As you embark on a road trip across the U.S., your choices to eat are no longer limited to fast food and gas station snacks. With the rise of South Asian truck drivers on American roadways, a demand for Indian cuisine has also surmounted. As a result, Indian fast-food restaurants have popped up along the country’s interstates from Oregon to Alabama!
WHAT IS A DHABA?
A dhaba (dh-aa-baa) is an Indian pit stop that is synonymous to highway restaurants across India and Pakistan. These family-run budget eateries specialize in Punjabi cuisine (region of northern India). They also offer basic travel amenities such as clean restrooms, indoor and outdoor seating, rest area, and a gift shop. Dhabas mainly cater to truckers and road trippers looking for a taste of India on the interstate, though they have recently gained popularity among college students and late-night diners too. Some travelers even plan their road trip centered around a meal at their favorite dhaba.
WHAT IS INDIAN ROADSIDE FOOD?
One of the reasons dhabas have gained popularity in the United States is because of their fresh homestyle flavors catering to a particular demography. According to The Sikh Political Action Committee, there are over 150,000 Sikhs in the trucking industry, that’s almost one-fifth of the total number of truckers in America. After spending 12-13 hours on the open road, Sikh drivers seek out spicy, healthy food that reminds them of home.
When you enter a dhaba, you will feel welcomed by a friendly greeting in Punjabi or Hindi, along with a cup of steaming hot masala chai. With Indian music in the background and a smell of curry, there’s an atmosphere of familiarity among fellow truckers who run into each other every few hundred miles.
A typical menu at a dhaba offers a variety of vegan, vegetarian, and Halal meat dishes, made from scratch daily. You can find staples such as chicken curry, saag paneer (spinach and cottage cheese), chana masala (chickpea stew), daal makhni (curried lentils), baigan bharta (spicy mashed eggplant)—cooked without added creams and coloring. The aromatic sauces are prepared with fresh ingredients, herbs, and spices, as one would at a Punjabi home, and not seasoned down to appeal to western palates. Indian breads such as wholewheat thin round roti, crisp tandoori naan, and paratha (flatbread stuffed with mashed potatoes, onions, and spices), are also popular to take on the road. A glass of probiotic yogurt-based salt and sweet lassi is nourishing during summer travel. For dessert, there is sweet kheer (cardamom rice pudding) and gajar halva (grated carrots simmered in whole milk).
Though dhabas traditionally serve hearty rounded meals, some also offer popular Indian street foods and snacks, such as potato and pea stuffed samosa, pani-puri, pakora, and chaat, as well as Indo-Chinese dishes like Hakka noodles and chili chicken.
Don’t expect white tablecloths, gourmet ingredients or fancy plating. A dhaba is designed to serve simple, satisfying, and delicious food, in a rustic setting. Some dhabas present all-you-can-eat buffets from 11AM – 5PM so you can grab a quick meal and get back on the road, while others take orders over the phone for a-la-carte dishes that are carefully packed to go. Individually wrapped accompaniments such as pickles, sliced raw onions, and raita (yogurt) are staples that come free with all orders. One of the oldest truck stops in Sayre, Oklahoma, also has a 24-hour vegetarian restaurant, convenience store, and a Sikh temple.
WHERE ARE DHABAS LOCATED?
Dhabas in the U.S. are located at gas stations, food trucks, and truck stops with ample parking for semis. Many of the immigrant-run restaurants are not listed online and are known through word of mouth only. Most of these have high traffic, serving as many as 350-400 guests a day, so expect long lines during peak hours.
A majority of dhabas in the U.S. are located along fabled American Route 66 (or I-40), as well as Interstates 5, 80, and 10. A good way to identify them is by their names, as they usually have the words “Punjabi,” “Tandoor,” “India,” “Akal” or “Bombay” on the storefront. Here are some dhabas you can check out on your next road trip:
- Bombay Restaurant and Buffet Truck Stop 3405 W Historic Hwy 66, Gallup, NM 87301
- Punjabi Dhaba 2546 S Union Ave, Bakersfield, CA 93307
- Punjabi Truck Stop (I-40, exit 26) 11561 N 1900 Rd, Sayre, OK 73662
- Panjabi Dhaba Restaurant & Vega Truck Stop 3650, I-40, Vega, TX 79092
- Punjabi Dhaba 48243 Memorial Dr, Newberry Springs, CA 92365
- Taste of India 2405 NM-469, San Jon, NM 88434
- Dillon Truck Stop 2405 State Highway 469, San Jon, NM (I-40, exit 356)
- Punjabi Dhaba 2650 N Roundup Ave, Kingman, AZ 86401
- Punjabi Dhaba 7311 Hwy 104 N, Cedar Grove, TN 38321
- Tandoori Indian Restaurant 12501 Valley View Rd, Shawnee, OK 74804
- Spiceland Truck Plaza 5809 IN-3, New Castle, IN 47385 (I-70, exit 123)
- Spicy Bite Indian Restaurant (I-40, exit 79) 1203-1299 Motel Dr, Milan, NM 87021
- Demming Truck Plaza 1310 W Spruce St, Demming, NM 88030 (I-10, exit 81)
- Punjabi Dhaba 7800 Batavia Rd, Dixon, CA 95620
- Speed Way Cafe I-80 exit, 4, Wendover, UT 84083
- Punjabi Dhaba 500 A Truck Inn Way, Fernley, NV 89408
- Jay Brothers Truck Stop Taste of India 74975 Rd, Overton, NE 68863
- Akal Travel Center 168 Hunt Rd, Laramie, WY 82070
- Akal Travel Center 915 Rd S, Waco, NE 68460 (Exit 360, off I-80)
- Antelope Truck Stop Pronghorn Indian & American Restaurant 4850 I-80 Service Rd, Burns, WY 82053-9808