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Rod’s on Route 66

Rod’s Steak House has been a fixture on historic Route 66 since 1946. But I never knew that.

In fact we (Mr. Lee and me) happened upon it quite by accident only a few weeks ago, while driving through Williams. Don’t ask what we were doing in Williams, a little-known town whose only claim to fame is that of being the Gateway to the Grand Canyon. We were neither headed to nor from the Grand Canyon that day, but there we were on Route 66 in Williams, Arizona. And finding ourselves in Williams, we were inexplicably drawn to a life-sized steer shackled and tethered to the sidewalk.

Before I knew it, Mr. Lee pulled over, grabbed his camera from the back seat and, as Mr. Lee often does, set off on foot with the car still running. As he rounded the corner, he called back to me to go inside and order a steak sandwich.


As he disappeared, I gathered my things (and Mr. Lee’s keys) and entered Rod’s through the back. It was the Cocktail Lounge entrance. The lounge was dark and dank, and the immense restaurant was virtually empty. It was mid-afternoon, after all—too late for lunch and too early for dinner. The only live bodies were the help.

But, the place was anything but empty. Every square inch of space was covered with some manner of steer decor. I’d never seen so many steer. If it wasn’t a picture of a steer, it was a statue of one. There was even a steer quilt. The dark-bright-pink walls (a color difficult to describe) were adorned with cutouts of steer and branding irons and some unfortunate steer’s hide.

Mounted just above the hide, probably-not-the-same-steer’s head was made to watch diners eat steak, something he’d been doing since he was taxidermied in 1937—first at The Cowman’s Club in Phoenix, and now at Rod’s. A plaque tells the story of the head, and that The Cowman’s Club gifted it to Rod’s Steak House when they closed in 2005.

The placemat for World Famous Rod’s Steak House gives a history of its founder, Rodney Graves, as does their web site. Rod’s original logo has been immortalized in every conceivable way, but probably the most fitting is the menu he opened his steak house with over sixty years ago. The registered trademark menu, die cut in the shape of a steer, is still being used today. They let me take a couple home, where I caught them grazing out back just this morning.

While we waited for our steak sandwich, I found Mr. Lee talking to a young man who turned out to be the current owner’s son, Toby. He knew all the stories because he’d lived his childhood hanging around the restaurant while his parents worked. Now he’s there everyday, working along side his parents, Lawrence and Stella Sanchez.

We said goodbye to Toby and left with our order. The steak was excellent, medium rare and oozing with bleu cheese, served on a ciabatta, and the fries were crispy. We regretted that we didn’t order a hamburger instead. It’s not easy to eat a steak in a sandwich—especially when you’re doing it in the car. Mr. Lee said that, if we had ordered a hamburger, a good name for it would be the Williamsburger. Mr.Lee is clever like that.

Toby intends to take over Rod’s Steak House when his parents retire. I hope he doesn’t change a thing.

As we drove out of town we passed Williams Cemetery. Something bright pink caught my eye. Mr. Lee agreeably turned around and drove in, where we found the bright pink thing to be a gravesite and matching bench, and broom. As is customary, we ended our outing at the cemetery, and then headed home.

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