Seattle: Low Expectations, Extreme Value at Dick's Drive-In
111 NE 45th St., Seattle WA 98105 (map); 206-632-5125; 4 other locations listed at dicksdrivein.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: No-frills fast food-style burgers are satisfying and big on value, but aren't likely to win any awards
Want Fries with That? Absolutely not; save that cash for another burger
Prices: Hamburger, $1.20; Deluxe Burger, $2.50
Notes: No substitutions, cash-only
In the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is the king of local burger chains. Neither Portland nor Boise can boast half as many regional franchises, leaving the vast majority of cheap burger options up to those living on the crannied coasts of Puget Sound. The two titans in this Emerald City battle for fast food-style supremacy are Red Mill Burgers and Dick's Drive-In. Seattleites are notoriously opinionated about which side of the Dick's/Red Mill line you should fall, but we'll be reviewing both here on AHT, starting with Dick's.
The first Dick's appeared in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood in January of 1954. Much of the original structure remains today, with the large, revolving, kitschy "Drive-In Restaurant" sign in the corner of the parking lot beckoning to the hungry masses with a clear promise of the type of food served here. Prices may not exactly mirror the '50s-style architecture, but they're astoundingly inexpensive given today's woeful economic climate: $2.50 gets you the biggest burger on the menu.
That burger is the Dick's Deluxe. Two wafer-thin patties from the MacDonald Meat Co. are griddled until a lovely crust of salt envelopes the beef, then placed on a soft Franz Bakery bun and topped with shredded iceberg lettuce, mayo, mustard, chopped pickles, and gooey American cheese. The mustard comes through strongest of all, followed closely by the surprisingly sweet pickles. It's a nice pair of flavors. The whole affair is smashed flat like a McDonald's hamburger, making for one thoroughly non-photogenic sandwich, but it's definitely a (single) step up in overall quality.
For the true skinflint, Dick's offers the dirt-cheap hamburger for $1.20 and a simple cheeseburger for twenty cents more. At those prices, you can afford to fill an entire sack with burgers and go home with most of your wallet intact. Both are adorned with only a squirt of mustard and a squirt of ketchup, but chances are you won't complain. The burgers may have a tendency to underwhelm, but they are strangely satisfying, even if they're not going to put the closest Five Guys out of business anytime soon.
In a sharp departure from most burger joints of this ilk, Dick's Drive-In hand-cuts its own fries. Unfortunately, they're limp, soggy, and taste like they've been sitting out for hours. Given that the locals lining up at the windows at all hours never seem to order the fries, it's a safe bet that you shouldn't either. Be smart and spend that hard-earned money on more burgers instead.
Dick's burgers are a stupendous value, but don't drive up expecting a life-changing experience. You won't get it. Instead, you'll get a gratifying, unchallenging burger that hits the spot and does so without draining your college fund. As a meat, cheese, and salt-delivery device, it succeeds marvelously.
About the author: Adam Lindsley is a Seattle-based novelist, musician, and the author of the pizza blog, This Is Pizza. As a contributor for both Slice and A Hamburger Today, he is contractually obligated to say he loves pizza and burgers in equal amounts. Which is to say he is a polygamist.