I've been riding Amtrak trains since 2012 and I've been surprised by the food on board.
I've ordered filling dishes, tasty desserts, and three-course meals in dining cars on Amtrak trains.
The cafe car, which is open to all passengers, is so different from the dining car and not as good.
There's a huge difference between the cafe car and the dining car.
Passengers in every class can buy food in the cafe car, but the dining car is only available to and complimentary for those who have sleeping-car accommodations.
On my shorter Amtrak rides, I normally eat before my trip because the cafe cars have somewhat slim pickings, mostly offering prepackaged and warmed-up food. That said, some routes have more updated menus with salads and breakfast sandwiches.
Of course, riding in coach and stopping at the cafe car is much cheaper than splurging on a sleeper car that includes dining-car meals. A ticket for a sleeper car costs way more than coach ticket, though you can split the cost of some accommodations if you're not traveling alone.
Most recently, my sister and I spent $600 on a roomette for a 35-hour trip on Amtrak's Coast Starlight — two coach seats would have been closer to $200.
Still, for long trips, I think it's worth splurging on a seat that gets you access to the dining car because it feels like you're getting plenty of filling, quality food.
I expected dining-car meals to be like TV dinners, but they are far from it.
I'd expected the food served in the dining car to be similar to TV dinners you heat up in a microwave. But, in reality, I think Amtrak's food is a few steps above that.
Sure, I think some of the meals I've had could've used a bit more seasoning but they've tasted pretty good. Plus every meal I've gotten was hot and ready to eat on a plate, not a plastic container.
The dining car also has a pretty decent feel. You get unlimited soft drinks and can order, beer, wine, and spirits (the first one is free). White and red wine were my drinks of choice and although they weren't the finest offerings, they got the job done.
The menus change but I've consistently found the dinner section to have the best options in terms of flavor and quality.
Food choices vary based on the route, but every dining-car menu I've seen has had at least three options in every category.
Some dining-car breakfast choices include oatmeal, omelets, and french toast. Some common lunch choices are a grilled cheese, loaded baked potato, salad, and burgers.
Dinner tends to have the most variety and there's usually at least one option for those who prefer seafood, poultry, red meat, or no meat at all. I've seen pasta dishes, steak, and salmon on offer.
For dessert, I've been able to choose from cakes, cheesecakes, and mousses.
I've even been able to order pescetarian options.
When I first began riding with Amtrak, I followed a pescetarian diet — eating fish but not meat.
I've found that many places I've eaten at can lump pescatarians and vegetarians together so I just end up getting basic salads. That was not the case with Amtrak.
Much to my surprise, I've been able to find multiple seafood options, including salmon and crab cakes, on Amtrak dining-car menus.
I appreciate the small variety for those who eat fish.
Vegetarian and vegan options are available, too.
I've actually seen plenty of vegetarian options and a few vegan ones on dining-car menus, including salad, baked potatoes, plant-based pasta dishes, and plant-based burgers.
Fortunately, they are clearly labeled on the menu with different "V" symbols.
I was surprised that dinner includes three courses.
I appreciate having three courses and options to choose from in each category — that said, I don't think the choices we get are always paired super well together.
For example, I once was able to choose a tamale as an appetizer, tortellini as my entree, and chocolate cake as a dessert. I also got a complimentary glass of white wine.
Still, I appreciated having these varied options. The tortellini is still one of my favorite dishes I've ever had on board.
I don't usually eat multi-course meals in my daily life, so I felt pretty full and satisfied every day.
Amtrak's dining-car portion sizes are pretty solid, in my opinion.
There have even been times when I didn't eat all the snacks I packed because the three-course dinners were so filling. Even if I'd only eaten two of the three courses, I'd still have felt full.
Amtrak's dessert course is my favorite and actually pretty good.
Dinner was my favorite part of each day on the scenic trains — especially since it ended with dessert.
I was surprised by how good Amtrak's carrot cake, cheesecake, and chocolate cake tasted.
I think the West Coast Amtraks actually have better menus.
I've traveled through the Midwest and a little on the East Coast, and I think Amtrak's California Zephyr and Coast Starlight have superior menus.
The menus are so good that, if you're on a multi-day trip, I think it's worth it to pay extra for a sleeper car to get access to the dining car.
Either way, look up the menu to see what is offered during your trip before you book a ride.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't hate the on-board food.
Would I want to eat Amtrak meals every day? Absolutely not. But I am totally OK with eating Amtrak meals for a few days on a long ride.
I think you'll be disappointed if you're expecting a luxurious Michelin-star meal while on an Amtrak train. Instead, appreciate the variety and know you'll be fed and full — but only if you spring for that sleeper-car ticket.
Read the original article on Insider