As the desert sees a surge in interest from Angelenos, the 10 and its supporting freeways are jam-packed with vacationers journeying to Palm Springs, Joshua Tree and the Coachella Valley. But whether it’s a “long-past-your-lunch-break” Friday evening drive to a vacation rental or a “hungover-but-hungry” Sunday morning return trip, the two-hour plus drive can seem like an endless loop of the same dozen chain restaurants you avoid at home. For more adventurous eaters, or those just bored of the same old drive-thru combos, these eight restaurants are a few short minutes from the highway but far off the beaten path.
Claremont, off the Indian Hill exit
Pollos Kikiryki serves not just the best chicken in Claremont, but among the best in Southern California. Tucked away in an easy-to-miss corner of a strip mall, there’s nothing modest about the big, glistening Peruvian style birds rotating in a rotisserie oven right behind the counter of the small restaurant. The menu features stellar renditions of other favorites from Peru, including lomo saltado (steak and fries) and ceviche—and everything’s better topped with aji verde, a spicy green sauce.
Make sure to try: half chicken combo and an Inka Cola
Loma Linda, off the Anderson St exit
This dimly lit and spare little space serves flavorful and delicious Pakistani cuisine from an ever changing menu. Brass-handled bowls of stewed mutton and barbecued chicken pass through a window in the back wall, and the dishes have a depth of flavor best explored with a hot and crispy naan. Kebab sandwiches make for a quick road bite, while curries, tandoori and biryanis offer a more substantial meal. Nightly dinner specials like pulao, a special occasion rice dish, are available to more committed eaters.
Make sure to try: mutton karahi with garlic naan
Calimesa, off the Calimesa Blvd exit
Employees and customers at this deli speak German amidst shelves of herring, candy and innumerable varieties of mustard. A lengthy butcher counter features a wide selection of wursts, including their hearty “hot plate”: sausage (weisswurst, bockwurst, and others) served alongside warm sauerkraut and potato salad. Any of their cold cuts (jagdwurst, German bologna, blood and tongue loaf) can be piled high onto a sandwich, too. Eat in the adorable outdoor biergarten with a pint of whatever happens to be on tap.
Make sure to try: the hot plate with weisswurst followed by a whipped cream topped warm apple strudel
Yucaipa, off the Yucaipa Blvd exit
While most roadside diners have a few Greek staples on their menu, Yucaipa’s the Fat Greek goes all in on Mediterranean cuisine. Unmistakable Balkan favorites such as grilled haloumi cheese and moussaka are served alongside hamburgers and pastrami, sometimes yielding inventive Greek fusion spins on SoCal classics like spicy feta-topped french fries and gyro breakfast burritos. If you dine in, their sophisticated beer list is inviting. Otherwise, the drive-through window will get you back on the road with falafel quickly.
Make sure to try: dolmades and spicy Greek fries with gyro meat
Banning, off the Highland Spring Exit
Bright red and shaped like a humongous barn, Farm’s House is hard to miss. The more run-of-the-mill interior serves delicious diner fare like omelettes, sandwiches, hamburgers and fried seafood, but look for outstanding specials: a $9.99 lunch combination includes soup and a slice of pie. The spot differentiates itself from usual roadside fare with a focus on drinks,including smoothies, tropical lemonades served in mason jars and a full bar specializing in margaritas and mojitos.
Make sure to try: carne asada fries and a mojito
Banning, off the Sunset Ave exit
If you’re looking for a restaurant hearkening back to the “good old days” of road tripping, including waitresses with polite sass, walls decorated with cheerful aphorisms that veer into religious fanaticism, and so many pies, this is your spot. From biscuit-based breakfasts to steak- showcasing dinners, the extensive menu has everything in between, including omelettes, sandwiches, salads and burgers. Banana loaves, bread puddings and a multitude of fruit and custard pies are home-baked and showcased extensively throughout the retro-styled restaurant.
Make sure to try: waffles with added fried chicken and a slice of pie a la mode
Cabazon, off the Malki Rd exit
Mere feet from the highway, this American-style Mexican roadside stand is famed for its giant tacos topped with guacamole, but the smaller ones don’t disappoint either. Homemade tortillas are thick, yellow, lightly charred and filled with all manner of saucy proteins, like braised green chile pork and deep-fried white fish covered in a dill-flavored cream. Taquitos, burritos, nachos and meat by-the-pound make for a simple takeaway, or you can dine at the outdoor patio and watch nearby cows graze.
Make sure to try: giant taco with steak and ghost salsa
Cabazon, off the Morongo Trl exit
Visible from across the low desert, this towering casino is a beacon of excess. Its buffet, advertised extensively along the road, is also delightfully over-the-top. Themed days like “surf- and-turf,” “seafood” and “international” translate to fluctuating prices, but a high throughline of quality and variety, including poke, Cajun and fanciful deserts amidst the usual buffet favorites make for a worthwhile if belt-busting meal. The cost and time investment are higher, but it’s a great stop if you prefer fun eating over fine dining.
Make sure to try: crab legs on seafood night alongside the gumbo