Old School Drive-In Burgers
So how are your New Year resolutions holding up? If you’re like most of us, you’ve already given up on the vegan, low-carb, gluten-free diet. If not, you’re probably dreaming about tucking-in to a nice juicy burger right about now. While there’s no shortage of fast food, upscale and retro-themed burger-joints to satisfy your cravings, if you can find an old-school drive in, that’s been around for decades, you’re in for a real treat. Here are a few restaurants that are keeping that mid-century Americana vibe going.
Scoopers – Sparks, Nevada
This old fashioned drive-in first opened an an A&W back in the 1960’s. When the owner retired, Mike Richards bought the location and turned it into Scoopers Drive-In in 1980. Now over 40 years later, Scoopers is still run by the same family, and they’ve even expanded to a second location.
But the original, at 1356 Prater Way in Sparks, has become a local institution. Just down the street from Sparks High School, generations of students have grown up dining at this beloved restaurant. For many, their signature burgers keep them coming back. The Matterhorn, Sgt. Cheddar and the Al Burger are all favorites. For hot dog lovers, the Mighty Mike has quite a following.
But, as the name implies, Scoopers is famous for its frozen treats. Cones, floats, sundaes and banana splits are all popular menu items, but their milkshakes bring all the boys to the yard. With 55 flavors, you can try a new one every week for a year, and still not have tried them all.
They still have the old-style menu board / ordering stations, but you’ll have to walk up to the window to order. Don’t be surprised if you have to stand in line for a while, it is a popular place and well worth the wait. If you want to eat in your vehicle, a car hop will deliver your meal. They also have a small dining room as well as outdoor tables for an al-fresco experience.
Sno-Flake Drive In – South Lake Tahoe
If you’ve driven by this location, on Lake Tahoe Blvd, you may have noticed their old-fashioned neon sign. Maybe you noticed the line of people waiting to order. If you’ve never eaten here, you’re missing out.
This South Lake landmark first opened up in 1961. Even though the ownership has changed hands, the original menu is still served. The current owner grew up eating ice cream cones from the Sno-Flake. He purchased the restaurant in 2018 and is keeping the tradition alive.
Popular year-round, this restaurant offers indoor and outdoor dining options, and a friendly atmosphere. So whether you’re hitting the slopes or the beaches, a visit to the Sno-Flake is worth the time.
Polka Dot – Quincy, California
For some reason, burgers always seem to taste better in the mountains. With its A-frame construction, this unique burger stand would look right at home at a ski resort. First opened in 1962, the Polka Dot has been serving the citizens of Plumas County for 60 years.
The menu doesn’t disappoint. Connoisseurs of American cuisine will find nearly every guilty pleasure. There are even vegan and vegetarian options to be had.
Perhaps one of the nicest features of the Polka Dot is their dining area. Their seating area has a park-like feel to it. There is even a small, babbling brook running through the area. So even if you’re just passing through town, a meal can seem like a camping trip, as you take a seat at one of the picnic tables.
Quincy is roughly halfway between Chico and Reno along highway 70. However, the Polka Dot is a nice destination for a scenic day trip. Many folks make the trip from Reno or the Sacramento Valley, just for the food.
The Polka Dot is open seasonally, usually opening in mid-February. So, if you haven’t broken your New Year Resolution yet, the Polka Dot is a good place to do it.
Big A Root Beer Drive In – Grass Valley, CA
Grass Valley is known for its fine eateries. If you’re going to flip burgers in this town, you better bring your A-game. Big A Drive In, in Grass Valley definitely fits in the gourmet category with their 1/3rd pound patties. With options like chipotle mayonnaise, pineapple and bleu cheese on the menu, this isn’t your average burger joint.
In addition to a nice line-up of specialty sandwiches, salads and ice cream desserts, they serve their own in-house root beer. Their homemade root beer is served up in a frosty mug and has a creamy texture that you won’t find in a bottle.
This Drive-In revival offers carhop service, a dining room as well as outdoor seating. Big A is a popular spot in Grass Valley, so phone your order in if you’re in a hurry. If not, it is a pleasant place to relax and have a good meal.
Gillman’s Classic Drive in – Oakdale, CA
When this place first opened in 1955, on the West F Street in Oakdale, Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World’s Series and Gillman’s sold hamburgers for 19¢. The Gillman family ran the restaurant for 60 years, until they sold it in 2015. The new owners are keeping the tradition alive.
The menu at Gillman’s is simple, offering everything you’d expect at a burger stand. Their London Broil hamburger patties are pressed daily. They offer a wide variety of milkshakes, making for the perfect meal before heading off to the Sock-Hop. To make things easier, they pay the sales tax, so the price you see is the price you pay.
Their “standard” burgers are ¼ lb, and come stacked with fresh ingredients. Oakdale celebrates its Cowboy heritage, so it’s only fitting that Gillman’s offers Ranch Burgers. These larger burgers, with their 1/3rd lb patties, will satisfy every cow-poke’s appetite.
Contrary to its name, Gillman’s Classic Drive In, isn’t a drive in, it’s a walk-up with plenty of outdoor seating. Of course, you can always sit in your car and watch for hot-rods cruisin’ up and down the main drag.
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