All but five of Amtrak’s trains have at least one food car, and there are trains with two or more! The route you take can determine what food offerings you get. Most people’s first interaction with eating on Amtrak will be in a cafe car, but those who upgrade could get a seat service or a meal in a traditional dining car or their room.
This article is an overview with links for more in-depth articles; you may get hungry by the end! Or am I the only one who does that way when I read or talk about food for too long?
Setting your expectations for eating on Amtrak
The first thing I want to cover is checking your expectations, for not all trains have a chef who prepares meals. Not everything is like what you see in old movies. First, there is less singing on the train, as there is little to no singing.
The best thing you can do is be a responsible traveler and do your research. Since you are on this page, I know you have to be a good traveler because you are doing your research. Look at my train schedule page on this site or Amtrak’s to see what to expect for food on each train so you can set your expectations accordingly.
What different trains offer for food
As you learned, not all trains offer the same food service. This section covers what service is provided, and the next covers the options.
Amtrak trains without food service.
These trains do not have cafes or food service cars, but one does have vending machines.
Regional trains travel under 750 miles and are often state-funded, offering mostly coach-class, although many provide business-class accommodations. If you plan to take a regional train, your food choices come from the cafe car.
All long-distance trains have a cafe car that is open to all passengers.
If you have sleeping accommodations, you will receive complimentary flex or traditional dining, depending on the train. Some trains do have reservations available for coach passengers.
Like regional and long-distance trains, Acela has a cafe car for all passengers, but First Class passengers get at-seat service, including drinks and meals.
Eating On Amtrak: Cafe Cars
As you learned, most trains have café cars that offer various entrees, snacks, and beverages that you can eat in that car or take back to your seat or room. Menus can vary based on the route.
The food is prepackaged, and there is little customization outside of adding condiments. Your food is warmed for you when appropriate. Beverages include Coke products, coffee, tea, and adult beverages.
Depending on your order, an average meal (drink and entree) can start at around $10, based on your desire. Some regional trains offer combo meals.
The cafe attendant puts your selections in a cardboard tray to make taking your food to your seat or table easier.
Amtrak cafe cars are open most of your journey but may close for the attendant breaks, at specific station stops, and at night if you are on a long-distance train.
If you have dietary restrictions, I would look at the cafe menus to see if what Amtrak offers works for you or if you need to bring something.
Coffee On Amtrak
I often get asked about coffee on Amtrak, so here is what you need to know. For whatever reason, coffee on the rails tastes better; I know it is psychological.
Amtrak brews fresh coffee in the cafe car and sleeping cars. Fresh drip coffee comes from the cafe and the dining car, and percolated coffee is in sleeping cars. The roast can vary from time to time and route to route.
Amtrak does not offer hot espresso drinks like lattes or fresh iced or cold brew coffee, but they sell bottled coffee drinks.
Eating On Amtrak: The dining car or sleeper passenger meals
Amtrak has two different types of meals for sleeper car passengers, depending on the route.
You get non-alcoholic beverages, desserts, and other meal-appropriate add-ons, regardless of the meal type. Additionally, you get your first adult drink with dinner on Amtrak!
Flex dining is found on:
- Lake Shore Limited
- Texas Eagle (between Chicago and San Antonio)
- City of New Orleans
These are pre-prepared meals that are loaded onto the train and heated onboard. These meals are not available to coach passengers. Often, these meals are served in your room.
There are hot and cold breakfast selections, and lunch and dinner share the same selections.
Traditional dining is prepared onboard and found on:
- Auto Train
- California Zephyr
- Coast Starlight
- Empire Builder
- Silver Meteor
- Silver Star
- Southwest Chief
- Sunset Limited
- Texas Eagle between LA and San Antonio, TX.
Set prices for coach passengers on some trains based on availability.
- Breakfast $20
- Lunch is $25 and $15 for kids
- Dinner is $45 and $25 for kids.
Can You Bring Food On Amtrak Trains?
You can bring food on the train, which could be a great way to save money or deal with food restrictions. Remember that Amtrak cannot heat, store, or refrigerate it.
Do not bring or use a coffee maker, hotplates, or other small appliances on the train because it is unsafe for you and others. People do not want to smell your cooking, especially if you are not sharing. Also, passengers would appreciate it if you refrain from eating smelly foods.
For example, in restaurants, do not bring food into the dining car or cafe car you did not buy on the train; the exception is food for young travelers.
Other Tidbits On Eating On Amtrak
These trains spit somewhere along that route, so the food offerings on the part of the route can vary. Since the train splits, only one section of the train will have a dining or sleeper car lounge during the trip, and the other half will have a cafe car.
Your first or last meal may not be in the dining car and could come from the cafe or a box meal like in the photo.
Eating On Amtrak Wrap-up
To be safe, always bring a few snacks. I usually have a few bars, jerky, or snack packs, just in case! Don’t forget to pack a few protein-enriched snacks so they “last longer,”
When planning a trip, I like to budget money for the cafe car, especially if I am in coach class. It works better for me to buy meals onboard than bringing all my food on board with me. Sometimes I want a warm meal.
I am not the kind of traveler who is eager to carry coolers because I like to pack light.
I like to pack snacks in a reusable bag that I carry on the train or pop in my luggage, and as I travel, the bag empties and then gets packed away. Unless I am on a day trip, I pack snacks in one direction to pack lighter. This method allows me to shop at my destination and enjoy something different or even a delicacy from where I was.
Remember, all the food in the cafe car is prepackaged, and staff can warm up the food you bought but not the food you brought.
Sometimes, I have walked to the cafe car to get a cheese tray and wine to be fancy while relaxing in my room. Additionally, I have met some fantastic people in the dining car, including friends I still talk to today!