IT IS A TRULY American epiphany, the discovery of the Holy Trinity: cheeseburger, fries, and a shake. The formative moment occurs at your local burger shack--you know the one: the grease-saturated concrete, the employees in their boat-shaped paper hats. No other burger tastes the same once the palate absorbs and forms to your hometown's particular blend of pickles and special sauce, maintaining the superiority of the home burger shack to all subsequent burger shack encounters. That well-lubricated, womb-like hut evokes warm feelings. As an eight-year-old friend explained, "You get to eat in the car."

James Beard declares bifteck hambourgeoise's origins to be German, and has a lot of nice ideas about mixing it up with cognac, fried eggs, and anchovy fillets. Fanny Farmer notes that hamburger meat should be home-ground, handled lightly, and at least 20 percent fat. Sassy Irma Rombauer dedicates an essay-length tirade on the great American pastime in The Joy of Cooking, admonishing the rigid, narrow tastes of kids: "The dispensing and downing of these meat patties is so nearly universal that it is worth considering for a moment from just what beef the commercial variety is built. So all-embracing did some butchers find the term 'hamburger' that the law saw fit to define any beef sold under this term as at least 70% meat, 30% fat."

When the hamburger revolution happened in the 1950s, though, it wasn't all about the taste or affordability of burgers, it was about place. Burger drive-ins were a place to eat, sure, but they were more a place to just be, to be seen. Talking about my parents' lifelong obsession with burgers, my dad mused about how the hamburger-on-the-go represented youth culture. "Everything was in your car. All you did was cruise around, stop for a burger, hang out. Old people ate hamburgers in diners. Drive-up burger joints were cool and young. I remember cruising downtown Wenatchee. They have the best main drag, huge plate-glass window after window in front of the shops. You'd just drive real slow, checking out your reflection in the windows as much as you were checking out other people in their cars. That's all tied up with burger joints--being young, looking good and feeling it."

As a child of serious burger junkies, I rebelled. Ordered the fish sandwich. Asked for burgers without special sauce, only ketchup. Declared vegetarianism. All the wasted years! All the uneaten cheeseburgers, shriveled inside their wax-paper wrappings! Now that I have accepted things like my parents burping out the alphabet to each other in the car on the way back from Herfy's as being something rather sweet and wonderful, I can appreciate their diligence and zeal in their quest for burgers. While they may not have the lowest cholesterol counts, my parents have an innocent love of the burger and its generator, the burger shack. When they reminisce about their lives, burger huts are included not just as landmarks, but as events themselves. In fact, this collection of burger huts can be used as a timeline, mapping their movement across the state.

Unfortunately, far too many of these first-love burger shacks no longer exist, having been squished between the large buttocks of the golden arches. You know what you must do.

Zesto's Burger & Fish House

At a former location in Rainier Beach, my father received a free ice-cream cone in return for a victorious Little League game. That was all he ever ate there, but it was good. And free.

Burgermaster Drive-In

Toots and Pops used to drag race along Bellevue Way, back when it featured a Dick's Drive-In and was way out where cops were scarce. Burgermaster is all that remains, and it is still so packed on Saturday nights that it's easy

to hit another car while attempting to park in the car-hop section, a feat I performed when I was 16 and driving my parents' "Jesus Machine" dove-and-fish- and rainbow-stickered car.

Dick's Drive-In

Words cannot describe. Hint: The Queen Anne location features indoor seating, which is nice for a fancier date-type evening.


So, my mom went away to college and dated this redneck in spite of the fact that my dad continually beat him up. She said they hung out at Dusty's, but he wouldn't let her eat. Out of this same concern for her figure, he let her pay for his food, too. Thirty years later this dude calls up, recently divorced, and asks her out, including vital bits of information about himself such as how much weight he's lost and his abundance of hair. My mom told him that she'd pray for him.

Miner's Drive-In

Occasionally my parents go for a road trip--just drive and drive, stopping for burgers. They find a nice spot to park, then look out the windshield, sometimes holding hands.

If you eat inside, Miner's throbs with crowds of people, their faces obscured by the pizza-sized burgers they hold before themselves in wonder and awe. Most people employ expansive hand gestures when describing Miner's product, bulging their eyes a bit toward the end of the description.

Dick's Hamburgers

Dick's (east), not to be confused with Dick's Drive-In (west), is a burger aficionado's destination point. That's all my parents remember about Spokane.

Mountain High Burger Co.

After getting hitched and then procreating, my parents would spend their evenings cruising around, a load of rugrats in the back. They found this place near the plating shop my dad worked in.

Frisko Freeze

In order to receive a free ice-cream cone for FF's grand opening in the 1950s, several Tacoma youths cut out of first grade and walked two miles, only to wait in line behind a bunch of college kids who kept changing their outfits and getting back in line for more. Sister Alma caught the first-graders, sticky-handed, sneaking back an hour late, and showed them how a ruler ain't just for measuring.

Eagan's Big Tom's Drive-In

Terrible, terrible events have occurred in our state's capital this year, including the profanity emblazoned on the old Olympia Brewery. Some corporate hooligans Scotch-taped up a ridiculous Miller sign. Big Tom's remains firmly entrenched in its octagonal hut, doling out saturated fats with a reassuring brusqueness.


Zesto's Burger & Fish House
6416 15th NW, Ballard, 783-3350
Daily 10 am-9 pm

Burgermaster Drive-In
10606 Northup Way, Bellevue, 425-827-9566
9749 Holman Road NW, Seattle, 784-2360
3042 NE 45th, Seattle, 525-7100
9820 Aurora N, Seattle, 522-2044
Daily 11 am-1 am

Dick's Drive-In
various locations

1427 N Wenatchee Ave, Wenatchee
Sun-Thurs 10 am-10 pm
Fri-Sat 10 am-11 pm

Miner's Drive-In
2415 S First St, Yakima
Sun-Thurs 8:45 am-3 am
Fri-Sat 8:45 am-4 am

Dick's Hamburgers
E 10 Third Ave, Spokane
10 am-1 am

Mountain High Burger Co.
1605 W Meeker, Kent
Mon-Sat 11 am-8:30 pm

Frisko Freeze
1201 Division Ave, Tacoma
Mon-Fri 10 am-11 pm
Sat-Sun 10 am-1 am

Eagan's Big Tom's Drive-In
2023 Fourth Ave, Olympia
Mon-Sat 10:30 am-8 pm
Sun 11:30 am-6 pm


Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer: Jan 13-Feb 14 at Bagley Wright Theatre
Part theater, part revival, and all power, this one-woman show will have your head nodding and hands clapping!