As you can imagine this is a hard post to write. That’s because dead folks don’t eat that much, so the pickins are slim. I probably should have done this post on where to hike in Death Valley. Or where to stargaze in Death Valley. Or where to simply stand and be awed in Death Valley. But, truth-be-told, dead folks don’t do much of those things either. So I’ll stick with where to eat in Death Valley.
I’ll give you some more truth: there aren’t a lot of places to eat in Death Valley. This isn’t really a problem because none of the restaurants in the park have what I’d call a not-to-be-missed dining room. So if you’re staying at one of the resorts inside the park or at the resort at Panamint Springs you could choose to eat all of your meals at one of their restaurants. You probably wouldn’t be missing out on too much.
But you know me I gotta go the extra mile no matter how many extra miles it takes. And it takes a lot of miles. Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous United States. It’s also the hottest, driest and lowest of all our national parks. And there’s basically only one road (CA-190) that traverses the whole thing. So there’s a lot of endless driving back and forth. Of course, it’s endless driving with endless views. So perhaps I complain a touch too much.
Inside The Park
Badwater Saloon: This is the more casual of the two restaurants in Stove Pipe Wells Village. It’s open for lunches and light suppers and the food is surprisingly good. However, it’s the mirrored bar and lively crowd (as well as the off-menu pizza) that make this the most popular place to eat inside the park. 51880 CA-190, Death Valley, California
Toll Road Restaurant: This is the restaurant that’s attached to Badwater Saloon. It’s where resort guests go for breakfast, but they also serve dinner after 5:30 pm. One half of the menu is exactly the same as Badwater Saloon. The other half is the dinner-only selections such as salmon, roast chicken, steak, and pasta. 51880 CA-190, Death Valley, California
The Inn at Death Valley: (formerly known as the Furnace Creek Inn) is a 1920s stucco and red tile architectural treasure with an amazing spring-fed swimming pool. The Inn Dining Room is where weary hikers dust off the desert to savor a fireside eve of fine food and wine. They’re open breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 328 Greenland Blvd., Death Valley, California
The 19th Hole: This is the bar at The Furnace Creek Golf Course. It’s the place where you do what you do when you’re done on the links. Or skip the game and get a Salty Dog or a Bloody Mary as the sun sets and the coyotes come out to play. As far as food, there’s the expected burger from the griddle and a few other things to chase down the booze. CA-190 at Badwater Rd, Death Valley, California
Last Kind Words Saloon: On the grounds of the resort Oasis at Death Valley (formerly known as the Furnace Creek Lodge) it’s my favorite of all the places to eat in Death Valley. Sure you’ll feel like you’re dining on the set of an old-school Hollywood western but that’s part of the charm. The rest of the charm comes from a selection of grilled steaks and chops and a cocktail bar that knows how to make a good strong drink. CA-190 at Badwater Rd, Death Valley, California
Almost Inside The Park
Panamint Springs Resort Restaurant and Bar: Straddling Death Valley’s far western edge this tiny motel with a couple of extra cabins has views of the distant sand dunes and a restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating. Like most places to eat in Death Valley, the menu features steaks, burgers, and pizzas. The surprise from this remote restaurant is the large selection of craft beer. 40440 CA-190, Darwin, California
Amargosa Hotel Opera House: This place sits outside of Death Valley National Park, like some desert dream forgotten by time. There’s a famous opera house, a small hotel, and a well-regarded restaurant. I have to admit I didn’t actually eat here but the pictures I’ve seen of the place are so gloriously odd that I had to include it. The restaurant serves a simple menu of farm-to-table meals, and they also make stuff to go for those much-needed picnic meals once you’re in the park. Don’t forget to check out the murals in the theatre. Oh, and watch out for ghosts. The place is supposedly haunted. 608 Death Valley Junction, Death Valley, California
Outside The Park
If you’re looking for long drives, stunning views, and tasty food, you need to listen to what I’m about to tell you. The tiny, hardscrabble town of Tecopa, CA is worth veering off CA-127 on your way into or out of Death Valley. Some people stop for the hot springs and mineral flats. Others come for the date milkshakes. The Los Angeles Times recently convinced me that Tecopa is a foodie destination that is still only known by a few and I wanted to be one of the few.
Tecopa might be in the literal middle of nowhere but it’s breaking through small-town expectations with two craft breweries to serve 150 fulltime residents. That’s probably more breweries per capita than Portland, OR.
But there’s more…
Where to Eat in Tecopa, CA
Steaks and Beer: Locally raised t-bones as big as a plate or butter-soft filets served with vegetables and mashed potatoes and finished with a combination of red wine, butter, and balsamic. How could a place like this exist at the very quiet backdoor of Death Valley? The answer is Eric Scott, a Vegas chef with dreams of downsizing from cooking 700 steaks a night at STK on the Strip. Now he’s got just a couple of indoor tables, a few kitchen view bar stools, and a fistful of outdoor seating scattered over and around a fish pond. Sure, there can be an hour’s wait when the weather’s just right. But don’t worry Death Valley Brewing is right next door and the steaks are worth the wait. 120 Old Spanish Trail, Tecopa, California
Tecopa Bistro: It’s run by chef Ryan Thomas and it’s been more aptly called a “culinary art gallery” where Chef Ryan occasionally sets aside his tongs to let itinerant chefs come in and do their own culinary thing – whatever that thing might be. The vegetables come from neighbors’ gardens and the chickens are the local birds. The building has been an on-again-off-again home to 40 years of cooks, but it’s latest itineration is helping put Tecopa on the culinary map. You never know what will be served so Chef Ryan suggests diners visit his Facebook page to see him harvesting in the morning what will be cooked up and served that night. 860 Tecopa Hot Springs Road, Tecopa, California
Tecopa Brewing Company and BBQ: Texas-style brisket, Memphis-style pulled pork, racks of ribs, and big bowls of chili. Classic barbecue and a menu of always-changing housemade craft beer. It’s the kind of everyone’s welcome establishment where, if you’re lucky, you can play beanbag toss with the resident 3-year-old! 368 Hot Springs Road, Tecopa, California
Death Valley Brewing: As you pull into Tecopa you’ll see a giant wooden beer mug and suddenly you will feel very thirsty. Good thing because you’ve arrived at the brewery that may have gotten the culinary bandwagon rolling in this small town in the middle of nowhere. There’s always a pale ale and coffee stout on the menu, but they like to experiment too. Death Valley Brewing Company also serves homemade root beer, bratwurst, and burgers. 102 Old Spanish Trail Highway, Tecopa, California