A Perfect Interstate 90 Food Stop:
Twice a year, our family of four piles into the car to drive the 650-mile, 12-hour journey on Interstate 90 between Boston, Massachusetts and Cleveland, Ohio to see family. I shall now reveal the secret that makes this epic road trip emotionally possible: a mid-point meal stop at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que!
Now, I’m serious about quality food (see this multi-course tasting menu for reference), so I seriously tell you now: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is DELICIOUS. It is worth the stop. I love everything the restaurant makes… but my absolute favorite item is the flavor-bomb brisket.
Where in New York is Dinosaur Bar-B-Que?
Here’s the brilliant thing about making a food pit stop at this restaurant: There are Dinosaur Bar-B-Que restaurants in not one, not two, but FOUR towns in Upstate New York along I-90! In order from East to West, your BBQ options are: Troy, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. (There are also locations in NYC, NJ, and CT, but those aren’t on the drive in question.)
This creates a sort of game: Which of the Dino BBQs can you make it to along that Upstate NY highway? Each branch is different, so not only are you looking forward to the award-winning ribs, collard greens, and pulled pork (drooling, here), but you’re also wondering: Which ambiance will we get to enjoy this time?
Which is the BEST Dinosaur BBQ?
To answer this very important question, I have conducted extensive research (aka, eating) at all of the Dino BBQ locations on I-90 over the past 8 years. First, it’s important to note that all the locations are scrumptious and have mostly the same menu. (More on the menu and order recommendations later.)
The main thing that varies between the Dino branches is the structure and set-up of each building, and that can be vital to know — especially when traveling with young kids. Let’s see what each branch provides so you can make the choice that works for YOU. Then I’ll reveal OUR favorite!
The Syracuse, NY Dinosaur BBQ:
Syracuse is the ORIGINAL Dino BBQ location, opening in 1988. This branch is large, and has a very distinctive, biker-flavored character inside, harkening back to the genesis of the restaurant as a mobile food trailer created by motorcycle enthusiasts. It also has a great set of picnic benches wrapping around the perimeter, and a big parking lot across the street.
What to keep in mind: The Syracuse location is big and bustling inside, and is right in the middle of a busy area of town. If you choose to visit this branch, make every attempt to visit at off-peak hours to avoid the massive rush.
The Rochester, NY Dinosaur BBQ:
Rochester was the second branch to open, launching in 1998. This Dino BBQ has a more small and spiffed-up feel than the large Syracuse restaurant. Fun fact: It’s inside a former railroad station!
This restaurant has a small outdoor area on the side with picnic tables and a gate around it — a perk for those of us with kids who enjoy over-zealously exploring and need to be penned in.
Note: You’re about to see a photo of my kids happily eating Dino BBQ… while looking extremely messy. If you’ve ever taken a 12-hour road trip with young kids, you will understand why we chose to prioritize sanity over grooming and fashion conventions!
The Buffalo, NY Dinosaur BBQ:
Buffalo (just 30 minutes from Niagara Falls) has its BBQ equipment and smoker right next to the outdoor eating area, which I really enjoy. Seeing the process gives a welcoming “home cooking” feel to this branch. Interestingly, the building itself used to be a vault to store movie reels.
The Troy, NY Dinosaur BBQ:
Heeeeey — you’ve just reached my #1 favorite branch! The Troy Dino BBQ is right on the Hudson river, and has a gorgeous, spacious outdoor eating patio. Inside, big windows overlook the water as well.
The entire set-up of this branch feels relaxed, easy, and enjoyable. Its vibe is calm and secluded, its servers are delightful, and its parking and seating are ample. Thanks for being awesome, Troy!
Recommended Food on the Dino BBQ Menu
Let’s start with a key tip: Any time you’re in a time crunch — either because you are on a road trip that’s already taking too long, or you have two wild kids who are going to melt down at any minute… or both — put in your food order the MINUTE you are seated and your server arrives to say hello. (Look up the menu while en route to know what to order.)
Using this tip, plus the timing advice coming in the next section of this article, we’ve reliably been able to have a wonderful meal at Dino BBQ in 30 minutes from arrival to departure.
What to Order for Adults at Dino BBQ:
I strongly recommend the Tres Niños plate: “A petite sampling [don’t worry — it’s still BIG] of brisket, ribs, and pork.” This comes with two sides and cornbread. As you can see from my lead photo of this article, I opt for the “Simmered Greens (with smoked turkey)” and “Roasted Whipped Sweet Potatoes (with spicy nut topping).” YUM!
However, this only works if one’s partner shares his or her order which pairs perfectly by introducing other awesome sides: For the second adult, order the Jerk Salmon filet, which comes with rice and cornbread, and two sides. Regarding sides, get the Mac & Cheese and house-made Coleslaw. Yesss!!
Honorable mention: Though it’s borderline too healthy to order in a BBQ joint, we absolutely loved the Sweet N’ Greens Bowl: “Whipped sweet potatoes, simmered greens, grilled cornbread, deviled egg, choice of BBQ meat [choose brisket!!!], mixed salad greens, toasted pumpkin seeds, red wine vinaigrette.” Salivating on my keys…
Note: You are now about to see a photo of my son happily posing with the Troy, NY Dino BBQ mural — a picture which reveals that my offspring is wearing mismatched pajamas in public. Let’s just embrace the Santa-and-monsters combination and move on, shall we? #SanityBeforeFashion
What to Order for Kids at Dino BBQ:
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has a uniquely kid-friendly menu, bursting with crowd-pleasers. Now, there IS a specific Kids’ Menu which offers great options, but if you have multiple kids, I would recommend ordering a big plate from the adult menu for the little ones to share — which likely leaves enough tidbits left over for you to steal some too, tired Mama! You deserve it after all those hours in the car, gosh darn it.
As you see from the earlier photo, we picked the adult chicken plate with baked beans and macaroni and cheese as sides, which also comes with cornbread. Useful note: You can always order extra sides!
Another family-friendly thing to know is that Dino BBQ often provides themed cups for kids that they can take home, as well as crayons and paper to color on. If you’re in the Troy Dino BBQ, though, you can pass most of your time by watching the boats go by on the river!
Closing Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Thoughts
The final tip I have about Dino BBQ is to endeavor heartily to go either at off-peak hours, or to arrive right at opening time. These restaurants are popular for a reason, and strategic timing means less waiting.
Also, make sure to check what events are happening on any given evening (the official website is good for this), as some of the branches have live music and/or biker nights, which may or may not be of interest.
In closing… I’ve been writing this article in my head for eight years, and it feels great to get it out there to share the Dino BBQ love! I’m not remembering who recommended this luscious eatery to me on Facebook nearly a decade ago, but all I can say is, THANK YOU! Long may we continue to share great brisket.