This is one of a full series of articles about interesting food locations along Route 66. See “related articles” or search “Route 66” for the full series.
Any child of the 70s knows about Winslow, Arizona. We found the corner, immortalized in an Eagles song, took our fair share of photos, then turned our thoughts back to food. We were looking for another restaurant that had been recommended, La Posada, when we found the Casa Blanca Café.
Jackpot! Good food, Route 66 history, tile floors and ceramic tile tables, and a welcoming attitude where the owner herself comes out to greet the customers and share a little of her story.
The Café was opened in 1942 and had the same owner until Gabriel and Helen Ribera bought it in 1970. In spite of the passing of Gabriel, Helen still operates it today, with the help of their son and now-Chef, Gabriel Ribera, Jr. In fact, it’s the longest continuously operating restaurant in Winslow.
And, when we say, “operates it,” that means Helen still comes in every morning and starts cooking. She’s not alone. In fact, the whole family is involved in some way—our waitress was Helen’s great-granddaughter, Brianna, who told us, “I’ve been working here since I was little.” And, although she’s in nurse’s training, she is obviously proud of being a part of the family business.
“That’s what it takes to run a small place,” says Helen. “When my son decided he wanted to be our chef, I said, ‘You are asking for a lot of work, young man.’ But we’ve been so fortunate—it surprises even me.”
The menu is straight from Helen, with many of her original creations. She says, “My food is different from any around here. I’m from Texas, and when I came here I started experimenting with the chiles from around this area. I had to learn to combine them into something that worked for me.”
She adds, “I don’t do recipes—I hate to take the time to read them, or write the them down. I told the family—you are going to have to follow me around to get them!” Her son, daughters, grandchildren have all grown up at the restaurant, doing just that. “My son was 15 when he made his first wedding cake,” she says, with pride.
“I learned from my mother and by experimenting with the chiles from this area. You don’t have to be a good cook when you have good ingredients—all you have to do is use the chiles!,” she says.
The restaurant is known for its green chili and blue corn tortillas, and its stuffed sopaipilla with guacamole, chicken, or shredded beef. Or try the Chili Relleno, the Carne Adovado, or, for the truly authentic experience, a bowl of Menudo (beef tripe and hominy). It’s all made from scratch, and Helen emphasizes “nothing but breasts of chicken.” It’s open for breakfast, too – so you can time your trip accordingly.
As for being along Route 66, Helen says, “We get people from all over the country. I enjoy every minute of it. It’s where I socialize. I know all the people around here, and meet so many others.”
It’s like Gary Turner told us, back at the start of our Route 66 sojourn: “It’s really about the people. This isn’t the same culture as New York or Chicago. It’s the way it was in the 20s, the 30s, the 40s. You can’t go back there, but you can’t ever get closer than when you slow down on Route 66.”
Take our advice. Slow down for the corner in Winslow, Arizona where you’ll find Casa Blanca Café. And say hello to Helen.