Drive-In Restaurant
ehughes/istockphoto

30 Classic Drive-In Restaurants Serving Customers During the Pandemic

View Slideshow
Drive-In Restaurant
ehughes/istockphoto

Meals on Wheels

There's nothing like a drive-in to conjure memories of a simpler time, when less than a buck could buy you a juicy burger and fries. Like a lot of the nation's drive-in theaters, many drive-in restaurants have closed down over the years, even before the coronavirus pandemic. But others have stubbornly stuck around, serving up a heaping helping of nostalgia alongside the chili dogs and root beer floats. And some restaurants now see restrictions on sit-down dining as a reason to revive their drive-in offerings. Here are 30 of the best drive-in spots across the country still serving even if they're currently limited to curbside and takeout.

Related: 20 Fast Food Restaurants Then and Now

Ardy & Ed's, Oshkosh, WI
Michaela L./Yelp

Ardy & Ed's | Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Roller-skating waitresses whisk orders to your car as retro tunes play at this Oshkosh institution, which opened as an A&W in 1948. In fact, it's such a beloved community staple that a brief closing in 2018 caused by a staff shortage inspired hand-wringing on the local news.

What to order: The old-fashioned homemade root beer with a Drive-In Double — that's a burger-bratwurst hybrid with cheese served on a toasted steak roll.

Rainbow Drive-In, Honolulu, HI
Tiffany A./Yelp

Rainbow Drive-In | Honolulu, Hawaii

In notoriously pricey Hawaii, Rainbow Drive-In is one of the best-known spots for tasty, humble fare at a reasonable price. This local favorite sold 50-cent chili dogs when it opened in 1961, and today it's best known for hearty plate lunches of fish, pork, and other staples served up with rice and macaroni salad or coleslaw.

What to order: Try the loco moco, a stalwart on the Rainbow's menu. You'll get rice topped with a hamburger patty, an egg and plenty of indulgent gravy.

Sycamore Drive-In, Bethel, CT
Ivanka B./Yelp

Sycamore Drive-In | Bethel, Connecticut

For 70 years, Sycamore has been slinging burgers, franks and other classics for hungry Connecticut patrons. Unlike a lot of drive-ins, it also has indoor seating and a huge menu that includes breakfast dishes and salads. For a true retro vibe, go on Saturdays for the Summer Cruise Nights, which bring out shiny classic cars with fuzzy dice hanging from the mirrors.

What to order: The French-style Dagwood, billed as "the final answer to the burger." That's 5 ounces of ground steak topped with American cheese, mustard, ketchup, tomato, lettuce, and mayo. Wash it down with some homemade root beer.

Bar-B-Q King, Charlotte, NC
James S./Yelp

Bar-B-Q-King | Charlotte, North Carolina

Just follow the red arrow on the old-school neon sign to this modest drive-in, a Charlotte staple since 1959. Featured on the Food Network, it serves up classic southern comfort food that arrives on paper plates and in Styrofoam containers.

What to order: It's hard to go wrong with the hush puppies and namesake "bar-b-q" chicken, which is fried and tossed in the restaurant's special sauce.

Keller's, Dallas, TX
Amy D./Yelp

Keller's | Dallas

Proclaimed a "national burger treasure" by Thrillist, Keller's has been a modest spot for Texans to grab a cheap burger and cold beer — yes, real beer, no "root" about it — for more than 50 years. The rusty carports are your first clue that not much has changed in that time, but the still modest prices will make you grateful for that.

What to order: A No. 5 special — that's a burger with double meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and special dressing that comes on a griddled poppy-seed bun.

Ray's Drive-In, Everett, WA
©TripAdvisor

Ray's Drive-In | Everett, Washington

This family-run joint serving burgers, fish, and shakes since 1962 has been a longtime contender for best greasy spoon in the Seattle area. Devotees say everything has tasted the same since the place opened, and they mean that as a compliment, of course.

What to order: Though Ray's makes a tasty burger (the juicy Ray's burger is a mainstay), the fish and chips, made with Alaskan cod and hand-cut fries, also come highly recommended.

Superdawg, Chicago, IL
Anna C./Yelp

Superdawg | Chicago

It's hard to miss Superdawg: If you don't spot the smiling 12-foot anthropomorphic hot dogs on the roof, you'll be drawn in by all the neon lights. This flashy old-school spot has been around since 1948.

