Great Roadside Burger Joints
Looking for a burger, fries and a shake? Why not stop at one of the surviving classic drive-ins around Washington. These establishments have a character all their own rooted in the communities that they’ve served for decades.
Along the streets in small towns around Washington, the smell of burgers and fries waft through the air. We instinctively turn toward the unique architecture, neon signs and the promise of a juicy burger, fries and a cool drink at a classic American burger joint. These drive-ins were once in nearly every town, becoming closely associated with their communities.
Today, only a few of the original drive-ins remain around the Pacific Northwest. Some have changed slightly to adapt with the times, but all remain true to the culture that creates nostalgia of days since passed. Some still have car hops and others have an order window reached on foot or by car, but each makes a good road trip great. These classic drive-ins are worth the detour while hitting the roads around the Pacific Northwest.
Seattle and Up North
Along the Interstate 5 corridor, Washington’s population has ballooned, bringing with it the same fast-food chains found along every major highway in America. A few classic drive-ins have survived, though, becoming iconic not just in their towns but far beyond. Dick’s is one of them.
Since 1954, Dick’s has been delighting burger enthusiasts young and old with their streamlined menu of burgers, fires, shakes, ice cream sundaes, root beer floats and soda. The original Dick’s in Wallingford is the store that started it all, distinctively spotted by the red “Dicks” sign resting atop the flat roof.
The efficient kitchen is revealed behind big glass windows that light up at night, bringing in hungry hordes. The menu is positioned high up on billboards behind the glass for all to peruse before ordering.
In Ferndale, Grant’s Burgers has been operating since 1964 and is home to the half pound “Big Bun” burger and hand-dipped shakes made with hard ice cream from a nearby dairy. There is a small order window where you can see your food prepared fresh to order. With the smell of fries and onion rings wafting toward the patio dining space, it is little wonder why this spot is popular. Russ Grant passed away in 2009, but his legacy lives on today in Ferndale and three other locations.
South of Seattle
Dick’s may get the fame, but Olympia gets the glory for having one of the oldest operating drive-ins in Washington state. First opened in 1948 as In Out Hamburgers, Eastside Big Tom has been a cornerstone for delicious fries, shakes and burgers for generations.
“Big Tom” himself may be the first thing you see from the road — the sign of a beefy young man in checkered pants holding a burger overhead. On another side of the drive-in is a huge dinosaur display, paying homage to the kooky attractions that were found at drive-ins of the past.
In Fife, Pick-Quick Drive-In has been a local haunt for burgers, hot dogs and milk shakes since 1949 — and you don’t get a sense that it has changed much.
Customers line up behind a small, covered drive-up order window, and the distinctive arrow-and-circle roof sign lures drivers off the street advertising “ice cream” and “burgers.” The place looks like a modernist 50s-era service station with exterior fluorescent tube lights, teal roof-trim and pillars.
Also seemingly untouched by time is Al’s Humdinger in Hoquiam. A “Hum-Dinger” sign stands above the Royal blue-and-white trimmed building on Highway 101. There is almost always a line at the order window because the place has earned a reputation as a must-stop for burgers, fries and drink when heading to the coast or Olympic Peninsula.
To the west, The Grizzly Den is another classic burger joint right across from Hoquiam High School. This spot has indoor-and-outdoor dining and has been the go-to spot for students and alumni for generations.
Near Mountain Passes
After a day driving and adventuring in the Cascades, the drive-ins on the mountain passes continue to embrace the history and ambiance of classic burger spots.
Since 1968, Zeke’s on Highway 2 has been a standout for those heading over the pass. Zeke’s celebrates the history of Stevens Pass by showing off the area’s railroad history with its railroad signage and an old caboose next door.
Zeke’s offers the standard burgers and fries, but also Elk burgers, hand-dipped onion rings and a real rhubarb milkshake. Rusty’s Drive-In in Cashmere has also been serving up great burgers for decades on the opposite side of the mountains, helping to entice people to spend time in the town already know for the landmark Aplets and Cotlets.
There are two classic drive-ins in Cle Elum that are worth the stop. Both the Red Arrow and Twin Pines shouldn’t be missed, as they have been around since the 1950s. Delighting all who stop with the deliciousness of their meals, the signage and occasional classic car out front provide a great retro vibe.
Columbia River Basin
One of the oldest burger joints in the region is Miner’s Drive-In Restaurant in Yakima, which has been in business since 1948. Miner’s has ample space inside for in-restaurant dining, although it still maintains a busy drive-through with picnic tables outside.
An expansive menu includes super-thick shakes, mountainous fries, salads, fish and chips and other fried delicacies. Miner’s claim to fame, however, remains its huge “Big Miner,” which comes with a big beef patty, cheese, pickles, sweet onions, lettuce and sauce under a bun. Come hungry because the portions here are large.
Also in the conversation for oldest drive-in still in operation in Washington is the Teepee Drive-In located in Grand Coulee.
What started as a visitor center for the area in 1936, the Teepee reputedly began selling hot dogs in 1937 and expanded to burgers sometime in the 1940s, says owner Jessee Nickerson. He says the restaurant was a hit with dam employees, who could grab a bite to eat and also cash their paychecks. The restaurant hasn’t changed much, with its Coca-Cola and neon-arrow signs, and a teepee atop the roof.
When in the area, also don’t miss Billy Burgers in the remote town of Wilbur, Woody’s Drive-In in Moses Lake and Humdinger Drive-In in Wallace. Each serve up nostalgia on a plate.
No doubt we have failed to mention some local favorites. There’s no bad time to step back in time at a classic drive-in.
We asked readers for their favorite burger joints, and we received a good number of recommendations. Check out the following list (grouped by location) and find a place to visit, or revisit on your next dining adventure.
Near or North of Seattle
Pilchuck Drive In, Snohomish: “Excellent burgers!”
Ray’s Drive-In, North Everett: “Celebrating 60 years, great burgers and fish and chips”
Boomer’s Drive-In, Bellingham: “Still offers car hop service and has waffle fries”
Fat Smitty’s, Port Townsend: “Located at the head of Discovery Bay. Awesome. Patriotic. Many, many (dollars) raised for veterans.”
Triple XXX Rootbeer Drive-In, Issaquah
Frisco Freeze, Tacoma
Bill & Bea’s Drive In, Centralia: “Great burgers and a wide range of other menu items.”
Top Burger Drive In, Camas: “This drive in has been in this location for over 70 years, maybe longer. It has great food, ice cream desserts, etc.”
Central and Eastern Washington
Rossow’s U-Tote-Em/Campus U-Tote-Em, Ellensburg: “Great burgers and awesome French fries”
Red Horse Diner, Ellensburg: “Great burgers and the best onion rings.”
Mountain High Hamburgers, Easton
Squirrel Tree, Leavenworth
Lakeview Drive In, Chelan
Dusty’s In-N-Out, Wenatchee
You don’t see your favorite drive-in restaurant here? Email us at email@example.com
–Written by Douglas Scott
–Top photo from Facebook