What do you want? There are a million greasy spoon biker hangouts in North America and it’s my job to come up with the Ten Best. The chances of me getting this right are roughly equivalent to W. Bush making new friends at an ISIS bar mitzvah, of me winning the Czech GP on a Vespa, of Mitch McConnell posting selfies from a Crossfit gym. Mine not to reason why…
I can personally vouch for the California entries, but for most of the rest of them I solicited input from friends scattered around this great continent of ours, so graciously stocked for our dining pleasure with the tastiest flora and fauna in the galaxy. Let’s start out in Malibu and work our way around roughly clockwise… (I wonder why there is no place there called “Malibu Barbie-que”?)
10. Neptune’s Net – Malibu, California
The Rock Store’s the more famous place to bike-watch and nosh in the Santa Monica mountains, but if it’s a truly tasty fiesta you’re after, you need to keep riding through Malibu’s crazy maze of canyons on over to the coast. Yerba Buena Road will deposit you right into the `Net’s parking lot on Pacific Coast Highway, one of the first places the old salts brought me way back in the old Cycle magazine days. Order up some fresh fish tacos, the ever-popular fish and chips, the old-standby cheeseburger or some fried calamari… pull up a chair on the front porch and take it all in: bikers, surfers, the Ferraris of the rich and famous. The good life, basically.
9. Alice’s Restaurant – Woodside, California
The San Francisco Bay area’s leading motorcycle hangout is on the truly scenic Skyline Drive (Ca Highway 35) about equidistant between The City and San Jose. Every time I’ve been to Alice’s, it’s been like Mark Twain’s description of San Francisco; he spent one of the coldest winters of his life there one summer. But the coffee’s good and hot, breakfast is fantastic, and so is pretty much everything else on the menu. It’s the warmth of the place, though – its log-cabin-in-the-trees ambiance, the Ginsburg in the air, and all the bikes and cars in the big parking lot that makes Alice’s a must-stop destination.
8. See See’s Motor Coffee Company – Portland, Oregon
A bit further up the Left Coast, See See Motor Coffee Company is the brain/love child of Thor Drake, who also happens to promote the One Motor Show. Stumptown coffee and fresh pastries, brats and beer, free Wifi, lots of retro bike gear as well as retro bikes… According to our friend Sam Moses, Famous Automotive Journalist, “The bike scene is quite Portlandia, meaning as reminiscent of a British café from the `60s as I think you’ll find.” And never mind all the old Honda XLs out front.
7. Cafe Veloce – Kirkland, Washington
Okay, so it’s a Series 1 Jaguar XJ6 with whitewalls, but that strongly suggests its owner has several alternative means of transportation, at least one of which is probably a motorcycle. Inside, there are quite a few vintage Ducatis and Parillas and things on display. In the winter, they snuggle by the big fireplace. In the summer, it all moves outside to bask under the golden, soggy, Kirkland sunshine (Seattle-ish, to you and me). Either way, it’s all about the fine Italian cuisine and pizzas, made with the finest fresh local ingredients. Wait, does every restaurant say that? Highly recommended by several Seattle-area Facebook friends.
6. Webers – Orillia, Ontario, Canada
Canada is a large country north of the United States from which MO paychecks and Labatt Blue originate. From what we gather, Highway 11 is sort of its Route 66 (and Gordon Lightfoot its Bob Dylan), looping northwestward from Toronto, Ontario around the top of the Great Lakes to transport you all the way to the Minnesota border, should you choose to go there, singing The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald inside your helmet the whole way. Webers was started up in 1963, and you can see by the line here how popular its charcoal-grilled burgers have become. On a busy Friday, they move up to 8000 burgers a day, we’re told, and a footbridge had to be installed to keep southbound Canucks from zombie-walking through the northbound lanes to get their ground beef fix. Three retired Canadian National Railway passenger cars house Weber’s in-house meat processing department; you can sit in the other two and eat your burger. If you’re not satisfied, you know what to do. Blame Canada.
Webers is also located at the base of cottage country for city dwellers down south in Toronto. It’s an area rich with lakes and roads that wind around them, making for some sweet riding. Head north on Highway 11 to Huntsville and you can connect to the Highlands Loop motorcycle tour, part of which takes you east through Algonquin Provincial Park to Pembroke, south through Renfrew and Arnprior, putting you within striking distance of the nation’s capital – Ottawa. To do this tour justice, you should budget a few days to complete.
