Dick’s Drive In

Dick’s is where I formed the pillars of my passion for restaurants. It’s where I realized that cheap and consistent are my two favorite adjectives, it’s where I came to appreciate the “we have enough customers, so fuck you kinda” business model, it’s where I developed my love of the squishiest fries. I learned how to love restaurants at Dick’s, because they take food and service seriously.

In my 29 years of eating at Dick’s, I can’t think of a single bad experience. That fact alone deserves an award. Their consistency of food and service is impressive in a way that almost seems impossible. I’ve gone to Dick’s at all hours of the day and night, I’ve eaten everything on their menu (besides the five cent onion cup), and I’ve been to all six locations. I’ve interacted with hundreds (maybe thousands?) of Dick’s employees over nearly three decades, eaten hundreds (maybe thousands?) of burgers, shakes, and fries, and have never, not even once, been disappointed (except for lack of cheese, but we’ll get to that in a bit). I can’t imagine there is another restaurant can make this claim. One person experiencing thirty years of good service seems like proof that Dick’s is top tier.
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Dick’s customer service is essentially firm, but fair. They’re there to churn out consistently delicious food quickly, without incident. This is not to say that Dick’s service is rude, but you always get the sense that the cashier is the one in charge of the transaction. They’re the one steering this ship, you’re just lucky to be on it. Considering their clientele of aimless high school students and drunk idiots, this is the way you want it to be. There’s no need for extra niceties or small talk when a cheeseburger that good is waiting on the other side of that window.

The consistency of service at Dick’s is a shining example of what you get when you treat your employees like they’re human. One of the reasons I’ve been a patron at Dick’s for so long is because I know that they treat their employees well. I have three good friends who have worked at Dick’s at various points in the past, and all three look back at their time there with nostalgia and appreciation. Dick’s pays their employees well, offers scholarships for tuition, pays for childcare, offers excellent benefits, and teaches their employees the reward of an honest day’s work. Unlike any other fast food place, I’m happy to give my money to Dick’s, because I know it’s going to good people who take care of their employees and in turn, their customers.

So before we move on to talk about the food, let’s get one thing straight. Ordering a burger that doesn’t have cheese on it from Dick’s is a mortal sin. Most of the time, I have a pretty solid “live and let live” approach to food. You want to eat something terrible? Most of the time, you won’t hear a peep out of me. But a Dick’s burger without cheese? Unacceptable. Completely unacceptable. This is not debatable. Any burger from Dick’s that doesn’t have cheese also doesn’t have cheese paper, which is easily the best part.

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Cheese paper is a well-known Dick’s phenomenon that is the result of the restaurant using rectangular (that is, non-square) American cheese. Some of the cheese almost always hangs off the edge of the patty, melts in the steam of the wrapper, and attaches to the paper. Wiping this cheese off the paper with your finger and sticking it straight in your mouth is the Dick’s version of an amuse bouche. Getting a burger without cheese paper is denying yourself the full two course Dick’s experience.

When you get a burger at Dick’s, you get the burger they want you to have. As a policy, they do not allow any special orders. I’ve heard that this is so the Dick’s team can always work at maximum efficiency, but I like to believe it’s because you cannot improve upon a Dick’s burger. No matter if you order the cheeseburger or the Deluxe, the ratio of bun to beef to cheese to condiments is sublime. The ingredients are solidly high quality, well seasoned, and almost always pretty close to fresh off the grill.

On the cheeseburger, you’re getting the most pared down example of a good burger possible. Bun, beef, cheese, ketchup, mustard. I’m normally not a ketchup and mustard girl when it comes to burgers. I think the intense flavors of ketchup and mustard normally distract from the rest of the components. But somehow, Dick’s has found the exact ratio of ketchup to mustard that works. The ketchup tames the mustard, and the mustard amplifies the ketchup. Mixed together, they work with the beef, cheese, and bun to create one of those foods that is good simply because the ingredients are good. Nowhere else can you find a burger with this few ingredients that is this satisfying.

If you’re in the mood for more food (and I often am), a Dick’s Deluxe is where you want to land. There is no other restaurant where I willingly order a two patty burger, but the Deluxe is, again, perfect in its ratios. The greasiness of the slightly larger amount of beef is perfectly foiled by the mix of tartar and iceberg lettuce. The cheese to everything else ratio is somehow high enough, which is often my biggest complaint with a two patty burger. The bun is always toasted, and the cheesepaper is often accompanied by tartar/lettuce paper, which is also welcome as an appetizer. The Deluxe, to me, tastes like childhood, and I feel lucky that I got to grow up on such a delicious example of what junk food should be.
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Of course, the fries and shakes are nothing to sneeze at either. The fries are somewhat controversial due to their squishiness, but that’s exactly what I love about them. Any fry that can’t be held straight horizontally is the fry for me. The shakes? The chocolate is the absolute gold standard to which I hold all other shakes. It’s chocolatey enough that there’s no mistaking what flavor shake this is, but it’s not so rich that you have to take breaks. It’s a solid chocolate fix, but if you want a mountain of chocolate, look no further than the hot fudge sundae.

The hot fudge is ridiculously plentiful, and comes on top of any ice cream flavor you want. My personal favorite is the peppermint, but I’ve had great success with every flavor on the menu. Every single bite of the sundae is absolutely covered in hot fudge. This is not a sundae made by some stingy corporate fast food joint. This is a sundae made by an employee empowered to absolutely drench your tastebuds in fudge. This is a sundae made for the people, by the people. Just like everything else at Dick’s.

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