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.

ddir.com

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Borrachini’s Bakery

tl;dr: daaaaaaaaaaaamn their donuts are tight, and holy hell that glazed croissant. Beeline to the bakery section, pick whatever donut looks good, and also grab one of the glazed croissants.
Borracchini’s Bakery is so unpretentious, it’s listed as a convenience store on Yelp. That right there, well, that’s my kinda place. Though they put out what could be the most delicious cakes in the greater Seattle area, Borracchini’s gives no fucks whether or not you’re impressed with their decor. They’re here for the food, which suits me just fine.

Walking in, there are tables covered with different varieties of Italian cookies and crostini, and if you’re lucky, each table has a box open for sampling. You could use your entire appetite just perusing the samples. There are aisles and aisles of imported groceries and a solidly packed deli, but you’re here for the donuts.

Oh, you thought I was going to say cake? Well, yeah, you should definitely get a cake from here. We got a marble cake with custard filling and white Bavarian icing and everyone swooned over it. My sister even smushed a bit in my face, and it was actually a pleasant experience. That being said, man, we should have gotten donuts for our party.

The first donut I tried from Borracchini’s was a blueberry cake donut. I ate it while driving and shared it with two friends, which are two of the gravest mistakes I’ve ever made in my life. The donut was so distracting, it was probably as dangerous as texting while driving, and damnit, I should have eaten the whole thing myself. Or gotten two. Or gotten everyone their own donut because they’re sixty cents. Sixty cents for donut glory. The crumb of the cake was so unbelievably moist that the donut split in half when I tried to hand it to my friend. The crumb could barely hold on to itself, which made for a fantastic eating experience. The glaze was unobtrusive, adding just a slight crackle when you bit into the cake. The flavor? Fantastic, but really, it could have been any flavor with that kind of texture.
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I went back (OBVIOUSLY), on a mission. My sister and I got two donuts each, a raspberry filled, a glazed cake donut, a custard filled ring, and a glazed motherfucking croissant. When my sister spotted the croissant, I couldn’t believe it. Here I am, in possibly the most unpretentious bakery in the country, and they have latched on to the Cronut(TM) trend. But since the Cronut(TM) is trademarked, Borracchini’s just looked at a croissant and went, eh, let’s just fry that sucker and call it good. Instead of trying to keep on trend and make a knockoff Dossant, they did the smart thing, took what was already available, fried it, and said fuck it, that’s tight. And dear goodness, they’re right.
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This thing was dark brown, and covered in plain glaze. There were crunchy bites, crispy bites, pillowy bites, sugary bites, buttery bites, sometimes all five things in one bite. Though I’ve never tried a Cronut(TM), the pictures I’ve seen show a relatively homogenous texture on the outside, and the dough is fried to a regular golden brown. Now that I’ve had a glazed croissant from Borracchini’s, I feel as though I’d be disappointed by the Cronut(TM)’s lack of variety in texture and flavor. Making me feel like I’d be disappointed by a trademarked bakery product is a hell of an accomplishment.
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The other three donuts were obviously very well-done, and none were ignored, but damn, that glazed croissant. It was simultaneously nothing and everything you’d expect from a 94 year old Italian bakery. When you’re 94 years into the business, you don’t have to follow trends anymore. You can rest on your laurels and just enjoy the business of selling damn good cake and imported groceries. Or, you could keep your eye on what’s new, figure out the easiest way to do it, and make everyone else look like they’re just trying too damn hard.

nowcake.com

Metropolitan Market, Queen Anne

tl;dr: I’ve been told there are other things worth ordering at the Met Market deli, but I’m not willing to risk the disappointment of missing out on the prime rib sandwich, extra cut.

I am pretty against the horseradish family. I don’t really understand why people would want to put a spicy, overwhelming condiment on an expensive piece of fish or steak. I’m down to let people make terrible food choices if that’s what they like, but if I’m shelling out the cash for sushi or a steakhouse, I’m going to taste every last bit of whatever I ordered and completely ignore the free side of sinus drainer.

But when the steak you’re ordering is on a sandwich in the deli of a grocery store, and quite a few people you trust tell you that the sandwich is a work of art, you leave the horseradish on.

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This is the first time I’ve ever liked the application of horseradish. It always feels a bit like when people like IPAs or really strong coffee. It’s like they’re trying to prove that their tastebuds could beat up your tastebuds in a fight. However, this horseradish is a caress, not a punch. The sauce is judiciously applied to what is in the running for best French dip in Seattle.