5. Sir Benedict’s – Duluth, Minnesota
Does this bus go to Duluth? No, this bus goes “beep-beep.” The classics never grow old do they? If you do go to Minnesota, you might meet Aerostich’s Andy Goldfine here, on the second and last Tuesdays of each month at 6:30pm, along with a bunch of other Duluth riders. Sir Ben’s sits right on Lake Superior, has a menu full of the kind of food you need to consume to keep from freezing to death, and there’s lots of live music going off too, in its Authentic English Pub atmosphere. Looks nice.
4. Kegel’s Diner – Rockford, Illinois
The food doesn’t look any worse than most things you’d find to eat in Rockford, but the atmosphere is what you’re after here, Harley people especially. Kegel’s likes to think it’s the oldest H-D dealer in the world, though Dud Perkins holds that title officially; there’s a slight kerfuffle as to when Kegel’s was an official H-D outlet, 1910 or 1912? Anyway, the diner is inside Kegel’s H-D, which is a huge dealer, and you get to peruse an XR1200S Sportster while you eat. In fact, there are quite a few H-D dealers with their own in-house eateries, Harley people being a little more social than the rest of us maybe? Fat Bob’s Roadhouse Diner inside H-D of West Virginia (WV’s oldest) looks like another great choice.
3. Palace Grill – Chicago, Illinois
Every time we land at O’Hare after a trip abroad where they invented yoga pants, we’re reminded again how much our Chicago brethren enjoy their food. From Mike Kneebone, President of the Iron Butt Association and a man who can stay in the saddle for a long time, comes the Palace Grill recommendation, in business since 1938. It may not be a moto-restaurant per se, but Mike says it’s got motorcycle-friendly parking and was rated best breakfast place in town by the Chicago Sun-Times. Who are we to question?
2. Woody’s Town Cafe – Allentown, New Jersey
Heading east while avoiding the northeast, we come to an excellent suggestion and a favorite of MO’s east coast correspondent Andrew Capone: “Woody’s is strategically located at the start and finish of what we call the Burlington and Western Monmouth Loops, a surprisingly nice-for-NJ, 50-mile or so set of rural backroads where some spirited riding is known to occur. Always a good cross-section of motorbikes and riders on hand, but decidedly not a biker’s only place. And the Dog Pile platter defies all FDA guidelines.” (Your choice of a generous serving of bacon, sausage, pork roll, Canadian bacon, or Virginia ham, three eggs, home fries, and toast,$8.59).
1. Switzerland Inn – Little Switzerland, North Carolina
From famed motophilosopher Peter Jones comes a thumbs up for the Switzerland Inn, conveniently located right on the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Actually, he told me to tell everybody to go to the Tail of the Dragon Resort to keep the crowds away from this spot.) Chi-chi though this place looks, it’s owned by a serious motorcycle enthusiast, and they’ll probably let you stay and eat on the house if you mention MO and Peter Jones. Just kidding. The resort includes the Diamondback Motorcycle Lodge, with covered parking for your bike, starting at just $69. Breakfast in the Fowl Play Pub starts at 7:30.
Say, is that 10 already? Why stop now, I’m on a roll… (get it?)
Waffle House – Anywhere, USA
Endorsed by none other than Joe Gresh, a man of many appetites. One word: grits.
Blue Goose Cantina – Dallas, Texas (Lower Greenville location)
Kathryn Hampton is a woman who knows a good party when she sees one, since Freddie Spencer used to pick her up in his Ferrari to go bowling in Shreveport when she was 18 (barely 20 years ago). She assures us the Blue Goose is a big motorcycle destination on the weekends, though you’d be hard pressed to prove it by any of the photos I could find. Some of the photos I did find, though, make me think “motorcycles shmotorcycles.” The Tex-Mex looks great, the margaritas are purportedly “the best in Texas, and where else matters?” Good point.
Old Spanish Trail Restaurant – Bandera, Texas
You’ll have to eat more than once to get across Texas. From former Kawasaki Marketing Guru Mike Vaughn comes OST–site of one of its cool print ads from back in the day. Chicken fried steak.
Mama Espinosa’s – El Rosario, Baja
When you’re in Texas, you might as well be in Mexico. Famed friend of MO and Baja semi-native Steven Soto says Mama Espinosa’s is the place to be seen and heard in Baja, both for its food and affordable accommodations.
Okay, that’s one gastronomic lap of the Continent. Now I’m hungry again.