Amtrak’s New Cafe Car Menu Items, Ranked



Eating on American trains can leave a traveler hungry. On trains in Japan, you can dine on gourmet bento boxes and sake that cost less than a meal at a US airport. Here you are stuck with food that you would find at a gas station.

But on Wednesday, Amtrak surprised passengers with a new drop-down menu, promising fresher and better options.

The “reinvented” menu is a response to passenger feedback, Amtrak said, and features more hot meals and vegan options. Items are available on trains along the Northeast Corridor (Acela, Northeast Regional, Vermonter, and Ethan Allen Express) and on long-distance Amtrak trains (Capitol Limited, Cardinal, and California Zephyr).

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I jumped on the first train I could – the Acela in Philadelphia and the Northeast Regional in DC – to sample as much of the new menu as possible. I ordered 15 items – some new and some familiar – and ranked and rated them on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being worthy of no extra bite and 10 being “Wow! I’d eat this again!” “

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Vanilla yogurt parfait: 3/10

It could be your standard, sweet, chemical convenience store yogurt parfait ($5). The granola particles were fine, but the berry compote at the bottom didn’t live up to the “mixed berry” promise of the description.

Bacon, egg and bialy cheese: 4/10

The bialy breakfast sandwich ($6.50 at Café Acela; $6 with sausage on the National Café menu) has the essence of typical bacon, egg and cheese, but not the soul. The bialy doesn’t hold up well in the microwave used to reheat it and comes out hard and dry creating a choking hazard sprinkled with sesame (I’m only half kidding). Even with the slice of smoked bacon, the bites don’t go down easily.

Mix of tropical fruits: 5/10

The press release for the new menu had mentioned a “Mango Seasonal Fruit” option. I found a tropical fruit mix ($5) in my Acela train that contained mango (although unripe), pineapple (hard), peeled orange slices (juicy), grapes ( standard) and kiwi (unflavoured). On the other hand, it was pure fruit. No added sugar or juice. If you want something fresh and healthy, this works.

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Homemade egg white and cheese sandwich: 7/10

The artisan egg white and cheese sandwich ($6.50) needs a few minutes to settle after it comes out of the microwave — kind of like resting a steak before cutting it. Then it is soft and fluffy. There is funk. Whether that’s a good thing is up to you.

Coffee streusel cake: 8/10

Pros: The coffee streusel cake ($3.50) surprised and delighted with its moistness and taste. Con: As crumbly as a Nature Valley granola bar. Coffee cake. Everywhere. Everything in my laptop keyboards. I’m not sure I’ll release it one day. Do not eat next to a well-dressed seatmate.

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The first bite was almost icy cold and a shock to the system, but a few more later and I was happy to eat the vegan Asian noodle bowl ($7.50). It came with a “spicy-sweet” (not really spicy) plum sauce to top the super fresh veggie mix – crunchy carrot strips, popped peppers, edamame al dente and chunky chunks. of broccoli – and just noodles.

Rainbow Berry Salad: 10/10

This berry salad ($8.50) delivered. Most take-out salads contain wilted or boring lettuce. Not this guy. It was loaded with ripe strawberries, whole walnuts, dried cranberries, and a ton of blue cheese on a bed of greens with character, plus a side of balsamic vinaigrette. Amtrak didn’t skimp on anything.

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Santa Fe Chicken Panini: 4/10

A pure meh sandwich ($8.50). There’s a lot of chicken in it, so it will fill you up, but the chicken is dry. Despite roasted red peppers, jack cheese and chipotle aioli, it doesn’t have enough flavor.

Smoked turkey and havarti sandwich: 4/10

The sandwich ($8.50) sounds a lot better than it is. It hits you with a honey mustard flavor from the first bite, which is nice, and there’s a lot of turkey in it. But the multi-grain subroll is poor, soggy in some places and dried out in others. The Amtrak Café employee offered to reheat it, but I declined. maybe it would have been better lukewarm.

Moonshine BBQ Chicken Sandwich: 7/10

There’s something very cafeteria basic about this chicken sandwich ($7.50). For one thing, it hits you right away with a classic (read: basic) barbecue flavor and its coleslaw has a nice crunch. But he also kind of blends into his bun roll, like sloppy Joe without the slop goodness. He could use more sauce.

Angus beef cheeseburger: 8.5/10

Pulling this cheeseburger ($7.25) out of its swampy plastic wrapper was obscene. Zero points for presentation. But the flavor overcame the obnoxious aesthetic.

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Stromboli with marinara: 5/10

In the press release photos, the stromboli ($6) looked like a fun cross between mozzarella sticks and a pizza crust. In person it looked pale and undercooked and tasted the same – maybe it wasn’t shelled long enough. Aside from the unsettling gummy texture of the dough, it had a lovely herbal flavor and an abundance of gooey cheese.

Blue Corn Vegan Tamale: 10/10

I don’t want to be canceled for calling an Amtrak tamale a good tamale, but I enjoyed eating this Amtrak tamale ($5). Technically, it’s not an “Amtrak tamale”; the packaging says it’s handcrafted by Tucson Tamale, a husband-and-wife company in Arizona. It was tasty and comforting, although I let it cool too long before eating.

Macaroni with white cheddar cheese: 10/10

The white cheddar mac and cheese ($7.25) doesn’t walk lightly. It is dense and decadent with a luxurious texture. Umami in a disposable container. Best served with a glass of chilled white wine or cold sparkling water to cut the richness.

If you love turkey, smoked gouda and celery, this box ($8.50) with mini naan bread is for you. But skip the cranberry mustard sauce. Not the right dip for this situation – too sweet and too thin.


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