Amtrak Cafe Car
Amtrak Cafe Car

Amtrak Cafe Car: Meals, snacks, and drinks

We all need to eat; luckily, the Amtrak cafe car is the place to go if you want to eat while riding the rails. All but five Amtrak trains have a cafe serving a range of snacks, including grab-and-go meals, hot and cold beverages, and alcoholic drinks. You can enjoy your purchases in your seat, room, or, in most cases, the cafe car itself.

Coffee on a NEC train
Dunk’n coffee on Amtrak

If you have reservations for an adventure on a long-distance Acela, regional, or combination of trains, you can view the train menus further down this page. You can also find out where to eat on the train and learn more about bringing food on board.

When I ride trains for hours, I love to visit the cafe car to break up the trip and stretch my legs. However, I still bring snacks and a water bottle to fill the gaps. It’s also nice to get a cup of coffee on an early morning train ride; getting one on the train is easier than dealing with it during boarding.

Some passengers refer to the Amtrak cafe car as the snack or bar car, and some trains also function as lounges.

Whether you need something for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the Amtrak cafe car has something to offer you so you can save space in your luggage.

A podcast about the Amtrak Cafe Car

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

Train food options for Amtrak trains.

There are three types of Amtrak trains, and each offers something different.

Regional trains

All but five regional trains have a cafe car, which is the only food car option on these trains. The menus can change based on the train’s location and whether it is a state-sponsored train.

Aclea

Like other regional trains, these trains have a cafe car for all passengers and at-seat food and beverage service in First Class.

Long-distance trains.

All passengers can use the cafe car. Sleeper car passengers on long-distance trains have a meal program as part of the reservation. Check out my articles on Amtrak’s traditional and flex dining if you have a sleeping accommodation.

Amtrak trains without a cafe car.

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

Coffee on Amtrak trains

Amtrak Coffee
Coffee tastes better on the rails, especially from the Amtrak cafe car.

I often receive questions about coffee on Amtrak, and as a coffee drinker, I completely understand!

If you are particular about brewed coffee, I can help you find the best coffee on the train based on my taste. However, if you enjoy “fancy drinks,” you might be disappointed because the train only serves brewed coffee. So, there are no espresso drinks, fresh cold brew, or iced coffee on the train, although some trains may offer bottled options.

Drip-brewed coffee is available in the cafe and dining car, and percolated coffee is available in the sleeping cars. The type of roast and brand of coffee can vary from train to train. In my experience, the best onboard coffee is in the food service cars, but the percolated coffee in the sleeper car does the job, especially if you have an early departure.

Amtrak Cafe Car hours

Amtrak Cafe Car
Inside a Horizon Amtrak Cafe Car

Keep your ears open for announcements about when the cafe car will be available and its location, but here are some guidelines. You can always ask a conductor if you miss or cannot hear announcements.

  • Regional train hours can vary.
    • Cafe cars are open for most of the route.
    • The cafe opens after the train leaves the initial station and may close before the last station,
    • Always listen to announcements and bring some snacks.
  • Cafe car hours on long-distance trains,
    • The hours are typically from 6 or 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. (or so) local time.
      • Boarding and arrival times play a huge part in determining the hours.
    • Times when cafe cars close
      • When the attendant take their meal breaks
      • When attendants prepare Amtrak Flex dining meals for sleeping passengers.
      • During engine swaps, when going through Washington, DC
      • When the Lake Shore Limited is being assessed or separated at the Albany stop.

What Food Is Available From An Amtrak Cafe Car?

A sandwisch, coffee, water, and brownie from an Amtrak cafe car.
A meal from the Amtrak Cafe Car

The food and beverage options in Amtrak’s café cars vary among trains. Sample menus are below, but here is an overview of the typical offerings on most trains.

I have noticed a positive change in Amtrak’s service over the past few years. They have started offering combo deals on board the trains, which can help save some money. These combos usually include a beverage, entree, and chips. However, there may be some limitations on beverage choices.

  • Breakfast options (available at any time)
    • Yogurt
    • Doughnut holes, cinnamon rolls, and other sweet treats
    • Breakfast sandwiches and bowls
    • Bagel with cream cheese
    • Oatmeal
  • Lunch/dinner choices
    • Hot and cold Sandwiches
    • Salads
    • Hot selections
  • Snacks and treats
    • Candy bars
    • Cheese & Cracker tray
    • Veggies
    • Hummus and pretzels
    • Chips, pretzels, Doritos, and popcorn
  • Drinks
    • Coke products
    • Beers, wine, and spirits
    • Iced and hot tea
    • Coffee
    • Bottle water, milk, and juice
  • Extras, but not guaranteed
    • Card decks
    • Comfort kits

Amtrak heats food using microwaves or a convection oven. They also provide most condiments you need unless you want something special.

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

Amtrak Cafe Car Sample Menus

500th train and Amfleet cafe car
The 500th Amtrak train I was on, train 301, the Lincoln Service—a view of the cafe car.

These menus are guides; prices and offerings can change at Amtrak’s discretion. I keep this section as updated as possible—the last update was on March 2024 from the Amtrak Cafe page. If your train is not listed, refer to the regional menu.

