Hungry while on the train, try Amtrak’s Café Car
Are you wondering where and what you can eat aboard an Amtrak train? You could bring food or try Amtrak’s Cafe car, a place to get a quick meal, drinks, snacks, and a few other things.
What trains have café cars?
Amtrak Cafe Cars appear on all long-distance trains and most of the 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 their complimentary meals and beverages, and the coach and business class passengers have the cafe car at their disposal.
For more information about dining cars, check out this article.
What is available in Amtrak’s Cafe Cars?
Amtrak’s café cars sell carry-out style food for you 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 a variety of sandwiches, burgers, hotdogs, pizza, salads, coffee, tea, soft drinks, adult drinks, snacks, and other delights. Hot food warmed in a microwave or other such warming device.
Amtrak food service cars accept cash and major credit cards (MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover). Amtrak does not accept 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.
Where can you eat what you buy?
You may enjoy the food from in the cafe car at your seat, sleeping accommodations, observation car, or in 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.
Bringing food onboard the train
You can bring food and snacks aboard the train, but do not bring it into food service areas such as in the café or dining car due to FDA regulations. If you bring food aboard, you can consume at your seat, observations car, or sleeping accommodation.
Due to space and the FDA, Amtrak cannot store, refrigerate, or heat any personal food.
For Amtrak’s current rules concerning personal food, medications, and alcohol, click here.
Alcohol on the train
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.
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.
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 on that side of the train. 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 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
- Amtrak California
- Northwest Corrido
- Amtrak long-distance
Wrap up what you must know about 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
- 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!