Amtrak Cafe Car
Amtrak Cafe Car

Amtrak Cafe Car: What You Need To Know

Coffee from Northeast trains

On my Amtrak adventures, I like to head to the cafe car for a snack and tasty beverage! The Amtrak cafe car offers food and drinks on regional trains, with a few exceptions, and is the primary food car for coach passengers traveling long distances.

Some passengers call The Amtrak cafe car the snack or bar car. On some trains, it does double as a lounge.

Whether in a sleeper, Acela, or regional train, this article has something for you. It covers menus, where you can eat on the train, and bringing food onboard Amtrak trains.

Sit back and find out what information you need about Amtrak Cafe Cars.

Amtrak Cafe Car Podcast

One of my first podcasts was about the cafe car. If you want to listen, click below.

What Trains Have An Amtrak Cafe Car

All Amtrak’s long-distance trains and regional routes have a cafe car, but for five, listed below.

Trains Without Amtrak Cafe Cars

Below are the trains without a food car or ones with vending machines

Other Food Options For Long-Distance Trains

Sleeper car passengers on long-distance trains have a meal program as part of the reservation.

Amtrak steak
Amtrak’s steak dish from the dining car. Photo Courtesy of Amtrak

Most trains offer traditional dining but for the Chicago to San Antonio section of The Texas Eagle, the City of New Orleans, Cresent, Capitol Limited, and Lake Shore Limited.

Dining Cars With Coach Passenger Access

Coach passengers can access the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, and Sunset Limited dining cars.

On these trains, meals are at set prices. Space in the dining car may be limited, so get your reservations in as soon as possible.

Coffee on Amtrak

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

I often get asked about coffee on Amtrak, so here is what you need to know.

In the cafe and dining car, coffee is drip-brewed. In the sleeping cars, Amtrak offers percolated coffee.

The roast can vary from time to time and depends on the route.

Amtrak does not offer espresso drinks like lattes or fresh iced or cold brew coffee, but they sell bottled coffee drinks.

Amtrak Cafe Car Hours

On average, the typical hours of the cafe car are from 6 or 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. (or so) local time.

Amtrak's Amfleet Café Car
Amtrak’s Amfleet Cafe Car

The cafe does close a few times throughout the day for the attendant’s break and sleep. Off times can vary from train to train.

On the Cardinal, Texas Eagle, and Capitol Limited, the cafe may close during the meal times of the sleeper car passengers. So, listen to the announcements and plan accordingly.

Often, the cafe car opens up not long after the train leaves the original station.

The cafe car will close during a few stops because of changes to the train, which will cause a temporary loss of power. At these stops, train switches from diesel to electric engines or, like Lake Shore Limited’s case, the trains come together or separate. The cafe may also close early as the train reaches its final destination.

The best thing you can do is listen for announcements from the cafe car attendant, for they will keep you in the loop.

What Food Is Available From An Amtrak Cafe Car?

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

I photographed the cafe/business class car on the 500th Amtrak train I rode: train 301, the Lincoln Service in Bloomington, IL.

The cafe car offerings include sandwiches, burgers, hotdogs, pizza, salads, coffee and tea, soft drinks, adult drinks, snacks, warps, and other delights.

Amtrak uses microwaves or a convection oven to heat your food. Selections can vary from train to train.

Amtrak cafe cars also carry a few extras, like headphones and Asperin; they also have Amtrak’s Comfort Kits, a bag with a small blanket, an eye mask, earplugs, and a blow-up pillow.

Toiletries like toothbrushes and deodorants are unavailable in the cafe, so pack accordingly.

Sample Amtrak Cafe Car Menus

These menus are guides; prices and offerings can change at Amtrak’s discretion. I work to keep this section as updated as possible—last updated on 8/20/2023 from the Amtrak Cafe page.

If your train is not listed, refer to the regional train menu.

Payment Options For Amtrak Cafe Cars

Amtrak cafe cars accept cash, major credit cards (MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover), and debit cards with a Mastercard or Visa logo for payment.

Amtrak does not take checks or foreign currency, except when Amtrak runs in Canada.

Identification is sometimes required when using a credit or debit card or purchasing adult beverages, so have yours ready if needed.

If you have an Amtrak credit card, you can receive 10-20% cashback on your bill (depending on your card).

Where Can You Eat Your Amtrak Cafe Car Purchases

You may enjoy the food you purchased in an Amtrak cafe car at your seat, sleeping accommodations, observation car of Superliner trains, or the seats in the cafe car.

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

A cafe car is a great place to stretch out, enjoy your food, or maybe get some work done, but be considerate of others who may want to use the cafe.

If the cafe seating is full of passengers, it is not polite to occupy the whole booth with your belongings, especially if you are not actively eating or drinking.  

If you are in a Superliner (two-level) train cafe, Amtrak asks that you head back upstairs to enjoy the views when you finish your purchases.

