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Underground Lunchroom

727 Carlsbad Caverns Hwy, Carlsbad, New Mexico 88220 USA

  • Independent
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“eat 750 below the ground”

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to visit the dining area from one of Fallout's famous vaults, this retro-futuristic cafeteria sitting deep beneath New Mexico provides a pretty good idea of where we'd all be eating after a nuclear apocalypse. Built in the late 20's, Carlsbad Caverns' Underground Lunchroom was intended to put a new spin on the timeless tradition of overpriced theme park food, but with its stainless steel accents and booths inspired by super-villain lairs, it ended up being almost as popular an attraction as the caverns themselves. It's not a leap to think that visitors in the 50's imagined that their future dining might look quite a bit the same in a few decades. Historians believe that the Underground Lunchroom once served over a million lunches a year during its heyday, and vintage postcards show long lines of hungry patrons snaking through the caverns, eager to purchase boxed meals and cigars. In 1994, the lunchroom came under fire for altering the delicate geology of the underground caverns. By this point the ovens and the cigars were long gone, but it was argued that the food particles had been attracting exotic organisms that were displacing the original creatures that dwelled in the caves for millions of years. Despite the negative attention, the 700 seat cafeteria still remains in Carlsbad Caverns to this day, albeit in a more stripped down fashion. Visitors can still settle into a cold sandwich (sans Nuka Cola) at a lantern-lit table and imagine what life would be like underground. Hint: lots of canned meats.  -Roadtrippers Eat 750 feet below the ground. Carlsbad Caverns "Underground Lunchroom" is a controversial national treasure that has been shared by generations of visitors. If you’re like many of us, your parents bought you a box lunch here when you were 9 years old, and THEIR parents did the same for them. Jim White, the discoverer of Carlsbad Caverns, originally sold his self-published Jim White’s Own Story, in the Underground Lunchroom. He used his original guano bucket, the one in which he descended into the caverns, as a stand to hold his books.  Later, the Underground Lunchroom began selling meals and other souvenirs. In the 1950’s lunch counters were installed, and these historic counters are still preserved on one wall of the lunchroom, but they are rarely used. It is likely that the Underground Lunchroom has been used by at least 50 million people over several decades, though the exact number is impossible to know. In its hey-day it would serve over one million visitors a year. Historic photos show visitors lined up to buy box lunches, drinks, and even cigars. The problem, however, is that so many visitors (even those who don’t smoke cigars) and so many meals are drastically changing the cave eco-system.  It is still possible to eat in the Caverns to this day. Visitors can purchase a meal and eat at a personal lantern lit table. To protect the cave, food service is limited to sandwiches, salads, yogurt, parfaits, and other food that does not involve cooking in the caverns. The days of cooking in the caverns have given way to a greater sense of protecting the cave eco-system with less impactful foods. However, visitors can still also enjoy much needed warm drinks such as coffee or hot chocolate. Sweatshirts, t-shirts, and a small selection of other items are for sale, though underground selections are somewhat limited to protect the cave.  One of the most popular activities for visitors is to write and send postcards from underground. Yes, there is a mailbox in the caverns, and you can stamp your postcard "Mailed from 750 feet below ground."  Visitors may also have their photo taken in a photo booth that provides souvenir pictures and also allows guests to send "video emails" of themselves in the caverns to friends and family on the surface. The current Concessioner, Carlsbad Caverns Trading Company, is working with the National Park Service on a long-term plan to reduce its footprint and to remodel the facilities in a way that will further protect the Caverns. These new facilities will be designed to allow for food and gift sales while protecting the Caverns from additional damage. 

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Reviewed by
Greg Newkirk

  • Expert
  • 314 Reviews
  • 370 Helpful
August 29, 2014
Rated 3.0

This place is the coolest lunch room in America, and slightly endangered, so worth seeing in the event they finally decide to shut it down.

It has a really awesome retro-futuristic feel to it, one that kind of gives you the impression that everyone thought they'd be living underground after the nuclear apocalypse. If you've played the game Fallout 3, you'll know what I mean.

They don't have much a selection here anymore, thanks in part to the heat from the fryers changing the geology of the cave, so you're stuck with some so-so sandwiches and bottled drinks. You're paying mostly for the novelty of eating underground though, so take a lot of photos and you'll have a neat story to share.

2 people found this review helpful

Reviewed by

  • 95 Reviews
  • 11 Helpful
September 23, 2021
Rated 1.0

Not open until the afternoon

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Reviewed by
Anthony Arata

  • 125 Reviews
  • 17 Helpful
January 23, 2021
Rated 1.0

Nothing special. The caverns are AWESOME! This is just a fancy cafeteria.

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Reviewed by
Stephen Siegel

  • 1 Review
  • 0 Helpful
April 19, 2018
Rated 3.0

Definitely worth grabbing a sandwich at when you're down in the Caverns. No hot food available only pre-made sandwiches and salads.

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Reviewed by

  • 18 Reviews
  • 8 Helpful
October 12, 2016
Rated 3.0

Was nice to be in. But only food was stuff you could get a gas stations. No ones fault at that you need to preserve the cave. My recommendation go upstairs and eat or eat before going down into the cave at the lunchroom up top.

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Reviewed by

  • Road Warrior
  • 35 Reviews
  • 10 Helpful
September 19, 2016
Rated 4.0

Retro lunchroom?! Underground?!
You HAVE to come on down to see this. There may not be the greatest of food offerings, but if you send a postcard, they'll stamp it with a "Mailed from 750 feet below ground" stamp! Worth it.

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Reviewed by

  • 50 Reviews
  • 7 Helpful
June 05, 2016
Rated 3.0

It is very retro! I felt like I was in a "Men in Black" movie.

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Underground Lunchroom

727 Carlsbad Caverns Hwy
Carlsbad, New Mexico
88220 USA

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  • Pets Allowed
  • Restrooms
  • Wifi
  • Wheelchair Accessible
  • Credit Cards Accepted
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