The Definitive Ranking of Tour Meals Pt. 1
Touring as a drummer for years started as a passion, but it became a means to an end. Finding really good food.
It’s hard to calculate, but my rough estimate is that I’ve spent at least 5 full years of my life being on the road either playing music or tour managing. I mean total days that is. I toured “full time” from 2003 to 2009 and then have had considerable stints on the road in the subsequent decade. It could be higher. Maybe 7 years total days living out there? I didn’t drink alcohol until 2005, but once that horse left the stable my memory is probably a little fucked. So the fact that these meals even stick out to me in the 1500+ days I’ve spent on the road really says something in my opinion.
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For clarity, this is not a restaurant ranking. I’m writing this from the perspective of overall impact and meaning, taking into consideration the context of eating the meal. I will do a restaurant ranking at some point, but this is all about the meal experience, and I had to have been on tour for it to count. Ok let’s get to it. I picked an odd number, 13, because it’s my fucking website and I’ll include as many ranked meals as I want. This will be split into 3 posts, so the 9 - 6 and 5 - 1 rankings will come at you later.
Cioppino Cooked by Me / Berkeley, CA Air BnB
As Cities Burn did a headlining tour in 2019 that was frankly, miserable. Lot’s of shows got cancelled, attendance wasn’t great, and our booking agent…well, it was bad. But the hangs were legit, in large part because our main support band, All Get Out, are cool motherfuckers and when we unexpectedly had 3 days off in a row to chill in the San Francisco Bay area, we got an Air BnB and we hosted All Get Out for a locally sourced, truly Bay Area meal. Berkeley is like the blue print for farm to table thanks to Alice Waters and Chez Panisse and the very hippie and progressive population’s obsession with that organic lifestyle. I walked my ass to 3 or 4 different markets sourcing all the ingredients needed for cioppino, a tomato based seafood stew that sometime they serve in those ridiculous sourdough bread bowls. It’s funny because after trying to use all the local stores to get everything I needed - vegetables, wine, shrimp, fish, various shellfish, and really good local baguette - I ended up just having to go to fucking Whole Foods to check all the necessary boxes.
My memory of that night is making an absolute mess in an Air BnB kitchen, way too small to be cooking for 11 people, and being too drunk to even really enjoy the meal when it was ready. But everyone was so happy, sitting in the courtyard surrounded by lush Northern California greenery and absolutely perfect weather. Low class conversation and shit talking between a bunch of band dudes and the lone woman, Reva our tour manager, combined with some high class Ina Garten level cooking was the perfect dichotomy for a three day break due to a cancelled show on this absolute shit show of a tour.
Bojangles / Thanksgiving Day 2009 / Charleston, SC
Between 2003 - 2009, I think I was actually home with family for one, maybe two Thanksgivings. Touring in the fall was basically inevitable unless you were recording an album and tours did not take sufficient enough breaks to travel home for Thanksgiving. Sometimes the headliner might route it to where they could pass through their hometown to have the day with family, but support bands just had to figure out something to do. Usually this meant just going to a movie or maybe you were near a town with friends that were hosting a Thanksgiving dinner. Actually one of the more memorable Thanksgivings As Cities Burn ever had was in 2005 in Portland, OR. We drove through the night from Sacramento to stay with Cody’s (our singer and guitarist for the uninformed) girlfriend at the time. We showed up at 6am, slept, and then me and our merch guy “Ferg” went to see Walk the Line. We returned to find a Thanksgiving dinner featuring a tofurkey and correspondingly vegetarian sides. It was a very Portland Thanksgiving. Anyways, 2005 in Charleston was much better…
I was tour managing Emery. They were opening up for Underoath and August Burns Red. Swine Flu was in full effect and Toby, Emery’s singer, was worried about getting his family - who lived in Charleston - sick. So instead of going for a home cooked, delicious, southern Thanksgiving meal we did something even better. We ordered a shit ton of Bojangles. If you aren’t aware, Bojangles is the best fried chicken second to Popeye’s. It’s a close second. Bojangles has way better dirty rice and way way way better biscuits than almost anywhere. They also sell Deep Fried Turkeys for Thanksgiving and that’s exactly what we got. We were holed up in a hotel room, and I think the meal lasted about 10 minutes. Standing around or sitting on a bed watching football and picking at a Bojangles Deep Fried Turkey and killing ourselves with biscuits, mac and cheese, dirty rice and mashed potatoes and gravy. It was perfect, and to this day maybe the most satisfying Thanksgiving meal I’ve consumed. Drinking beer with friends on the road and no risk of arguing over politics or your walk with Jesus. Just pure, gluttonous, drunken bliss. Afterwards we went to watch 2012 at the theater. So terrible.
