Established as Fort El Reno in 1874 as part of U.S. Army efforts to subdue the Cheyenne, El Reno (pop. 18,786) later saw duty as a POW camp during World War II, then earned a measure of fame as the site of a motel seen in the offbeat road movie Rain Man. (In the movie, the motel was in Amarillo, but the “real” one, called the Big Eight, sat along old Route 66 at the east edge of El Reno.)
For hungry road-trippers, especially those fond of all-American burger joints, El Reno offers an abundance of choices. Three great old places stand within a block of each other along old Route 66. The oldest, Robert’s Grill (300 S. Bickford Ave., 405/262-1262), has been cooking since 1926 and should be a national model for short-order cooking. A block to the west is Sid’s Diner (300 S. Choctaw St., 405/262-7757), which became insanely popular after it was featured on the TV show Man vs. Food. Finally, a block to the east is Johnnie’s Grill (301 S. Rock Island Ave., 405/262-4721, daily), with the biggest menu and most spacious dining room. All three El Reno burger joints are famous for putting fried onions in and on their burgers.
On the first weekend in May, El Reno gets together to cook up the “World’s Largest Fried Onion Hamburger,” a 750-pound behemoth that inspires an all-day festival.