Road Trip Report - Bay Area to Yellowstone (feat. Reno, Idaho Falls, Apple Hill)

We had an RV and cooked most of our meals in Yellowstone (I am so grateful to live in an area where boil-in-the-bag Indian food is easy to get - it packs small, packs a caloric wallop, and was such a welcome respite from hot dogs and hamburgers), but we made a few restaurant stops on the way there and back.

Reno, NV
Gold ‘N Silver Inn - decent chicken fried steak and eggs benedict. Food was slow to come out at 1 AM - the manager was extremely apologetic, but what we had intended to be a quick pit stop ended up taking over an hour. FWIW, it has been featured on Diners, Dives and Drive-throughs and is famous for something called “lemonade pork chop” that I could not bring myself to order. We had a piece of chocolate cake with pistachio frosting to go that I thought was quite good (frosting was green and had that pleasant artificial pistachio flavoring you get in inexpensive pistachio ice cream - cake was moist and fine-crumbed).

Golden Flower - this was our stop on the way back. I enjoyed the pho (my combo bowl had a generous amount of tendon and more noodles than I usually expect, bean sprouts and herbs looked fresh.). They have a Vietnamese menu all day and a Chinese menu after 9 PM - my husband ordered a beef chow fun and something else I can’t remember now, but I do remember it was very satisfying. Every table was full at 11 PM and food came out quickly. This will be our new go-to for Reno.

Idaho Falls, ID
Smitty’s Pancake & Steak House - the star of our trip. I found an old mention of this place on Chowhound vouching for its German pancake with apple topping. We ended up eating here three times, and actually plotted our trip back with an overnight stay in Idaho Falls so that we could get in an extra meal. I have never had rave-worthy pancakes before, but the pancakes here are phenomenal. The German pancake is very similar to Yorkshire pudding but with super crisp, light edges, served with butter, lemon and powdered sugar, or with a lightly sweet apple compote. We also had the Swedish pancakes (thin, rolled, crepe-like pancakes with beautifully crisped edges, served with lingonberry butter), sourdough pancake (ultra tender texture without much discernible sourness, saltier than I’m used to but so good I’m thinking all pancakes should be a little saltier now), buckwheat pancake (denser, slightly sour, great buckwheat flavor), potato pancake (not at all like a latke, really a very thin, tender, salty pancake spiked with green onions), fried chicken (boneless white meat but super tender and flavorful, perfect crust, great gravy) with sourdough waffle, and chicken fried steak. They have housemade fruit syrups (strawberry, apricot, boysenberry) and serve the maple syrup warm. For most of pancakes, and order is 7 pancakes, but you can order stacks of 3, 5, or even 1 (as we did). They just divided the price by 7 when we ordered single pancakes! Their coffee is weak. That does not diminish my love of this place one bit. This place is absolutely worth a detour (and for most people doesn’t even require detour as most routes to Yellowstone from the Bay Area go through Idaho Falls)

Pitmaster BBQ - we were pleased with the ribs - super meaty, good smoky flavor, good sauces. We ordered a full rack and my husband regretted not bringing home a second.

Idaho Brewing Company - cool little brewery in what looks like an old house. I mean, there’s carpet in the tasting room! They make a wide range of styles and offer tasting flights. I particularly enjoyed the Red Warrior IPA but everything was good.

Yellowstone Park - we were warned ahead of time that the food options were very limited, so we avoided eating in the park
.Old Faithful Inn Buffet - this was not a bad option - at $16, the buffet was limited but had a good chili and cornbread, and some overcooked but fresh tasting trout.
Huckleberry ice cream sandwiches - we enjoyed the inexpensive (99 cent) purple ice cream sandwiches that were for sale and different ice cream shops throughout the park.

Cooke City, MT (convenient if you’ve been wildlife watching in Lamar Valley)
Soda Butte Lodge - decent burgers (I enjoyed my Jucy Lucy) and fries.

Random - there are some really great local gins made in this area! We went to random liquor stores and bought all the local stuff we could find. We’re really enjoying Wildrye Distilling’s Old Tom right now but have a whole bunch of others (from WY, ID and MT) in the wings.

Camino, CA (Apple Hill)Rainbow Orchard - we were unfortunately 2 weeks too early for their exceptional Arkansas Black apples - they’ll be ready to pick next week - but we did get some fantastic Empire apples. Also picked up 2 dozen apple cider vinegar donuts and some cider

Honey Bear Ranch Restaurant - their crusts are blonder than I remembered but the fillings were still excellent. The double crusted apple was as good as I remembered after a stint in a 450 degree oven, and the slight tartness of the apple-berry sour cream pie (with a crumble top) lifted it over its sibling, the apple sour cream pie.

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Yellowstone is on my bucket list, doubly so after your description of Smittys pancakes!

Thank you for the detailed writeup! I have wanted to visit Yellowstone for forever and like Hyperbowler, I will make sure the pancakes are on the list after this.

I had not thought about RV for national park trips before. It sounds like a great idea to avoid the subpar food that pops up now and then in the middle of nowhere around the national parks. How easy is driving and parking the RV inside the park?

The park is well suited to RVs, even large ones. We have a camper van that has roughly the same footprint as a large pickup truck, so it can go almost anywhere. I think the campsites inside the park always fill quickly - we made reservations for one site for 2 nights, planning to get a first-come first-serve spot at a site in a different part of the park for the rest of the trip, but they all filled before we got there. Fortunately, there are quite a few campsites just outside the park itself, plus there’s dispersed camping in the surrounding national forests, so there are a lot of options.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

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