Travel Indiana long enough and you will conclude that some of the best food is at places you wouldn’t enter unless you were with someone from the area. It’s not the rough crowd you are worried about, it’s the hole-in-the-wall look of the building that makes you wonder if it’s safe to eat there. If the locals take you there, it’s likely a good place to eat.
The famous Route 66 that connected the Southwest with the West before interstate highways existed runs through El Reno, Okla. On a recent visit, I dined at a famous establishment, even though it’s only big enough to hold maybe 30 people. It’s an old-fashioned diner, Sid’s Diner, in downtown El Reno. Pictures on the wall tell its story. Famous people have eaten there. The specialty is an onion burger, made with onions on the inside of the burger and served with a basket of fries so big it takes two people to eat them.
Some people belly up to the counter. A few of us ate at a small table. One of the ladies bringing out food is the daughter of one of the founders. It’s rural America at its best.
Actually, we found another burger restaurant in the same town that is more old-fashioned than Sid’s Diner. It’s called Robert’s Grill, and counter seats are all you get. It's slightly bigger than a phone booth, so the cook works in front of you. The onions are outside these burgers, not in, but the taste is similar. The place is only big enough for the cook and one waitress to work.
But modernization has come to this otherwise time-forgotten place. It has a drive-through window. Except for the drive- through window, it looks like time stopped 50 or 60 years ago there.
Burgers, those big baskets of fries, a dab of grease and free small talk with the locals are all part of the experience.
When you are in Rome, do as the Romans do. When you are in El Reno, Okla., do as they do. Visit their hamburger joints, one famous and one not-so-famous — and more authentic to days gone by than perhaps any other restaurant I have been in.
If you like unique dining experiences, they are still out there. They await you this summer on Route 66.