I'm opening with the saddest meal to get it out of the way. This is the first place i stopped when i got back on the bike - a roadside bar somewhere south of Minneapolis. Everything on the menu was very generic-looking and packed with meat and cheese. So i ordered sweet potato fries and the one salad which didn't have cheese or mayonnaise or other animal products on it... Then it arrived covered in cheese. For fuck's sake! And not only that, it was basically about one baby carrot's worth of julienne, and the rest iceberg lettuce. This is why ordering salads in America is a waste of money.
Moving on to a much better meal - the spam sandwich from the bar next door to the spam museum in Austin, Minnesota. I asked for them to put a pineapple on it too, since i noticed they had pineapple on one of the other dishes. It tasted great.
This next humble meal was an excellent burger from the bar in Lawler, Iowa. It looks deceptively simple, but this was a damn fine burger. I love that you can see the patty is hand-made, and the attention to detail of cutting the green stalk bit out of the tomato. Plus those wedges! They came with sour cream! So good.
There is a certain type of Mexican restaurant in America which has pages and pages of allegedly different dishes, but actually they're all exactly the same. You get beans, cheese and meat (chicken or beef) arranged in various different ways around a tortilla. Wrapped inside the tortilla with a dry outside, it's a burrito. Wrapped inside the torilla deep fried, it's a chimichanga. Rolled inside the tortilla with sauce outside, it's an enchilada. Pressed flat inside the tortilla, it's a quesadilla. On top of the tortilla, it's a chalupa. On top of a hard shell tortilla, it's a tostada. Inside a bent hard shell tortilla, it's a taco. Build it yourself, it's a fajita. This differs from "real" Mexican restaurants which have dishes with the same names, but they're actually prepared with different ingredients and different spices and flavors. Still, sometimes you just want an oversized portion of beans, cheese and meat, and then you go to those Americanized Mexican restaurants.
I don't even remember what this dish was, but it was three "different" vegetarian things that all tasted the same. The way they make it vegetarian is just leave off the meat, so it's beans and cheese. I got some guacamole, pico de gallo and some extra tortillas to mop it up. Margarita to drink, because that's the kind of place it was. A feast in Independence, Iowa.
The next day i was passing through Coralville - a suburb of Iowa City - and found a taqueria attached to a mercado. I needed to cleanse myself of the bottom rung Mexican of the day before, so ordered an horchata and my usual taco trio of chorizo, carnitas and al pastor. These tacos were so fucking good. Hands-down the best tacos i have had outside of California/Nevada/Texas. Look at the oil! When i lifted up the carnitas, the oil dripped out the back and down my fingers. And the top was crispy! None of this fake-ass pulled pork version of carnitas. It was so fucking delicious.
I don't normally post snacks that i buy on the road because they're pretty boring (Clif bars, Complete Cookies, sesame snaps etc) but this was a cool thing i found at an international grocery store. It's sort of like a Latin American stroopwafel. Whereas stroopwafels have some kind of syrup sandwiched between two cookie-like waffles, this thing had syrup sandwiched between the sort of waffle that cheap icecream cones are made of. It was a little dry, but not bad. I'd buy it again.
Oh man. This was a great simple meal. From a bar in Kalona, Iowa. Catfish and chips. About the blandest thing in the world, but it was hearty and had a homemade feeling.
Another one i wouldn't normally post - the standard vegan motel breakfast of bagel and peanut butter. But this one has a (probably not vegan) home baked cinnamon roll. I tried to get a photo of the peanut butter packet so the non-Americans can see what Americans call peanut butter. First ingredient, peanuts. Second ingredient, sugar. There's molasses in there too. It's weird.
My last meal in Iowa was this BLT with fake bacon from a book slash coffee shop in Fairfield, hippie central. Look at those sprouts! Basil lemonade in the background.
My first meal in Missouri was my second attempt at going to a roadside bar. This was a much better roadside bar than the one in Minnesota. The menu was much shorter, which usually means what's there is made with more care. I got their signature bacon cheeseburger, and it was very good. For some reason lettuce, tomato and pickle all came on the side. Perhaps to keep the burger warm and the bun dry? Not a bad idea. Good fries too.
After success with the burger, i got dessert at the same roadside bar. I don't know what this is called, but it was some kind of pumpkin cake rolled up with icing inside it. Never seen anything like it, but it was delicious.
Another picture that's not especially interesting, but worth showing for people who haven't been to Mexican restaurants in the US. They often give you tortilla chips and salsa as soon as you sit down. You can usually tell within the first 30 seconds if the restaurant is going to suck by tasting the salsa. This one was really fresh. It actually tasted like tomatoes and chilis, not that sort of generic "jarred salsa flavor" that lesser restaurants have. Also, my favorite flavor of Jarritos (Mexican fruit soda) - tamarind!
From the same restaurant in Milan, Missouri... three tacos and a side of rice and beans. These tacos were not nearly as good as the Coralville tacos, but they were alright.
If it seems like i am eating a lot of Mexican (or Mexican-inspired) food, you're right. What i've noticed traveling in the US - round these parts anyway - is that in small towns the only non-chain restaurant is a Mexican restaurant. Sometimes the only restaurant in town, period, is a Mexican restaurant. This meal was a vege combo from the Mexican restaurant in Cameron, Missouri - i think there is a bean tostada under that pile of iceberg lettuce and guacamole.
So that's my first set of meals in the US. It's easier to eat vegetarian (not vegan) here than in Canada, mainly due to those ubiquitous Mexican restaurants. However, personally, i find eating dairy to be more ethically uncomfortable than eating meat, which is why i tend to go with pork tacos when it's a "real" Mexican restaurant where i can trust they'll make them well. Also, i do really like Mexican food, so i'm enjoying getting to eat a lot of it down here.
How will Kansas fare? Stay tuned...