When you’re kicking it down Route 66 in Arizona, the famous Mother Road that runs across the American southwest, you’re going to pass through Williams. And if you don’t stop at Cruisers Cafe, you’re making a mistake. If you like your burgers, BBQ, and brew seasoned with the nostalgia of the ’50s and ’60s and the open road, this is the place for you.
Location: 233 Historic Route 66, Williams, Arizona
Menu: The menu is classic Americana. An array of burgers, pulled pork and ribs from the smoker, prime rib and steak, cheesy fries, baked wings, homemade chili, milkshakes and floats—well, you get the idea. The BBQ comes straight from the smoker in the front yard, and the smell will pull you in the door if you’re on the fence about whether to stop. Vegetarian? Cruisers Cafe wants you too. You can opt for a black bean burger or choose a salad. There’s also a full bar.
Thoughts: The food is good and plentiful, but one of the main reasons to stop at Cruisers Cafe is the ambiance. Set in an old gas station outlined with neon, with a cherry red 1940 Chevy up on the roof, it plunges you into instant nostalgia. Inside, old signs advertise Coke and Texaco and the like, and classic red Burma Shave road signs impart their roadie wisdom. The grill end of an actual red ’66 Nova pushes out of one wall. With black-and-white checkerboard floors, red vinyl booths, corrugated aluminum wrapping the counters, it’s kind of like a cross between the Happy Days soda fountain and an old garage mechanics’ shop gone clean.
You can eat inside or out on the front terrace when the weather cooperates, which is most of the time in Arizona (though it can get chilly in winter). Service was fast and very friendly.
I had the Angus beef burger with cheese and bacon, onion rings and fries. And a root beer float. Doesn’t get much more classic Americana than that. The beef was excellent, the bacon nicely crisp but not burnt. It was the burger you grew up with and always hope to find again. My friend ordered the barbecued beef ribs. Slow smoked for eight hours, they were fall-off-the-bone good. The BBQ sauce was tasty, though he thought there was a bit too much of it. You might want to order it on the side. Another friend wanted a drink, so ordered the meal-in-a-glass Bloody Mary. And a meal it was. Served in a 32 oz. mason jar, it carried a spear with a tomato, a hunk of cheese, pickles, olives, a folded slice of pulled pork, and a bacon-wrapped jalapeño popper. And a celery stick. And lemon and lime wedges. The whole thing worked.
For beer lovers, the Grand Canyon Brewery, the third largest brewery in Arizona, is right on the property. They offer several of their fine craft beers on tap. You can also take a peek into the brewery itself when you’re done eating. There’s also a large connecting gift shop next door. Their specialty is metal signs—dozens and dozens of different designs—plus every possible Route 66 souvenir and tchotchke you could hope to find.
All in all, Cruisers Cafe in Williams is a fun stop, an over-spilling trunk full of Route 66 memorabilia and good food. You won’t leave hungry. Before climbing back into the car and heading back onto the Mother Road, or turning north to the Grand Canyon—just an hour away—do take some time to walk down the street and browse the shops. Pretty much the whole street is like a ’60s Route 66 fantasy, complete with a life-size Elvis shaking his pelvis.
Additional Info: Cruisers Cafe is open daily from 11 am-8 pm.
Price Range: For the simplest burger, you’ll pay about $12. Steak or prime rib go for $22 and a BBQ sampler plate will set you back $23. Fountain drinks are $3.50
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