What to order: The namesake Superdawg, of course. It's an all-beef hot dog on a poppy-seed bun, served with mustard, piccalilli, a dill pickle, chopped onions, and a hot pepper. It comes with crinkle-cut fries, served in a box to keep 'em hot and crispy.

Dari-ette Drive-In, Saint Paul, MN
Ann B./Yelp

Dari-Ette Drive-In | St. Paul, Minnesota

The green, white and red stripes adorning the Dari-ette Drive-in, open since 1951, should be your first clue that something is a little different here. Yes, you can get the requisite burger, fries, and milkshakes, but Italian specialties like pasta and meatballs are the real mainstays. You can even order spaghetti sauce by the gallon — mamma mia, indeed.

What to order: The biggest seller is the Italiano, which is homemade sausage, mozzarella, and a mysterious special sauce on Italian bread. The meatballs, served on a sandwich or over pasta, inspire raves, too.

The Varsity Atlanta
Jennifer H./Yelp

The Varsity | Atlanta

Retro burger joints are usually humble little places, but not The Varsity, which bills itself as the world's largest drive-in. What began as a six-stool counter with a walk-up window in 1928 ballooned into a sprawling two-block complex that could accommodate 800 diners inside, plus whoever pulls up hungry in the 600-car, multi-level carpark.

What to order: The chili dog is an Atlanta institution. Chase it with a Frosted Orange, a milkshake made with vanilla ice cream and The Varsity's homemade orange drink.

King Tut Drive-In, Beckley, WV
©TripAdvisor

King Tut Drive-In | Beckley, West Virginia

Family-owned King Tut still has a retro feel, from the neon sign beckoning hungry passersby to the menu filled with staples like burgers and hot dogs and throwbacks like chicken liver and Swiss steak. It prides itself on homemade breads, buns, and pies, all made on site with decades-old recipes.

What to order: Definitely splurge on a slice of pie, fans say. One TripAdvisor reviewer says the chocolate cream pie is "possibly the chocolate pie they would have had at the last supper."

The Parkette
Joe Y./Yelp

The Parkette | Lexington, Kentucky

The Parkette's enormous 40-foot neon sign still shines like it did all the way back in the '50s, and carhops are still scurrying to bring orders to the drive-in's 75 car bays. Though a recent renovation brought some new technology to this old gem (you can pay using your credit card without leaving your car now) other work was performed with an eye toward preserving the nostalgic feel.

What to order: The fried chicken, cooked in pork lard, captured Guy Fieri's taste buds on "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives." There's also the uber-popular Poor Boy burger, a holdover from the '50s made with two beef patties, cheese, onion, pickle, tomato, mustard, and special sauce on a double-decker bun.

Beacon Drive-In, Spartanburg, SC
©TripAdvisor

Beacon Drive-In | Spartanburg, South Carolina

Succumb to the siren song of the Beacon's lighthouse sign, and you're in for a treat, especially if you like tea. This landmark, said to be the country's second-largest drive-in, has been around since 1946. It also claims to have sold more tea (sweet, of course, served up with shaved ice and a splash of lemon) than any other single restaurant in the nation.

What to order: Grab a gut-busting Outside-A-Plenty plate: That's a chopped pork sandwich served with a heaping serving of both fries and onion rings. Finish it off with some peach cobbler, and don't forget the tea, of course.

The Root Beer Stand, Sharonville, OH
Steve H./Yelp

The Root Beer Stand | Sharonville, Ohio

If it's summer in Cincinnati, a trip or two to the Root Beer Stand is practically a requirement. Opened as an A&W in 1957, the now-independent drive-in still has a retro feel, and you can still buy their famous root beer by the gallon. But there are also a few new flourishes, like bar-top tables, cornhole, and even a play structure for energetic kiddos.

What to order: "Dare to eat the big one:" the footlong Timmy Dog. It comes smothered in chili, onions, hot sauce, cole slaw, mustard, ketchup, relish, sauerkraut, and cheddar.

Johnsen's Blue Top Drive-In, Highland, IN
©TripAdvisor

Johnsen's Blue Top Drive-In | Highland, Indiana

The Blue Top actually has roots dating to the '30s, when a more modest food stand across the street began serving grub to the drivers of Model Ts, who stopped to gas up at the Shell station. In the '60s, the zig-zag-roofed drive-in still in use today opened to great fanfare, with lines of cars backing up on the main road just to snag a spot. It remains a magnet for classic cars, welcoming local car clubs — including one based at the drive-in.

What to order: A Cruiser Burger is a half-pound of juicy beef topped with all the classic fixins' and a special "Hot Rod Sauce." Wash it down with some homemade root beer.

