Rapture. Finding Lunch On I5.


I5 is a long and ugly road. Takes you past tumbleweeds and dusty orchards and feedlots full of hot, sluggish cattle waiting to be processed. Processed is a euphemism. You will see signs saying things like “Congress Created Dust Bowls” attached to wire fencing running alongside. Not much resemblance to the California of our dreams. However, I5 also makes it possible to drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to parts of Los Angeles in under six hours. My youngest sister and her family live in Los Angeles. I live in the Bay Area. My sister had just moved houses, and she asked for a visit. Down we went. And, three days later, back we came.

Lunch on roadtrips is usually such a quandary. Do you steel yourself for yet another encounter with the corporate deep fryer? Or do you risk eating actual food made by actual humans when said actual humans might do a bad job? Usually we do fast food. Long tradition born of the horrors of small, bored children in a car. But this time we had my mother along. And it didn’t seem fair to make her eat Mc-Anything.

On the way down we had seen a sign saying, “Indian Food, Veg, Non-Veg.” I know that’s a clue the food will be real. That’s how they say it in India. That’s how they say it in Bay Area Indian restaurants, of which there are a good number. I was curious. We stopped.


“Taste of India”. It was in a rest area. Not even a town. Just a collection of gas stations and eating places in the sun. Did I mention it was 103 degrees? In we went. The Bollywood movie playing on the TV hanging from the ceiling gave me comfort. The young woman taking our order gave me comfort, as did the purple walls and foil decorations hanging from the ceiling. I had been ready for the food to be awful but it was not. It was wonderful. You could tell it was homemade from ingredients you can find in nature. Each dish we ordered tasted different from every other dish. No one was pulling out the can of Annie’s Asian Food Sauces and dousing the chicken with generic yellow.

I had chicken tandoori tikka. And mango lassi. The chicken was good to bite and to taste. The red sauce was tangy, maybe from tamarind. Onions and bell peppers had roasted and caramelized. We also had paneer palaak, creamed spinach with chunks of hard cheese. Spicy. Delicious.

It wasn’t cheap. It wasn’t fast. But I cannot tell you how much I love a random joy like this. Something unexpected. Unexpected and flirting with the absurd. Indian food and purple walls at a truck stop in inland California? Jolts you out of the let’s-just-get-this-over-with part of travel. Fills you with happiness for people who set up a family restaurant and post a large sign by the side of something as big and industrial as I5. Reassures you that some level of risk is usually worth taking. Especially once you no longer have small, bored children in the car. Those with small, bored children are exempt.

If you drive over Labor Day, and find yourself on I5, the exit is Buttonwillow. Adding a sort of early 20th century English children’s literature flavor to the entire experience.

Have a lovely weekend.

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19 Comments

  • 09/04/09
    7:41 am

    Reply

    Mardel said...

    Oh that sounds so wonderful, and a treasure. I love those little surprises that travel occasionally brings us, a little bright star of the unexpected. Indian restaurants around here seem to have all slipped into sameness, seem to have slipped into catering to the lowest common denominator. Everything tastes the same as if there is one sauce, one spice, called "Indian". At least we have a good Indian grocery now. Perhaps there is hope.

  • 09/04/09
    8:08 am

    Reply

    Erin said...

    Oh, this is too funny! I'm also in the Bay Area, family is in So Cal (also USC football, thanks to DH), and we drive down I-5 more times than we care to count a year. We always comment about the Veg, Non-Veg sign there!

    Now you will have to try the Chinese food restaurant at the Harris Ranch off-ramp and report back.

  • 09/04/09
    8:12 am

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    Lisa said...

    Now that's livin' the dream! My dream anyway! Getting in the car and headed to whatever, whomever awaiting for my discovery! How have you been/

  • 09/04/09
    8:21 am

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    Deja Pseu said...

    Ah good to know! We also make this drive periodically, and I remember passing this place. Harris Ranch has become our go-to (provided dogs are not travelling with us) but we're happy to know there's an alternative.

  • 09/04/09
    9:12 am

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    Beth Dunn said...

    How fun! I love when that happens. xoxo

  • 09/04/09
    9:21 am

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    Buckeroomama said...

    You had me at mango lassi! I promised to make some for the kids this weekend…

  • 09/04/09
    9:46 am

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    materfamilias said...

    NO!! There's a place called Buttonwillow? Why do I not live there?
    I know the kind of pleasure you mean about risk of trying something different being rewarded. I get teased for falling for signs — Best Chicken Curry in . . . . the world? my husband substitutes, Really? — while I'm protesting that the naive extravagance of the claim, matched with the hand-lettering, surely testifies to its authenticity — for the record, it wasn't. But it's so nice to know that someone's (obviously better) instincts were rewarded.

  • 09/04/09
    10:04 am

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    Amanda said...

    Yessssssssssss. And mango lassis? My favorite. And BUTTONWILLOW? I am moving there tomorrow and writing children's books forever.
    And calling it Buddonwillow.

  • 09/04/09
    10:26 am

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    Muffy said...

    OH, this is so interesting! I have made that trip. LONG, hard, arduous trip. SIGH. Next time, I will be stopping here! Can't wait!

  • 09/04/09
    11:21 am

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    LPC said...

    Hope you all like the food. Maybe next time I will try the place in the same location that sells Salvadoran food. Except that hamburgers are the advertised special. Buddonwillow. I did think of you Amanda…and perhaps I myself will try my hand at making mango lassi.

  • 09/04/09
    11:24 am

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    Maureen@IslandRoar said...

    I love that about traveling, finding things off the beaten path. Tho this was actually on the beaten path. Even better.

  • 09/04/09
    11:30 am

    Reply

    Legallyblondemel said...

    These moments are why I travel, full stop.

    I'm sure one day I will again drive some way up or down this stretch of the 5, and I'll keep an eye out for this place.

  • 09/04/09
    11:42 am

    Reply

    smiles4u said...

    Glad you enjoyed it. I love finding unexpected places like this along the way. It's such a treat and worth the time of stopping. Have a great weekend!

  • 09/04/09
    1:59 pm

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    The Preppy Princess said...

    Having done more than our fair share of extended interstate driving tours, we love the idea of discovering 'random joy' on the side of the road, especially when it is food. Good for you.

    Enjoy the weekend!
    tp

  • 09/05/09
    4:43 am

    Reply

    QueenBeeSwain said...

    isn't it fun to find these little nooks of the world?!

    have a fab long weekend dear!

    kHm

  • 09/05/09
    5:07 am

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    Jill said...

    Another beautifully written post. I do not say this lightly. You won't find me fawning over every blogger that I follow.

    I adore Indian food. I love the whole Indian culture…and Bollywood musicals makes me smile in a goofy way.

  • 09/05/09
    11:34 am

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    Tickled Pink And Green said...

    Oh I LOVE the unexpected little finds like this. Reminds me of a place in Austin that is known to make great enchiladas….one of those been-there-forever places….Dart Bowl. Yes, great enchiladas at a bowling alley. It doesn't get much better than that…

    ;-)

  • 09/06/09
    3:29 pm

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    Lauren said...

    Wow – that sounds like such a delicious place! Some of my favorite restaurants are very random places like the one you described. Too bad for me it isn't on the east coast!

    I hope you have a wonderful week!

  • 09/09/09
    12:22 pm

    Reply

    Meg said...

    Ha. Yes. Taste of India is the way to go if you're not splurging for Harris Ranch. Annoyingly though, they changed ownership about 9 months ago, and it's still *pretty* good, but not great like it was. Sigh.

    Well.

    Still Indian on the five, right?

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