The use of spices and salt are what separates the cook from the chef. Likewise, finding joy in the surprise discoveries are what separates the traveler from the adventurer. About ten days ago, before most of a week was spent without internet service, I noted the discovery of Valenzuela’s, a charming little restaurant in Needles, California. So, let’s start with a review of this delightful little restaurant before sharing other discoveries made recently.
In most any town the old cafe would appear to be a faded relic, a weathered old place that was a tangible link to better times. Needles is a town that is dominated by faded and weathered relics but something about this little cafe seemed quite charming and inviting. I wasn’t disappointed.
It opened in 1952 as a small neighborhood store and cafe in a town that was prosperous and busy. Route 66 was just a couple of blocks away and the flashing bulb arrow sign served as a beacon for travelers. So business was brisk. Times change. By 1980 the cafe and Needles were on hard times. Route 66 was on the cusp of becoming an historic footnote, the railroad was in the midst of restructuring, another blow for Needles, and in 1978 a bridge connecting Mohave Valley, Arizona and Needles opened at the site of the ferry that had once carried National Old Trails Road Traffic.
For just a bit the cafe closed. But it was a family tradition. Jerry Limon, the current manager, had begun working in the cafe as a child. His mother, the daughter of the founder, had worked at the restaurant most of her life. So, together they decided to forego the store and just open an expanded version of the old cafe, and I am so glad they did. What a rarity!
The food was excellent and reasonably priced. Jerry waited tables, and mother cooked on a stove that was purchased in 1952. The old place was faded and a bit worn at the heel, but I will be returning. This is a true gem, a real mom and pop business from a time when Studebaker cars still rolled from the factory in South Bend that has survived into the modern era.
The heat in Needles is extreme, even for a desert rat like me. In the summer temperatures often soar past 120 degrees Fahrenheit. As the old restaurant lacks air conditioning, and as the owners/employees are not exactly spring chickens, it is closed from mid June until mid September.
Needles is filled with surprises, and little treasures, such as Fender’s River Resort, the only motel that is located on Route 66 and the banks of the Colorado River. The motel and RV park is surprisingly popular and I attribute to the ever smiling Rosie Ramos, the proprietor. Over the course of the past few years she has renovated the motel, improved the grounds, and is now having the neon signage restored at Legacy Signs in Kingman. The relighting of the historic sign is scheduled tentatively for the 8th or 9th of June. I will keep you posted and there are plans for an Adventurers Club program during the ceremony.
One of the more intriguing places in Needles is Mystic Maze Honey. It is simply a vintage 1950’s travel trailer along the road with an ample display of local honey in various sized jars inside on neat shelves. The oddity is this, there is no one there. It is run on the honor system! Simply put the money in one of the envelopes that is provided and drop it in the slot. How refreshing to see such trust.
I have a few more discoveries to share but those will be the subject of another post.