Taiwanese Gourmet / Queens, NY
Some of the best meals are the ones you stumble upon, with no preconceived notion of what it may or may not be. Being totally clueless, kind of drunk, and walking into a Taiwanese restaurant at 1:30am in Queens with 8 other band dudes and one Reva (the same Reva from a different tour) is a situation that could go very poorly or end up being memorable enough to write about. I was tour managing The Classic Crime and also playing drums for Matt & Toby of Emery. We were all riding on the Emery bus and had played a very late show in Queens - all NYC shows start super late compared to any other city. I’m not sure what deterred us from the obvious, pizza. We were in a mood, ready to walk somewhere and sit down and get into some shit. As the designated food finder, I googled restaurants and this Taiwanese restaurant popped up and it looked fine. We made the 10 minute walk to find a restaurant full of people, none of which looked like us, having what looked like a fantastic time. It was that record scratch moment when 7 white dudes, 1 Cuban and a white girl stepped into a different world that I knew this shit was going to be good.
I think we ordered half the menu. We drank. We tried each others food. Everyone had SUCH A GOOD TIME. We sat at a circle table, which I usually hate but in this setting it was perfect. I even think everyone else in the restaurant, where I’m sure they come to eat multiple times a week, enjoyed our presence of just some people having a great time, eating some great food. It was so long ago and I didn’t take notes, but I do remember that those who ordered the Beef Noodle Soup were the real winners, which included myself. It was the perfect dish, in the perfect moment, in the perfect place. Late night, drunk noodles, and we found it on accident. It wasn’t on a blog, we didn’t see it on a tv show. It was my own little victory of culinary exploration in the greatest food city in the world. I haven’t been back since, and I’m not sure I ever will. Kind of want to just leave it as that one special night. They weren’t hurting for business.
Las Cuatros Milpas / San Diego, CA
Other than one very famous burger joint that is going to be higher up on the list, I’ve probably ate at this restaurant more than any other in these very definitive rankings. Also I want to note that if this were just a straight up restaurant ranking, this place would be much, much higher on the list.
I’ve eaten here mostly not on tour, but have enjoyed it on two occasions when passing through America’s finest city. And both instances have come after many weeks of not seeing my wife and kids on As Cities Burn tours.
Cassie, my wife, is from San Diego and I was able to live there for about a year before moved to Nashville for some insane reason that I can’t remember. I had actually figured out a way to live in San Diego and then I fucked it up. Anyways, the same week I met my wife I had somehow found this place south of downtown, right under the Coronado bridge. I believe a local blogger had written about it. This was 2010, and back then it still took a little bit of work to look up and find where the best places to eat were. I had discovered West Coast Mexican food from all my years of touring, but it was pretty much limited to drive thru burrito shops, no complaints there. This place opened my eyes to a whole new level of Mexican food.
It’s been around for close to, if not more than 100 years. And it looks like they haven’t changed a single thing about the place except adding gas stoves and refrigerators. It’s cafeteria style - not like a buffet - you just wait in line, grab a tray and order as you go down the line and they load you up. There is ALWAYS a line out the door and down the block. It’s different than other lines for some reason. It’s not hip, it’s not people waiting in line for fucking brunch or to take a picture in front of a mural. There is something about this line that just doesn’t feel so offensive and gentrified. Part of it is that the neighborhood - Barrio Logan - is not even close to risking gentrification, even over the course of the 10 years I’ve been going there. Everything continues to look the same. Same goes for the food. Menu never changes and it’s a small one.
I’m deeming their “Tamale, Rice, and Beans” their specialty. You get a huge bowl of soupy beans, with the most amazing Mexican rice ever, and at the bottom of the bowl is a tamale filled with shredded pork. It is just absolutely unbelievably good. They serve with the freshest, best flour tortillas on the face of the planet. So chewy and soft and lardy. There’s a really dumb thing that people say when it comes to Mexican food that the only authentic tortillas are corn, and that’s just wildly untrue and idiotic. Tell that to the Mexican mothers and grandmothers that run this place. That’s the other thing, the entire restaurant is run by women. Everyone cooking or taking your order and everyone in the tortilla factory that you can watch work in the main dining room is a Mexican or Mexican - American woman. It’s all so perfect.
There are no taqueria style tacos here so just open your mind to the idea that what you believe to be “authentic” isn’t the only authentic in town. You can also get just rice and beans, or chorizo rice and beans, rolled tacos, crispy chicken or pork tacos. They do have a burrito, but I’ve never seen the point in ordering one.
If it’s not enough that it’s some of the best food on the planet, it’s also cheaper than Taco Bell. Dead serious.
Why is it so low on my tour meals list? Yeah, it’s great to see my family and eat the best food in the world, but later that night when we played House of Blues San Diego as the headliner on our 10 year anniversary tour I had multiple panic attacks and walked off stage and didn’t come back lol. One of the worst days of my life. The fact that this tour meal makes my list should tell you how fucking out of this world the food is. It’s an absolute must visit if you are in San Diego.
Stay tuned for 9 - 6 rankings later this week.