Anyone who has driven between LA and Vegas is probably familiar with the Mad Greek Cafe, even if they’ve never tried it. It’s in the town of Baker, a tiny oasis of civilization in an endless sea of Californian desert. Giant billboards advertise it counting down the miles along interstate 15. I’ve wanted to try it for years. As a kid, we made the trek from southern California to Utah at least once a year to visit family, national parks, and ancient ruins. So I quickly became familiar with this long stretch of freeway. The scenery can be hypnotically monotonous. To break our boredom we’d play the alphabet game with license plates, road signs, and the occasional billboard. That’s when I first saw signs for the Mad Greek Cafe. That’s when I first wanted to go.
It was about three hours into our drive and I’d beg to take a break, but I could never quite convince my parents to stop.
Years later as a college student, I drove this same stretch countless more times between my parents’ home and school. And finally, I understood: Stopping means making a long drive even longer. So instead I flew through Baker with a rumbling tummy thinking about the Mad Greek. Recently, Jim and I travelled this familiar route as part of a road trip. And since we’re trying to embrace the idea that road tripping is a mindset that’s all about exploration, we stopped. I finally got to sit down and experience Baker’s Mad Greek Cafe!
Turns out it’s quirky, cash only, and filled with minatures of famous Italian sculptures. The menu was immense with hand-scrawled edits and homemade concoctions like baklava milk shakes. I got falafel and Jim got a gyro. The gyro was better, but both were tasty. Little Greek flags and (bizarrely) Hawaiian toothpick umbrellas adorned the food. The eating area was large, like their menu, and we shared the space with an oddball assortment of truckers, tourists, families, and other wanderers. I sat eating my food feeling intensely satisfied — I’d finally taken the time to check out a place I’d thought about every time I’d passed by for decades. I finally fed my childhood curiosity. It felt good.
All in all the Mad Greek Cafe is tasty, bizarre, and exactly the kind of roadside pit stop worth stopping for. If you go, there’s an ATM inside the cafe you can use if your short on cash. Also, about an hour southwest is another fun roadside food stop: Peggy Sue’s Diner, just outside Barstow.
— Laura Rowley