FLAVOR OF THE WEST: To say that Highway 395 is having its moment is to not really and truly look at the larger picture of time. True, true, Sunset magazine did just feature the Eastern Sierra's main byway in a recent issue, and the highway's many natural wonders and awesome roadside stops, too. True, true, other publications further afield are recommending it as a way to both see Yosemite and the tallest peak in the continguous U.S. (holler, Mt. Whitney) and some gorgeous Death Valley action, too. But Highway 395 isn't a recent phenomenon, if you look at the cowboy flicks filmed around the Alabama Hills nearly a century ago, or the Bristlecone Pines, near Big Pine, which predate the building of the highway by a few thousand years. Still, though, let's all love on the ever-rising profile of this stunning stretch of road, and a sauce-tasty restaurant that's been getting accolades aplenty.
IT'S COPPER TOP BBQ... we speak of, a meat-smoking stand that's been lovingly covered by both Sunset and Yelp, which named it "the best restaurant in the country" at the beginning of 2015. If you've plunked down at a picnic table, in all of that wood-fragrant, mountain-adjacent air, and dug into a Santa Maria tri-tip, and a bowl of green chile-laden beans that'll make you swear you're in the Land of Enchantment, then you get how the place won the title: Copper Top is tops.
AS ARE HANK AND MATT OTTEN, the friendly father-son team behind the charming and chow-down-able enterprise. Matt's at the window, busy as all get-out with the steady stream of road-trippers looking for pulled pork piled high on a soft bun, and Hank is frequently tending the smoke and shanks out front. After a little easy socializing -- both with the owners and the nice strangers you're sharing a picnic table with -- it is time to get town to the business of biting into the mustard-kicky potato salad, the toothsome Hawaiian rolls, the tender chicken, the ribs (good with or without sauce) and coleslaw. Hours aren't all the time -- if you're splitting from Mammoth on a Monday or a Tuesday, you'll find Copper Top is closed -- so check ahead. It might be worth extending your trip.
AND, TRUE, the charmer of a eat-and-drive spot is located on Highway 395, but the proper address is 310 N. Main Street in Big Pine. You'll see it, if you're on the north end of the snug high desert town, and you'll sniff it if your windows are rolled down (as they should be, at least partway, on the highway). Do you like woodsmoke and savory noshing and vast skies and cottonball-puffy clouds and the Sierra in the distance? Then you best 395-fy your life this instant, and clip-clop for Copper Top.