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

Over the years, the cafe menus have improved, offering more “fresh” food. I appreciate the increased variety in these cars, especially when you are on the train for days.

Payment Options For Amtrak Cafe Cars

How to pay for your purchase:

Amtrak Credit Card
Amtrak Credit Card (Courtesy of the Amtrak Website.)
  • Cafe cars accept cash.
  • Major credit cards
    • MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover
    • Also, debit cards should have a credit card logo.
  • Amtrak does not take checks.
  • You cannot use foreign currency.
    • You can use your loonies and twonies on the three Amtrak trains that run in Canada while they are 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 the card you have.

Where you can eat Amtrak cafe car purchases

Amtrak Food
You can bring the food you buy in Amtrak’s Cafe car back to your seat

Going to the cafe car is an excellent way to stretch my legs and break up the trip on an Amtrak adventure. They are also great places to meet new people.

When traveling, you have options for where you can enjoy your purchases. You can have your meal or drink in the cafe car, coach or business class seat, sleeping accommodations, or the observation car.

The cafe car is excellent for relaxing, working, and making purchases. After you make your purchases, be mindful of other passengers who might also want to use the seating and tables. You can always ask to share a table if there is no free space. If no one is waiting, feel free to take your time.

If you buy alcohol on the train, you can consume it anywhere on board. Remember not to get out of hand, or you could get removed from the train.

If you have space alone and see other passengers waiting for a seat, you could offer to share your table instead of occupying it alone.

The cafe car is on the lower level, and it is for passengers with reservations on a train with a Superliner Sightseer lounge car.

Some cafe cars have seating on both sides of the retail space, while others have business-class seating. You must have a business class ticket to sit in those seats.

Bringing food onto Amtrak trains

You can bring food and drink onto Amtrak trains but must refrain from consuming them in food 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

Passengers in coach class can bring alcohol on the train but cannot consume it in public areas such as coach seats, business class, or lounge areas. The lesson is that if you bring alcohol, please store and leave it.

Travesl with Kev
Kev is enjoying a beverage in a Superliner Roomette.

Passengers found drinking alcohol they brought on board in coach class may be removed from the train and could face legal charges. The same consequences apply to disruptive passengers.

Those removed from the train do not reach their destination because the next train stop is theirs. Amtrak will not provide accommodations or refunds for these passengers.

Local authorities may detain them, and they might spend the night in a local jail.

Passengers in sleeper cars are allowed to consume the alcohol they brought on board, but only in their or their friends’ Sleeping accommodations. But, if you get out of hand, you too can be removed from the train and face the same consequences.

All passengers can consume the drinks they purchase on the train in the cafe, their seat, lounge, or anywhere on the train.

Where You Can Typically Find An Amtrak Cafe Car

The location of an Amtrak Cafe Car is standardized due to the different trainsets used across the country. This section comes from my experience, so use it as a general guide.

Regional Trains

Amtrak San Joaquins

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

Amtrak uses the cafe retail section to buffer between coach and business class.

You may find the cafe 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

The cafe is between the coach and sleeper or coach and dining cars for all but two long-distance trains.

Views from the Capitol Limited

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, and is toward the front of the train.

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., which is toward the back of the train.

On Superliner Long-Distance Trains (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.

Amtrak Cafe Car wrap-up & FAQs

I hope this post helps you plan for your next Amtrak adventure!

As a seasoned traveler, I have one piece of advice: always bring some emergency snacks, regardless of your accommodations. You never know when hunger will strike, so being prepared is essential.

Safety and IDs in the Cafe Car

When visiting the café car, please remember the following:

Amtrak requires passengers to wear shoes when walking around the train, especially in the food cars.

You will need a valid ID when purchasing alcohol or using a credit/debit card. While they may not always ask for it, it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

Cafe Car Hours

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

The operating hours may vary from train to train, so please listen for announcements. That said, they are typically 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The car may close for an equipment swap on specific routes, such as when Amtrak swaps locomotives in DC or if a train separates or comes together. This procedure occurs on the Texas Eagle, Sunset Limited, Lake Shore Limited, and Empire Builder.

The location of a café car varies based on the train type. On long-distance and 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.

Please be patient and courteous.

Lines may form, so kindly wait your turn. The café closes at night on long-distance trains and may 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

Food from an Amtrak Cafe Car
Amtrak cafe attendants use cardboard trays to make transporting your food more accessible.
  • The café attendant utilizes cardboard trays with cup holders to facilitate the transportation of food and drinks to your table, seat, or room.
  • In some cases, trains travel through “dry” counties where the sale or service of alcoholic beverages is prohibited.
  • Cafe staff offer customers cups of ice to chill beverages since not all drinks are refrigerated.
  • Amtrak cafes get stocked at the start of trips, so popular menu choices may run out before reaching the final destinations.
    • If there is something you want, get it early!
  • The food and beer menus in café cars vary from train to train.
  • Learn more about eating aboard Amtrak.

I look forward to helping you prepare for your upcoming Amtrak journey. I can’t wait to see you on the train!

Safe travels!

Kev

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Kevin Monteith

Kev Monteith has been traveling on Amtrak since 2012. With over a decade of experience, he has been on over 800 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 and outings with family.

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