiches, as well as meat and seafood plates. Needless to say that trying to decide what to order was difficult due to the high number of appealing options.
A few dishes that caught my eye on the menu were the La Pesca (pizza with house made pancetta, fresh peaches, mozzarella, walnuts and balsamic glaze), the "Speck and Brie" sandwich (smoked prosciutto, brie and radicchio) and the Gnocchi Bolognese (potato dumplings in a homemade meat sauce). I chose the Garganelli Siciliani (pasta with Sicilian pesto of pistacchio, basil, ricotta, parmigiana, tomatoes, garlic, EVOO and chicken). Despite all of the ingredients in the dish, I was able to taste every one, especially the pistacchio pesto which I was looking forward to the most.
6. Tailpipes - Morgantown, West Virginia
Our last stop was West Virginia University to surprise our high school friend, and to thank us for visiting her, she introduced us to the tastiness that is Tailpipes.
It is well known amongst WVU students that Tailpipes has the best burgers and shakes in Morgantown. I devoured my entire "Charger" burger which was a delectable combination of peanut butter, fried banana, bacon, red onion, pepper jack cheese all on a toasted bun. Yes, you read that right. This was all on a burger. I also got to sip on my friend's Funfetti shake, which looked like a party and tasted like the batter of the cake that would be at that party.
Some other interesting items on the menu included the Chevelle burger (hand cut onion rings, freshly made potato chips, American cheese and citrus honey mustard on a toasted bun), fried mac n' cheese and fried green tomatoes as well as their maple bacon milkshake.
Opportunities for you to spice up your road trips with enticing and unique eats are everywhere. Forget the Cracker Barrels on the side of those lonely highways, foodie adventures await as long as you just keep driving.