Mike's Drive-In, Milwaukie, OR
Michelle Pearl G./Yelp

Mike's Drive-In | Milwaukie, Oregon

This longtime Portland-area favorite, opened in 1971, plays a big role in the surrounding community, co-sponsoring an annual town-wide cruise-in and holding frequent fundraisers for local organizations. Longtime patrons say everything is always fresh and tasty here (call ahead if you want something quick — good food takes time, after all) but the soft-serve milkshakes in a ton of flavors are the real claim to fame.

What to order: Wash down your halibut fish and chips with a seasonal wild huckleberry milkshake, a true Oregon classic.

Bob's Big Boy, Burbank, CA
Kyle J./Yelp

Bob's Big Boy | Burbank, California

Yes, it's part of the Big Boy chain, but Bob's Big Boy near L.A. is worth a special trip for any drive-in devotee. Built in 1949, it might be the most architecturally impressive drive-in anywhere, with a massive 70-foot neon sign, big windows, tons of angles, and a definite mid-century feel. Classic cars pack the lot on Friday nights, and carhop service is still available.

What to order: Do you even have to ask? Get the Original Big Boy — a double-decker burger with lettuce, cheese, mayo, and the chain's special sauce. The iconic hot-fudge cake awaits for dessert.

Don's Drive-In, Traverse City, MI
RunAway B./Yelp

Don's Drive-In | Traverse City, Michigan

Don's Drive-In, occupying an enviable spot with a view of gorgeous Grand Traverse Bay, is proud to be a Pepto-pink time warp from 1958. Inside, shiny red booths and chrome-rimmed tables welcome diners; outside, summer carhops bring classic food to drivers who order from call boxes. Just look for the neon sign, a local landmark.

What to order: Wash down some sliders with a cherry milkshake made not from syrup but real fruit, a nod to one of the most famous local exports.

Doumar's Barbecue, Norfolk, VA
E. M./Yelp

Doumar's Barbecue | Norfolk, Virginia

It just doesn't get any more old school than Doumar's, which began as an ice cream stand in the early 1900s that churned out the world's first waffle cones. The current location dates to 1934, and today you'll find both the famous ice cream and a full menu of comfort food, plenty of barbecue, and other roadside classics included, ready for your curbside indulgences.

What to order: The minced pork barbeque sandwiches with slaw remain a bestseller. And leave room for ice cream, served up on a cone made by the world's very first waffle-cone machine.

Fat Boy Drive-In, Brunswick, ME
Sheila D./Yelp

Fat Boy Drive-In | Brunswick, Maine

It's "lights on for service" at Fat Boy, a Maine classic since 1955. For a true taste of nostalgia, come during the restaurant's annual summer sock hop to enjoy retro music, classic cars, dancing, and even some 1960s prices on certain menu items. 

What to order: It's Maine, so you need to at least think about trying the lobster roll; same goes for the blueberry frappe. The BLT, made with Canadian bacon, is also popular.

Red Rabbit Drive-In, Duncannon, PA
Mary M./Yelp

Red Rabbit Drive-In | Duncannon, Pennsylvania

You can still "make Red Rabbit a habit" at this modest little roadside gem that's been open since 1964. Currently service is limited to takeout. But be prepared to wait a bit — the food is always made to order.

What to order: The specialty of the house is the Bunny Burger, served with smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, and special sauce. Request a poppy-seed roll (it's extra, but worth it, reviewers say). On the side, you'll want French fries with the mysterious and addictive Bunny Dust seasoning.

Dog House, Albuquerque, NM
Ivan T./Yelp
Rudy's, La Crosse, WI
Linh N./Yelp

Rudy's | La Crosse, Wisconsin

This is the place to show off your shiny hot rod. Rudy's, which bills itself as the Midwest's largest drive-in, hosts frequent cruise nights throughout the summer and will even give you a free root beer float for showing off your wheels. The waitresses speed your meal to you in roller skates and poodle skirts.

What to order: In a nod to local tastes, a side of cheese curds for your burger or chili dog is a must. The root beer also earns raves, and Rudy's is one of the few spots you can find a Dole Whip outside of Disney.

Falafel's Drive-In, San Jose, CA
Truc T./Yelp

Falafel's Drive-In | San Jose, California

Back in the '60s, founder Anton Nijmeh drew in his customers with burgers, then gradually started introducing Middle Eastern favorites like falafel and tabbouleh. "Try it, you'll like it," he implored diners — and they did. Today, much-loved Falafel's might be the only drive-in in the country slinging both burgers and baba ghanoush, and locals wouldn't have it any other way.

