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The franchise restaurants off just about every freeway exit are the quick dining choice for many travelers.

But taking the easy route for lunch or dinner on the road can be a mistake — especially when there are so many small-town, locally owned diners that serve meals with personality.

Adventurous travelers willing to take the back roads will encounter restaurants that serve chicken-fried steak, a deep-fried Utah scone with honey butter, and memorable pieces of homemade pie.

While nearly every Utah town has these independent restaurants, here are 10 favorites:

Mollies Cafe, Snowville • Visiting with Mollie, the longtime owner, is worth the drive to this little town on the Idaho border, where local ranchers gather. Try the homemade strawberry jam and enjoy the Coke memorabilia that seems to be everywhere. 15 E. Main, Snowville; 435-872-8295.

Arshel's Cafe, Beaver • Established in the 1920s, this cafe on the north side of the main drag is always spotless, has quick service and wonderful daily specials. The homemade pie and soup are almost always reliable choices. 711 N. Main St., Beaver; 435-438-2977.

Ray's Tavern, Green River • Don't let the tavern in the name fool you. While beer is served at this Utah classic, it's open to all ages. The burgers, charbroiled on a little grill, rank among the best in the state. The hand-cut fries are great, too. 25 Broadway, Green River; 435-564-3511.

Idle Isle Cafe, Brigham City • Also known for homemade candy, the fun part of the Idle Isle establishment in the heart of Brigham is its old-fashioned soda fountain. Try the turkey steak with a malt. 24 S. Main St., Brigham City; 435-723-8003.

Bluebird, Logan • Founded in 1914 and a fixture on Main Street since 1923, the Bluebird is a Utah classic with a wonderful old soda fountain. Try the chicken, battered and deep fried and covered with a spicy sauce. 19 N. Main St., Logan; 435-752-3155.

Maddox Ranch House, Brigham City • This is more of a restaurant, but there are smaller rooms in the original building that do have more of the vibe of a diner. Homemade rolls, crisp salads, chicken, steak and turkey steak make this restaurant a Utah standout. 1900 S. Highway 89, Brigham City; 435-723-8545.

Mom's Cafe, Salina • Located in a classic old building, this is the kind of cafe where waitresses wear starched uniforms. Best bets here are the deep-fried Utah scones, the fish and chips and the pie. 10 E. Main St. Salina; 435-529-3921.

Little Wonder Cafe, Richfield • I live by one rule when dining in Utah's small-town restaurants: When in doubt, order the chicken-fried steak. That's certainly good advice at this central Utah classic — but the southwestern beef sandwich and grilled cod are also worth trying. 101 N. Main St., Richfield; 435-896-8960

Market Grill, Cedar City • Well off the main drag, this western-themed cafe is easy for tourists to miss. Yet it's noted known for serving housemade specialties that include hash browns and pie. Try the country or farmer breakfast, or at dinner, the steaks. 2270 W. 400 North (Highway 56) Cedar City; 435-586-9325

Rancher Motel Cafe, Delta • The pies, chicken-fried steaks and rolls are specialties, but the thing that makes this place special are the regulars who come in almost daily for coffee and conversation. This is a fun place to learn about Delta's character. 171 W. Main St., Delta; 435-864-2741.

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Utah flavor

What small-town diners did we miss? What restaurants off the Wasatch Front serve house specialties that are worth the drive? For future stories, send your suggestions to, and write "small-town diners" in the subject line.

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