Dicks Deluxe: Seattles truest culinary equalizer.
Dick's Deluxe: Seattle's truest culinary equalizer. Tobias Coughlin-Bogue

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Dick’s Drive-In’s Deluxe hamburger is one of the most quintessential Seattle food items. Anyone who has waited in line at the Dick's on Broadway at 1:47 a.m. can attest to this. This brightly lit bastion of late-night grease and convenience brings together the disparate social factions of Seattle in a way that few other places can. It is the city's truest culinary equalizer. Not to mention a damn good hamburger for $2.90.

The tavern burger ($4) at Loretta’s Northwesterner in South Park has everything I’ve always loved about the Dick’s Deluxe, but with better pickles and without iceberg lettuce (which, as Angela Garbes notes, should really only be eaten slathered in blue cheese and sprinkled with bacon). In fact, my friend tried to start a rumor that Loretta’s burger was inspired by Dick’s Deluxe.

Not so, according to Steve Timlin, manager of Loretta’s and creator of the tavern burger. Timlin said his inspiration came from another drive-through chain: “It was no so much modeled after Dick’s as what I envision the original McDonald’s cheeseburger was like,” he said.

Timlin was, however, willing to admit the two burgers’ close resemblance. “The way we put it on the menu now is we put [that] the tavern burger is a ‘drive-in style burger,’ instead of saying it’s like Dick’s. Because it’s bigger, it’s better, it’s ground chuck, and it’s got our special sauce. I don’t think they have special sauce.”

They do, actually. It’s a blend of “proprietary mayonnaise mixed with proprietary old-fashioned relish,” according to Jasmine Donovan, director of communications for Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants. And they use chuck, although a different blend of it.

While the burgers may not be exactly the same, they are pretty close cousins. Between those fluffy Franz rolls, one can find nearly the same ingredients in nearly the same configuration. The tavern burger has a bottom layer of special sauce, chopped white onions, and two crinkle-cut pickles, and is topped by a charbroiled patty with melted American cheese. The Deluxe has a base layer of that “proprietary” mix (relish instead of pickles, regrettably), plus lettuce, two griddled patties, and melted American cheese on top. (Although it’s worth noting that the Deluxe has two eighth-pound patties, or a quarter-pound's worth, as opposed to the tavern burger’s single fifth-pound patty.)

Lorettas tavern burger: Nearly the same components as Dicks Deluxe, but gastronomically in another category.
Loretta's tavern burger: Nearly the same components as Dick's Deluxe, but gastronomically in another category. Tobias Coughlin-Bogue

Gastronomically speaking, it’s another story. The tavern burger—listed as a favorite by such Seattle heavyweights as Tom Douglas and Matt Dillon—blows the Deluxe out of the water every time. Although, to be fair to good old Dick Spady, the burger he created back in 1954 has stood the test of both time and mass production remarkably well. But, just as in winemaking, smaller batches produce better product. The tavern burger is clearly the work of an artisan.

Another similarity between the two restaurants: the menu gradations. At Dick’s, you start with the basic burger and can move all the way up to the Deluxe. At Loretta’s, the tavern burger is your baseline and you make your way up to ... the Deluxe. But Timlin assured me that this was, in fact, purely incidental. To him, “deluxe” means something very different from Dick’s version: “restaurant style” (fresh lettuce, onion, tomato, and other assorted fixings). And the inspiration for the name came from a 1930s photograph of the building that Loretta’s now occupies. In it, a sign proudly advertises “Lady Lou’s cheeseburgers deluxe and ice cream.” Thus, calling their upgraded burger the “Deluxe” was a “slam dunk,” said Timlin.

Which burger do you like better? I wholeheartedly recommend you try both if you haven’t already. Just remember, elastic waistbands are your friend.