What to order: Falafel, of course. It's some of the best you can get anywhere, TripAdvisor reviewers say. They also recommend one of the fresh banana shakes.

Wayne's Drive Inn, Lawton, OK
Carmen Valls B./Yelp

Wayne's Drive-Inn | Lawton, Oklahoma

Neon green lights beckon drivers to busy Wayne's Drive Inn (yep, the extra "n" is part of the name), around since the '50s to fulfill all of your comfort-food cravings. The wide-ranging menu offers a little something for everyone, from burgers and dogs to salads, pizzas, and even breakfast sandwiches.

What to order: Tired of the usual? Sink your teeth into some steak fingers, onion rings, fries, and garlic toast. Wash it down with a cherry limeade.

Mac's Steak in the Rough, Albuquerque, NM
Kathereene C./Yelp

Mac's Steak in the Rough | Albuquerque, New Mexico

Roll up under the spacious red and white awnings at recently renovated Mac's if you're feeling carnivorous: As the name suggests, one of the house specialties is the deep-fried steak fingers. Burgers, gravy, and cheese fries smothered in green chile offer a nod to New Mexican cuisine.

What to order: If steak sounds too heavy, the Taquita Tusum consists of two rolled tacos served with guacamole salad and hot sauce.

Ed Walker's, Fort Smith, AR
David Y./Yelp

Ed Walker's | Fort Smith, Arkansas

Arkansas' one and only spot for curbside beer service, Ed Walker's began as a gas station with a hamburger stand in the '40s. Today, there's currently no dining inside the perfectly retro checkered-floor café, but customers can simply flash their car's lights for drive-in service. The large menu includes weekday blue-plate specials of Southern classics like chicken fried steak and meatloaf.

What to order: The "world famous" French dip is a house specialty, but if you're in the mood to go big, see if you can down the 5-pound Hubcap Burger — a mere $32.

Westside Drive-In, Boise, ID
Heath C./Yelp

Westside Drive-In | Boise, Idaho

Drive-ins don't often attract classically trained chefs, but Westside has had one since the early '90s. The result? Dishes you don't often see on a drive-in menu, including beef stroganoff, prime rib, house-baked focaccia, and kale salads. Of course, they happily co-exist along with all the classics — hot dogs, burgers, melts, fries, and shakes.

What to order: The prime rib dinners include soup or salad, a baked potato, and a roll for $25. And don't miss the Ice Cream Potato: ice cream rolled in cocoa powder with whipped cream standing in for sour cream on top.

Sam's Drive-In, Byron, IL
Mark D./Yelp

Sam's Drive-In | Byron, Illinois

A 1957 Chevy Bel Air on 30-foot posts out front sets the scene at Sam's, a red-canopied, family-owned throwback that hosts frequent cruise-ins. The root beer is available to take home by the gallon, and Grandma's cole slaw is sold by pints and quarts.

What to order: The Tex Burger is two beef patties, cheese, Coney sauce, another special sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles. But save room for the soft-serve ice cream, which can be flavored in more than a dozen different ways.

Mug-n-Bun Tenderloin
Karen P./Yelp

Mug-n-Bun | Indianapolis

Mere blocks away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is another local landmark in the Hoosier capital. Mug-n-Bun has a history dating back to 1960. While the pandemic has brought some changes to service this year — carhops wear masks and trays aren't attached to windows — customers still find a wide array of menu items ranging from footlong hotdogs and oyster dinners to pizza.

What to order: Mug-n-Bun's hefty tenderloin sandwiches top the menu literally and are tops in the heart of many customers. What's more, breaded or grilled, they go for a retro price of under $5. Homemade root beer is available for take home in full and half gallons.

Mel's Drive-In
Mel's Drive-In/Yelp

Mel's Drive-In | Los Angeles and San Francisco

What better drive-in to end this list than with a restaurant with ties to the classic '50s nostalgia movie "American Graffiti"? For Mel's, like other drive-ins, the pandemic was both a challenge and an opportunity. With indoor dining off-limits, the small chain decided to bring back carhop service.

What to order: Unsurprisingly, Mel's milkshakes, a retro favorite, come in for much praise along with their Reubens on marbled rye and their sourdough BLTs. The menu has also evolved and now features items that bobby socks kids of the '50s probably wouldn't recognize like sweet potato fries and quinoa salad.