Some cafe cars have seating on both sides of the retail space, while others have business-class seating. If there is a blue curtain, you’ll need a business class ticket to sit there.

Bringing Food Onto Amtrak trains

According to FDA regulations, you can bring food and snacks aboard the train but not consume them in retail areas or dining cars.

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

Alcohol On Amtrak – Purchasing & Bringing It Onboard

Coach passengers can transport alcohol on the train but cannot consume the liquor in public areas such as coach seats, business class, or lounge areas. The story’s moral is if you bring it, please leave it stored.

Travesl with Kev
Kev enjoys a beverage in a Superliner Roomette that he bought in an Amtrak Café Car.

Passengers caught drinking alcohol they brought on board can face being removed from the train and legal charges. The same is true for belligerent passengers.

The passengers who get removed from the train may not be dropped off where they want, and Amtrak will not accommodate or refund those passengers.

Local municipalities may accommodate them with silver bracelets and a night stay at Slammer Hotel, aka arrested in a night in the drunk tank.

Sleeper car passengers can partake in the alcohol they brought on board, but only in their sleeping accommodations (or someone else’s). If passengers get out of hand, they may be put off the train, face legal charges, and forfeit a refund, just like coach passengers.

All passengers can take the drinks they purchase anywhere on the train.

Where You Can Typically Find An Amtrak Cafe Car

The location of an Amtrak Cafe Car is not straightforward due to the different trainsets used across the country. This section comes from my personal experience, so please read it as a general guide.

Regional Trains

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

On some trains, often in the Midwest, the business class section is on the back of the cafe car and is typically towards either end of the train.

Amtrak uses cafes to buffer between coach and business class when trains with a business class car.

You may find it on some trains toward the train’s center, like on regional trains in the NEC.

The bi-level Amtrak California trains have a cafe on the upper level.

Long-distance train

Depending on the train, the cafe is between the coach and sleeper or coach and dining cars.

Amtrak's City of New Orleans
Amtrak’s City of New Orleans picks up and drops off passengers at Jackson, MS.

On the Lake Shore Limited, the cafe car is on the Boston section of the train, and it separates the coach and sleepers. The cafe is unavailable to passengers between New York, NY, and Albany-Rensselaer, NY.

On Superliner Long-Distance Train (aka two-level trains), Amtrak “hides” the cafe on the lower level of the observation car and often is between the coach cars and dining cars. The City of New Orleans, Texas Eagle, and Capitol Limited have the cafe on the coach class side of 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, and when both trains are together, the cafe car separates the coach cars of each section. If you are in the Seattle section, you will not have a cafe car between Seattle, WA, and Spokane, WA.

Note: Often, the cafe car attendant will announce the cafe’s location, the hours, and when they take breaks, so keep your ears open.

Amtrak Cafe Car Wrap-up & FAQs

Here are some cafe car basics to review. Don’t forget to snag a treat for your travel companions!

Safety And Payments In the Cafe Car

You should know a few things when you go to the cafe car.

Amtrak requires shoes when walking around the train, especially in food cars. Have a valid ID handy when purchasing alcohol or using a credit/debit card.

Cafe Car Hours And Location

An outside view of the Cardinal's cafe car.
The Cafe Car on the Cardinal

Hours may vary; listen for announcements. Often, it opens not long after it leaves the initial stop and will close before the last.

On some routes, the car may close if there is an equipment swap, such as when they change locomotives in DC.

Some long-distance routes may lose the cafe car or have it as the only car on train routes with multiple route numbers. The cafe car is often closed while the train is being put together.

The location of a café car varies based on the train type.

On long-distance and on some regional trains, the cafe is towards the middle of the train. On trains with business class, it often separates coach and business class cars and could be towards the end of the train.

There is only one cafe car attendant

  • Lines can happen, so kindly wait your turn.
  • The café closes at night on long-distance trains
  • They can also close during breaks on all trains.
  • Please clean up after yourself; it’s the right thing to do and makes the journey better for everyone.

Getting your food and more

Amtrak cafe attendants use cardboard trays to make transporting your food more accessible.
  • The café attendants use cardboard trays with drink holders to make it easier for you to transport food and drink back to your seat or accommodation.
  • Occasionally, trains go through “dry” areas where alcoholic beverages cannot be sold or served.
  • Cafe attendants offer a cup of ice to cool your beverage because soft drinks are not continually refrigerated.
  • Amtrak cafés get stocked at the beginning of the trips, meaning the cafe may run out of popular menu choices, especially as trains near their final destinations.
    • If there is something you want, get it early!
  • The food and beer menus for café cars vary from train to train.
  • Learn more about eating aboard Amtrak.

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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Kev has been traveling with Amtrak since 2012, celebrating over ten years of travel! Over those years, he has been on over 700 trains covering over 200k miles of rail. Kev enjoys helping others achieve their travel dreams by providing support and information. Outside of travel, Kev enjoys making music as an organist.

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