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Ariston Café

Located: Litchfield, Illinois

There are 14 fast-food restaurants within a mile of the Ariston Café,but the family-owned restaurant, which has been operating continually since it opened in 1929, holds its own, serving between 2,000 and 2,500 people a week.

That’s enough to keep owner Nick Adams, 73, and his 25 employees busy. Adams, who followed his father into the business, is so dedicated that he has never traveled very far on “the Hard Road,” as Route 66 was called when it became the first paved road through Litchfield, a town located 50 miles from St. Louis and 42 miles from Springfield, Ill.

“I’ve never done Route 66,” said Adams. “But it’s on my bucket list.”

In the meantime, Adams is content to greet his customers, both townies and travelers. His guest book has signatures of visitors from 38 foreign countries in the past year, including first-timers from Bosnia and the Czech Republic. Visitors come by car, motorcycle, even tandem bike, he said. For many, he says, it’s a chance to experience one-of-a-kind places and businesses.

“Where else are you going to see a great slice of Americana?” said Adams. “Deserts, small towns, big towns – you get to see a bit of everything. You can’t go to New York or Chicago and say you saw America. But if you travel on Route 66, you’ve seen America.”

Photos: Denis Macdonald | Photolibrary | Getty Images