I Ate on an Amtrak for the First Time — What It Was Really Like



I took my first long-haul train ride from Portland to Sacramento aboard the Amtrak Coast Starlight.

Molly Allen sitting in roomette on coast starlight amtrak train

For my first long-haul train trip, I booked a roomette in the sleeping car.

Molly Allen


I recently took a 16-hour train ride on the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Portland, Oregon, to Sacramento, California. 

Because I booked a roomette for the overnight journey, I had access to complimentary meals in the dining car. I grabbed a late lunch on the train, along with a three-course dinner. 

Here’s what it was really like to eat in an Amtrak dining car.

Even though most of the tables in the dining car were empty at lunch, I sat with three other travelers.

dining table on coast starlight amtrak train

Many of the tables in the Amtrak dining car were empty, but the attendant still put me at a table with other passengers.

Molly Allen


Because I boarded the train just after 2 p.m., the attendant in my sleeping car said I could grab lunch if I hurried. Within minutes of putting my bags down in my roomette, I went to the dining car for the first time. 

As I walked in, I found tables on either side of the car. Most were empty, so I assumed I’d sit alone. Instead, the attendant seated me with three other travelers who had just boarded the train in Portland as well. 

Two of my lunch companions were traveling together, and the other diner next to me happened to be staying in the roomette across from mine.

I was surprised that the attendant seated me with people I’d never met, but it ended up being an interesting way to chat and learn about their travels and jobs.

My first Amtrak meal was a mixed-green salad topped with strawberries, walnuts, and raspberry vinaigrette.

salad on amtrak train

I asked my server to hold the goat cheese but kept the walnuts and strawberries.

Molly Allen


There were plenty of lunch options, including an Angus burger, a plant-based burger, chili, and a Monte Cristo sandwich. But because I sat down for lunch after 2 p.m. and knew dinner wasn’t too far off, I chose to have a lighter meal. 

I ordered an iced tea and the mixed field greens and goat cheese salad. The bed of lettuce was topped with strawberries, honey-glazed walnuts, and a raspberry vinaigrette with a nice flavor that wasn’t too sweet. I asked the server to leave off the goat cheese.

The salad was small and simple, and the greens and strawberries were surprisingly fresh. I’d definitely eat it again. Dessert was available after lunch, but I didn’t order any. 

Before returning to my room, the server asked what time I wanted a reservation for dinner. I asked for a seat at 6:45 p.m., and the server handed me a slip of paper with my reservation time on my way out.

The dining car was notably busier during dinnertime.

view from the dining car on amtrak

The dining car offered gorgeous views of the passing landscapes.

Molly Allen


The person staying in the roomette across from me, who I met at lunch and chatted with throughout the journey, had the same dinner reservation slot as I did. So when it was time to head to the dining car, we walked together. 

All of the white cloth-covered tables and the seats were filled, and the few servers attending to guests in the dining car seemed quite busy.

My lunch companion and I were seated at the same time with a couple who was celebrating a birthday on the train. I ordered a ginger ale, but others at my table chose wine and cocktails, which were also complimentary.

I had a Mexican-soufflé appetizer that was flavorful, but it had a strange texture.

mexican souffle appetizer on amtrak train

The soufflé dish was filled with flavor, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the texture.

Molly Allen


For my dinner appetizer, I opted for a Mexican soufflé with grilled street corn. It took a while to arrive at my table, and I was incredibly hungry by the time it was in front of me.

The dish certainly didn’t have the most appetizing appearance, but the flavor was pretty good. It had a bit of a spicy kick, with chunks of black beans, corn, and a poblano pepper sauce on top. 

The texture, however, was soft and a bit strange.

Two other people at my table ordered the same appetizer, and we all seemed to enjoy it overall.

The chicken-breast entrée was pretty dry.

chicken breast on amtrak dining car

The chicken breast was dry, and I only ate two bites.

Molly Allen


My dinner entrée was a panko chicken breast served with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables, and I was really excited to get a taste of comfort food.

Unfortunately, the chicken was super crunchy, incredibly dry, and very hard to eat. It was paired with a sauce that tasted similar to pasta sauce, which helped with the flavor. But I ended up eating two bites and leaving it alone.

Luckily the mashed potatoes were absolutely delicious. They were made with red potatoes, and the chef left the skin on. The meal also came with green beans on the side, which were decent but pretty plain.

The piece of lemon cake I had for dessert was shockingly delicious.

cake on amtrak train

The Meyer lemon cake was a major highlight of my dinner.

Molly Allen


For dessert, there were three options: a chocolate mousse cake, white-chocolate-blueberry-cobbler cheesecake, and Meyer-lemon cake. 

I went with the lemon cake and was so thrilled with my choice. 

The slice had lemon mousseline and lemon curd between each of the cake’s three different layers. It was served with a dollop of whipped cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce. 

I didn’t have high hopes for a cake being served on a train when I first dug my fork into the slice, but I was pleasantly surprised. 

The cake was served cold, but it was moist and had a pleasant texture. Each bite was jam-packed with lemon flavor, and I wished for more after I finished the whole slice.

As a professional baker, I was impressed by how good this lemon cake was.

The dining car had some of the best views on the train.

view outside of amtrak train windows from dining car

I was able to admire the passing scenery from the dining car’s windows.

Molly Allen


Just like the observation car and my private roomette, the dining car had large picture windows. I ended up seeing some of the most incredible scenery as I enjoyed dinner. 

Because dinner was a three-course meal and the train was quite busy, I spent almost two hours having dinner and chatting with other travelers. 

The food wasn’t incredible, but the pleasant experience made up for it. It forced me to slow down, take in the scenery, and enjoy the moment. 

After all, there was no need to rush to get up from dinner. The train still had 11 hours left to go.



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