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Rural Nevada highways rich in local roadside meals

Those who know Nevada Smith realize he misses no meals while on the road.

In fact, there are some who believe he needs to lay off the cheeseburgers and try a salad bar. But no matter.

Today, consider me the man who ate Nevada.

Road trips make a traveler hungry, and dropping in at a roadside café is a great way to meet the locals and enjoy a little Silver State hospitality. Although some folks lean on franchise fare, the same old Big Mac gets more than a little boring when you’re piling on the miles from Searchlight to Genoa and all places in between.

Speaking of Searchlight, the next time you’re passing through, stop at the Nugget, which still sells travelers coffee for a dime and serves a substantial breakfast and home-cooked suppers.

While you’re there, get your picture taken in the big chair that the Nugget’s owner, Verlie Doing, received as a gift from an admirer. It’s, well, really big and chances are good you’ll need some extra room after a meal.

Up U.S. Highway 93, Boulder City offers a number of good places to chow down, including the World Famous Coffee Cup Café. But the Boulder Pit Stop remains one of my favorite burger spots on the big road. You can’t go wrong with the onion rings, and fish and chips.

Over in Goodsprings, the Pioneer Saloon is known in travel guides for its historic tin ceiling — with a bullet hole or two just for authenticity — and its dandy back bar. But when they’re barbecuing, it’s hard to beat their burgers and beer, especially on the weekends when you’re likely to hear a couple of country boys strumming their guitars and worshiping Waylon and Willie.

Beatty is known for its burros and being the Gateway to Death Valley, but it’s best to put on the feedbag there before you trek down to Stovepipe Wells. I like the breakfasts and the smiling faces at Mel’s Diner, and during a recent drive had a good sandwich at a very busy KC’s Outpost (where you’re likely to hear German, French and even Japanese spoken because of the international popularity of Death Valley.)

Tonopah has become downright urbane these days with the sparkling improvements to the remarkable Mizpah Hotel, where Nevada Smith and his navigator Amelia recently enjoyed a buffalo steak at the Key Pittman restaurant, and the consistently good grub at the café inside the Tonopah Station.

Although every traveler through Mineral County should pay homage to the Desert Lobster Café in Mina and lament the fact it no longer is allowed to serve its homegrown crustaceans — darn those langosta lawmen, anyway — one of my favorite new places to find a cheeseburger in an unlikely paradise is Socorro’s Burger Hut. And definitely get the fries and a homemade ice cream shake.

The Burger Hut has been an oasis in the desert for almost a decade since Socorro Streitht opened its window. (Outside dining only.)

Although I’ve had good baked chicken at El Capitan in Hawthorne, I have to admit a fondness for the big burger and camaraderie I received at a barbecue at the local American Legion post. If you time it right, the monthly Sunday breakfast is not to be missed and features homemade biscuits.

I could go on for chapters on the meals I’ve experienced, so consider this an extremely incomplete menu. But Nevada Smith would be remiss if he failed to tip a cap to the crew at Boonie’s in the heart of Dyer out in Fish Lake Valley. It’s known as a saloon, and there’s no shortage of cold beer, but it also serves up a variety of café specials. And when the community gets together for a barbecue or Easter Sunday brunch, make sure you’re in the neighborhood.

Nevada celebrates its sesquicentennial in 2014, and there will be no shortage of historical fanfare.

History is important, of course, but for my money one of the best ways to get to know the Silver State is one roadside meal at a time.

Nevada Native John L. Smith also writes a column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reach him at 383-0295 or at jsmith@reviewjournal.com

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