By Niki D’Andrea

Roadrunner Restaurant & Saloon is a rustic oasis along
the I-17

Roadrunner Restaurant & Saloon is the best place in New
River to get fried food, barbecue and a bevy of beers and specialty cocktails.
It doesn’t matter that it’s also the only place in New River for those things –
they do them right at Roadrunner.

Located literally off the side of the road (just spittin’
distance of the I-17), Roadrunner Restaurant & Saloon is a sprawling,
ranch-like oasis that seems miles away from civilization but which bursts with
life nightly. Locals know the Roadrunner as home of weekly rodeo events full of
live bull riding, live music and a lively crowd that includes everybody from
families with small children to many people on motorcycles. It’s not unusual to
see traditional horses and steel horses sitting side by side in the dirt lot.

This is a place with wooden walls, a little dust on the
floors, and a novelty penny pressing machine by the door (and a stone-filled
dummy waiter hanging on the backside of the door). It might feel a little
middle-of-nowhere to someone any further south than Scottsdale, but the
Roadrunner’s worth a lunch or dinner roadside stop anytime one’s in the area.
The food menu is traditional, all-American grub like salads, sandwiches,
burgers and chicken fingers, but with some pleasing twists and stand-out house
specialties sprinkled throughout.

The breakfast menu (served from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends
only) includes all the familiar favorites – eggs served to order, bacon,
sausage, hash browns, toast, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, French toast and
build-your-omelets that can be loaded with ingredients including mushrooms,
onions, green chiles, jalapeños, bell peppers, chorizo and six different kinds
of cheeses. Everything is perfectly cooked and delivered pretty on the plate.

Around lunchtime, the menu skews sandwich- and burger-heavy,
with a handful of appetizers that really get things started. 

Southern-style okra can be hit-or-miss at many places, but
here, it’s consistently crunchy, juicy and deliciously dunkable in the
restaurant’s house-made jalapeño ranch sauce. Thick and meaty Texas-style chili
is topped with shredded cheese and fresh diced onions, and gives a little bit
of mild chili kick (certainly nothing overwhelming for a spicy food lover).
Cowboy Rolls (Southwest-spiced chicken, black beans, corn and cheese in a  flour tortilla with the aforementioned tasty
house-made ranch sauce) are sizeable starters, but worth the splurge.

There’s something on the menu to satisfy both the proverbial
angel and devil on each shoulder. Among the sandwiches, the New River Club is
both flavorful and healthful, stuffed to the hilt with layers of turkey and
ham, crisp and fresh lettuce, juicy ripe tomato, perfectly crispy bacon, and
slices of beautifully green and grassy avocado. It’s hard to imagine how they
fit all that between two slices of toasted bread – and how that bread manages
to hold up throughout the entire eating process.

But if one leans toward something a little heavier,
greasier, meatier and hot like fire, the Roadrunner burger wins. This
half-pound patty is slathered with melted cheddar and jack cheese, infused with
jalapeños, jalapeño cream cheese and that jalapeño ranch again, and crowned
with crispy bacon. It’s a pleasing palate puncher that’s nicely soothed by the
saloon’s most popular cocktail, Kelly Jo’s Kool-Punch. This sweet and smooth
concoction of Smirnoff orange vodka, mango vodka and Malibu rum with orange,
pineapple and cranberry juice provides a perfect calming sensation on the heels
of the jalapeño heat.

If cocktails aren’t one’s thing, the beer selection includes
all the usual bottles and cans (Budweiser, Coors, Miller, Pabst Blue Ribbon,
Corona, Heineken) plus 21 drafts that pour a slew of Arizona craft brews from
the likes of Mother Road Brewing Company, Huss Brewing Company, SanTan Brewing
Company and Oak Creek Brewing Co.

Crispy fried chicken burgers, turkey burgers and Buffalo
chicken wraps are also worthy (and far less incendiary) options. A menu of
marvelous-looking smoked meats and barbecue is available for dinner-only
throughout the week.

Weekly specials pack the house: On Fridays, it’s the fish
fry with all-you-can-eat fish for $11.99; Saturday nights bring a $15.99 prime
rib special.

It’s not just the food that draws the town of New River to
Roadrunner. There’s also the rodeo, the music and the sense of neighborhood
camaraderie. But for people passing through, it’s easily the best stop along
the way down the road. And maybe worth another stop on the way back. 

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