12 Classic American Drive-In Restaurants to Visit

No lines, no tables, just trays piled high with burgers, fries, and ice cream.

One of the hottest restaurants in Philadelphia is not in Philadelphia at all, but rather across the Delaware River, in the part of New Jersey that mostly exists to serve the needs of the big city back over the Ben Franklin Bridge.

The trip to Weber's Drive-In is not far, just 10 minutes or so from the Independence Mall in good traffic, transporting you in no time to the very different world of Pennsauken Township, one of those suburban in-betweens that, in their time, were exactly the sort of place you'd expect to find a good drive up restaurant.

Swensons Drive-In
Courtesy of Swensons Drive-In

Times have changed, tastes have changed, but Weber's, a nearly standalone relic of a national chain with roots in Oklahoma, persists. The destination is famous for creamy homemade root beers, made even more divine, particularly on a hot August afternoon, with the addition of vanilla soft serve.

What exactly is a drive-in (or drive-up) restaurant, you may ask? There are entire segments of the country where the idea has all but disappeared, no doubt due to the proliferation of the drive-thru, which is a completely different beast altogether — more efficient, surely, but less fun.

Swensons Drive-In
Courtesy of Swensons Drive-In

A drive-in is essentially the lazy person's dining-in. It is going out but on your terms. You pull onto the lot, you flash your lights, a carhop comes running and takes your order, and you kick back and relax, letting it all come to you on a tray that can be fixed, rather cleverly, right to the windowsill. Voilà — fine dining, mid-century American style.

On the menu you'll find hot dogs, burgers, cheesesteaks, piles of onion rings, milkshakes, and plenty of French fries — after all, comfort is the point. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Keller's Drive-In (Dallas, Texas)

Frosty Shiner bocks and cheap cheeseburgers on poppy seed rolls (you want, like everyone else, the No. 5) still reel in the crowds 50-plus years on at Keller's Drive-In, located in the city said to have created America's first drive-thru back in the 1920s.

Skyway (Akron, Ohio)

It's no surprise the city once widely known as the rubber capital of the world would have taken a shine to dining out on four wheels. Skyway is the perfect introduction to Akron's wonderful world of drive-in dining; burgers doused in the house Mile Hi sauce are very much a thing, as are the housemade chili and onion rings.

Cameron's Lobster House (Brunswick, Maine)

Why stand in line at the lobster pound when you can just hang in your car and have everything come to you at the family-run Cameron's Lobster House? Start with the lobster bisque, served with a claw on top.

Johnnie's Drive-In (Tupelo, Mississippi)

Make like a young Elvis Presley (the rock and roll legend grew up in Tupelo) and head to Johnnie's Drive-In for a dough burger, a Mississippi hard-times tradition (stretching the beef with grain filler) that persists to this day.

The Fence (Milton, Pennsylvania)

House-breaded scallops and fresh-cut fries cooked in peanut oil — along with one hell of a tasty fish sandwich — are the stars at The Fence, a seafood-forward spot in the dead-center of Pennsylvania.

Snow White Drive In (Lebanon, Tennessee)

Snow White Drive In is one of the only places we can think of that will bring a proper meat and three plate to your car — that and a healthy portion of disco fries, the classic American version of poutine.

Burgermaster (Seattle, Washington)

Seattle's most iconic drive-in doesn't do carhop service anymore (not mad at you, Dick's, just saying), but the runner-up most definitely does. Burgermaster has been at it since 1952 and their burgers, while not as cheap as their competitor's, are pretty darn tasty.

Doumar's (Norfolk, Virginia)

Syrian immigrant Abe Doumar — esteemed inventor of the waffle cone — launched an ice cream empire over a century ago. Today, the original Doumar's remains a destination for cones, chopped pork sandwiches, baked ham on toast, and burgers made with house-ground beef.

Storm's (Lampasas, Texas)

Johnnie's back home in Tupelo must have left a mark because when Elvis was stationed at nearby Fort Hood, he'd often make the trip into Lampasas, Texas for strawberry shakes at Storm's, now with three locations serving up 100% Texas beef burgers, Frito pies, and fresh-cut fries.

The Varsity (Atlanta, Georgia)

The original location of The Varsity, one of the country's most iconic drive-in restaurants, also happens to be the largest one in the world, with the capability to serve hundreds of cars at a time.

Superdawg (Chicago, Illinois)

One of the tastiest Chicago hot dogs — you know the ones, with an entire fixins bar on top, except no ketchup, don't even ask — requires no real effort, beyond driving up and barking your order (nicely) into your personal speaker at Superdawg.

Swensons Drive-In (Akron, Ohio)

Akron's other eat-in-your-car institution, Swensons, has multiple locations and an even quirkier menu of retro-fab drinks (try the phosphates) and snacks (like jalapenõ-spiced cheesy potato teezers). The Galley Boy, a double cheeseburger served with not one, but two special sauces and Spanish olives is a welcomed relic from another era.

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