Amtrak’s Cafe Car: What You Need To Know

by Kev
Cafe Car

Hungry? Take A Walk To An Amtrak Café Car

Are you wondering where and what you can eat aboard an Amtrak train? Amtrak cafe cars are a great place to get a meal or snack if you do not want to bring food. This article covers what is available, where you can eat, and bring food onboard Amtrak trains.

Due to Covid-19, there are several temporary changes, and these red boxes indicate those changes. For more information on Amtrak and the pandemic.

Trains With Café Cars?

Amtrak Cafe Cars appear on all long-distance trains and most regional routes, excluding the short run trains such as the Hiawatha. (The Hiawatha is only an hour and a half from end to end.)

Along with a cafe car, long-distance trains that run west of the Mississippi also offer traditional dining cars. Long-distance trains that run east of the Mississippis have “Sleeper Car Lounges,” where sleeper car passengers receive complimentary meals and beverages. The coach and business class passengers have the cafe car at their disposal.

All trains but for the Auto Train are temporarily using Amtrak’s Flex dining.

Amtrak Coffee
Coffee tastes better on the rails — coffee from Amtrak’s cafe car.

What Can You Buy In Amtrak Cafe Cars?

Amtrak’s café cars sell carry-out style food to eat at your seat or enjoy in the café or sleeper accommodations. It is similar to a convenience store on the rails.

The offerings include sandwiches, burgers, hotdogs, pizza, salads, coffee, tea, soft drinks, adult drinks, snacks, and other delights. Hot food gets warmed in a microwave or such a warming device.

Amtrak also carries a few extras in the cafe car, like headphones and headphones; they also have Amtrak’s Comfort Kits, including a small blanket, eye mask, earplugs, blow-up neck pillow, and all in a bag.

Toiletries are not available in the cafe, so pack accordingly.

Payment Options

Due to the pandemic, Amtrak only excepts credit or debit cards.

Amtrak food service cars accept cash and major credit cards (MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover). Amtrak does not take checks or foreign currency but does take Canadian money if the train is running in Canada.

Identification is often required when using a credit card and when purchasing adult beverages.

Something new for passenger with the Amtrak Credit Card, if you use that card in any of the Amtrak food service cars, you receive 10-20% cashback on your bill depending on what car you get.

Where Can You Eat The Food You Bought?

Eating in the cafe car may be suspended; ask your cafe attendant.

You may enjoy the food from in the cafe car at your seat, sleeping accommodations, observation car, or the cafe car’s booths.

A cafe car is a great place to stretch out and enjoy your food, and maybe get some work done, but be considerate of other people who may want to use the cafe. It is not polite to take a whole booth for a long time when others need a place to sit.   If you are in the cafe on Superliner (two-story) equipment, Amtrak asks that when you finish your, head back upstairs to enjoy the views.

Some cafes have seating on either side of the retails space, but other cafes have business class on the other end. If there is a blue curtain, you’ll need a business class ticket to sit there.

Amtrak Food
You can bring the food from Amtrak’s Cafe car back to your seat.

Bringing Food Onboard The Train

You can bring food and snacks aboard the train, but per FDA regulations, you cannot consume the food you brought aboard in retail areas. If you get food aboard, you can eat at your seat, observation car, or sleeping accommodation.

Due to space and the FDA, Amtrak cannot store, refrigerate, or heat any personal food.

Amtrak San Joaquin
Amtrak”s San Joaquin (a California regional train) sitting in Bakersfield, CA, waiting for its crew and passengers to board.

Alcohol On Amtrak

You may bring alcohol on the train, but you cannot consume the liquor you brought in public areas such as your coach seats, business class, or lounge areas. However, you can partake in your stash on board if you have sleeping accommodations. There is a chance you may be removed from the train if you violate this policy. 

Amtrak’s current rules concerning personal food, medications, and alcohol, click here.

If you buy drinks on the train, you can drink them in the cafe, at your seat, with your meal in the dining car, or your sleeping accommodation.

Typical Locations Of The Amtrak Cafe Cars

This topic is not straightforward due to the different trainsets that Amtrak uses across the country. So keep that in mind while going through this section because your mileage may vary. This section comes from my personal experience.

Regional Trains

On regional trains, the cafe car is typically towards either end of the train. These cars often separate coach from business class either as a buffer car between the two, or the business class is on the back of the cafe car. On a few trains, the cafe location is toward the center of the train.

Long-distance train

With the single-level long-distance trains, the cafe is between coach and dining cars, or separates the coach and sleeping cars on Silver Star.

On trains like the Lake Shore Limited, the cafe car is on the Boston side of the train, so it separates the coach and sleepers. It is not available in the New York section until or after the train reaches Albany, NY (depending on your direction).

On Superliner Long-Distance Trains (aka two-level trains), Amtrak hides the cafe on the lower level of the observation cars, but for the City of New Orleans, where the cafe is on the coach class side of the dining car.

The observation car separates the coach cars and the dining car. On the Empire Builder, the cafe is in a different location. The cafe car is on the Portland section of the train, so towards the ends. Meaning if you are on the Seatle section, you will not have a cafe until or after Spokane, WA, when they put to two trains together or separate them.

Note: Often, the cafe car attendant will announce the location of the cafe, the hours, and when they take breaks.

Sample Amtrak Cafe Car Menus

These menus are guides, prices, and offerings can change at any time at Amtrak’s discretion

The 500th Amtrak train I rode. Train 301, the Lincoln Service, a midwest regional train. A photo of the cafe car/business class car

Wrap Up and FAQ’s On Amtrak Cafe Cars

  • Shoes are a requirement for walking around the train, especially in food cars
  • When purchasing alcohol or use a credit/debit card, bring a valid ID
  • Hours may vary, so listen for announcements
  • The locations of the café car very based on the train type
  • There is only one cafe attended so
    • Lines happen; be kind and wait your turn
    • The café closes at night and during breaks
    • Please clean up after yourself; it’s the right thing to do and makes the journey better for everyone
  • The café attendants use cardboard trays with drink holders to help you transport food and drink back to your seat or accommodation
  • Occasionally trains go through “dry” areas where alcohol cannot be sold or served
  • Sodas are stored room temperature, so the cafe attendant gives a cup of ice to cool your beverage
  • Amtrak cafés get stocked at the beginning of the trips, meaning the cafe may run out of popular menu choices, especially when trains near their final destinations.
    • If there is something you want, get it early!
  • The menus for café cars can vary from train to train, along with beer choices.

If your Amtrak trip is on a long-distance train, also check out my article on Amtrak dining cars even if you are not in a sleeper.

I hope this helps you get ready for your next Amtrak adventure. I hope to see you on the rails!

Safe Travels!


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