Tune Up Cafe Scallop Taco

What do Road Trips and Reality Shows have in common?  Well, some love ‘em and some hate ‘em.  But, regardless of which camp you fall into, here’s an idea to combine them that’s guaranteed to make your next road trip more enjoyable.  Mix in some (very) short detours, and experience some tastes you’ve never tried before.  Go to some Diner’s Drive-Ins and Dives along the way and add a little flavor and spice to your road trip!


Diner's Drive-Ins and Dives Road Trip

I was planning a road trip from Denver, Colorado to Sarasota, Florida, a 2000+ mile journey where I was going to camp and hike and fish along the way.  To add even more to what was already an incredibly fun time, my sister recommended I stop along the way at various restaurants that Guy Fieri has featured on his popular Food Network show, Diner’s Drive Ins and Dives.  I met some owners, sampled what Guy sampled and experienced some local culture and flavors that I wouldn’t normally encounter on the sometimes seemingly endless highways.  I never had to go through the painful process of searching for a restaurant in a strange town, hoping that it would good, and I cut down dramatically on the awful fast food that line the highways but usually sucker me in with the convenience factor.



They’re everywhere!  Triple D, as Fieri likes to refer to it, has been to over 650 locations in over 250 cities and 44 states.  It is highly likely that some of these will be along your path.  Whereas I took my sweet time and a couple extra detours to hit some very cool places, some of these might not even be a detour at all for you.  My road trip hit 6 Triple D’s, each with their own unique local flavors and flair.


Tune Up Café - Santa Fe, New Mexico

Right off the bat I mixed the menu up and had a custom order made of the day’s special.  I convinced the owners to make a half-size of the special, Scallop Tacos (pictured at top) with Fire Roasted Corn with cilantro, avocado and lime, so that I could also try their chile relleno and a papusa, which I learned was a traditional dish from El Salvador made of corn flour dough and stuffed with meat.  The scallop taco was one of the best tacos I have ever tried.  The blend of textures and tastes of the crunchy corn and smooth avocado and scallops was incredible.  It was a good start to the trip theme and I couldn’t wait to try to next place.

The Tune Up Cafe

Tune Up Cafe Relleno, Scallop Taco and Papusa

Tune Up Relleno Taco Papusa

The Jalopy - Austin, Texas

The Jalopy

The most unique restaurant of all the Triple D’s I tried, The Jalopy is actually a food truck, one of those big semi-tractor trailer size trucks, with a permanent location on a street corner in downtown Austin.  They even slide your order down a ramp because it’s too high to reach from the ground.  I went with a friend who lives in Austin and we ordered the El Campo and Son Hong Chicken sandwiches.  They were more like wraps, with thicker homemade bread, almost like pita bread (and they told me they even stopped their bread contract which used to be with Whole Foods, because they could make it better…they were right).  They were spicy and incredibly tasty and unique.  If I ever go back to Austin I’ll make a B-line for this joint.

The Jalopy Ramp

T-Bone Tom's - Kemah, Texas (near Galveston)

T-Bone Toms

T-Bone Tom’s served up the most interesting dish I tried on the road trip – Armadillo Eggs.  Really?  Armadillo Eggs?  I was really hesitant to try them.  But Fieri did, so I had to give it a whirl.  They turned out to be armadillo eggs only in name, shape and size, but were actually giant jalapeno poppers stuffed with smoked brisket!  Never had anything like it before and I’ve been around the world and I, I, I.  They were GIANT, came on a plate with 4, and I could barely make a dent in them as I tried the homemade smoked sausage plate as well.  Awesome!  

Armadillo Eggs and Sausage Plate

Darwell's Cafe - Long Beach, Mississippi (near Gulfport)

Darwell's Cafe

Darwell’s was my favorite of all the restaurants I visited (and only 2 minutes off my road trip path).  Maybe it was because I met Darwell, the owner, who was one of the most personable and likable people I have ever run across.  He seemed to be everywhere at once, greeting and talking to all the guests, explaining all of the menu options, talking about how fortunate that his restaurant was the only one in town that survived Hurricane Katrina, and just spreading his southern charm wherever he walked.  He even signed a menu for me to take to my sister and nieces at the end of my road trip.  I had the Taste of Darwells, described in the picture below, and some southern sweet tea.  Awesome food.  Even better destination, people and experience!

Darwells Cafe Taste of Darwells

Panini Pete's - Fairhope, Alabama (near Mobile)

Panini Pete's and my Pup

Panini Pete’s was an understated local hangout in a small suburb on the east side of Mobile Bay.  I couldn’t find any giant Guy Fieri pictures or brand new menus with highlights that he was there like many of the others places.  Just a great chill place with a French style outdoor courtyard and an unassuming attitude.  When I asked the waitress if Diner’s Drive-In’s and Dives was here she quietly and unassumingly said “Yeah, we’ve a few shows come through here in the past.”  Humble.  Great food.  I had the House Roasted Turkey Panini with baby greens, roasted pepper, Dijon, garlic aioli and house-made mozzarella served on fresh baked focaccia, and homemade potato chips, as I sat in the courtyard with my dog and enjoyed a great lunch that was only 5 minutes off my road trip path.

Panini at Panini Pete's

California Tacos To Go - Tampa, FL

California Tacos To Go Menu

This taco stand, located in a non-descript, pass it by as you’re driving and don’t think twice about it strip center/parking lot, had a line down the sidewalk.  Hmm, quite the contradiction.  The whole place was.  Broken down signs, a menu that was a bigger wreck than the Titantic, and yet people were flocking there.  The food proved why.  The California Tacos, with all kinds of different choices to customize them were out of this world.  Just goes to show you don’t have to be fancy and uppity to have a great following because of your great product.  You can just be a dive and get crazy people like me on road trips to come try your great food.

California Taco To Go Tacos

That wrapped up my road trip as I soon rolled into my destination:  Sarasota, Florida.  Don’t let this adventure end here though.  Get an inside look at Diner’s Drive-Ins and Dives and plan your next road trip!

Also check out this other Diner's Drive-Ins and Dives article:  4_Denver_Restaurants_Featured_on_Diners_Drive-Ins_and_Dives_You_Gotta_Check_Out