Walking up to the deli in the Metropolitan Market is a bit overwhelming. It looks like there are mountains of options in the hot and cold cases, but all of those things are only distractions from what you’re really there for. I made the mistake of getting some items from the salad and olive bars, only to have them completely ignored once we sat down to eat. It turns out, getting anything to go with the prime rib sandwich, extra cut is a moot point. This sandwich has been orchestrated perfectly and needs no accompaniment.

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Like all good sandwiches, it starts with bread that is warmed in the oven. Normally, I prefer toasting or grilling, but in a sandwich that requires a relatively crusty bread, warming is key. The crust is already enough to bite through, so maintaining the softness of the inner bread is important. The bread is then treated to the jus where the prime rib is resting, and the horseradish is added on top of that. Just enough of both to keep things interesting, but not enough of either to absolutely soak the bread or overpower the meat. Then, the meat. The outside, brown to black, the inside, a light pink. The fat is left fully intact, which lends itself to some spectacularly silky bites. The regular sandwich probably has enough meat to justify the $9.99 price tag, but if you offer me a whole extra slice of prime rib for $3, you better believe I’m jumping all over that value. The sandwich is then wrapped up and presented to you. No cheese, no side of jus, no caramelized onions. I ordered a side of jus with mine, which was fully unnecessary. Once you bite into this sandwich, you learn that this is an exercise in restraint. Nothing improves this experience. It’s been pared down to the four things that need to be there, and the result is ingredient harmony.

King’s

tl;dr: Order any of the burgers with fries. The wings and nachos are good too, but Hattie’s Hat is next door if you want the best wings/nachos in Seattle.

If you own a bar like King’s, you could easily forget about making good food. You’re within one of the best food neighborhoods of Seattle (right next door to one of our other vaulted fat locations, Hattie’s Hat), you’ve got bartenders that can throw down some delicious drinks, and your covered patio is the best place to hang on a beautiful Friday night. You’re all set. You could serve up some halfhearted french fries and ranch and call it a day.

But if you own a bar like King’s, you’re not the kind of person who forgets about food. You’re Linda Derschang, and you give a fuck about everything in that bar. Nothing is a mistake. Everything is important, but it can’t seem like anything is important.

Everything in King’s gives you the impression that this all just kind of happened. Nothing is forced, no one is bending over backwards, and it just sorta seems like good luck that this bar is exactly what everyone in Ballard is looking for. Then, you get a burger and you realize that this isn’t just a fluke. This was planned, and planned well.

King's

The King’s burger is easily in my top three favorite burgers in Seattle.* It has four of my ideal burger components.

Shredded iceberg. Oh come on, Erika. Lettuce? The lettuce is your first reason this burger is great? Frankly, fuck yes. Lettuce is an essential burger ingredient, and shredded iceberg is the best possible choice. The lettuce on a burger serves as a mid-bite palate cleanser. It lends a refreshing subtext to all the meat, cheese, and hopefully bacon coming at you. A solitary leaf of lettuce only serves to get hot and wilty, and doesn’t lend any texture. Shredded iceberg, however, gives you another layer to sink your teeth through. It has this distinctly junk food taste to it, reminiscent of dollar menus and drive thrus. As little structural bonuses, shredded iceberg also does a really great job of soaking up any grease or sauce that burger might be trying to give up, and it also provides a bit of traction so the other ingredients don’t slide around. So hell yeah, the lettuce is my first reason.

Thousand island. I am a mayo girl through and through. I love it on every single sandwich, but thousand island belongs on a burger because it can stand up to everything else going on. Mayo can sink into the bun, ketchup and mustard are too distracting. Thousand island is the best of both. The flavor isn’t going to disappear into the bun, but it’s also never going to outshine the beef, bacon, and cheese.

Bacon. I can’t have a flabby strip slipping out and slapping me in the face, but I also don’t want bacon croutons on my burger. The key to great bacon is to have bacon that isn’t fried too hard, so that when you bite into it, the bacon still gives up a little grease. On the bacon spectrum, from Chewy to Crunchy, King’s is smack dab in the middle of Crispy territory, which is the perfect type of bacon for burgers. It’s the Goldilocks of bacon texture.

Bun. I believe that a burger lives and dies by its bun. Cold bun? Get the fuck out of here. Ciabatta? Who the hell can bite through that tough bullshit? Low-quality, disintegrating Wonder bread? Great, my burger is a magic act and the bun is its disappearing assistant. I gotta have a burger bun that is easy to bite through, but still has some substance and flavor. It should be toasted enough that the crunch of the edges is detectable in the first bite. If that bun is toasted in actual butter? Well, that’s just the cherry on top. King’s bun is a perfect example of an excellent bun. Well toasted, squishy but not soggy, able to stand up to whatever this burger throws at it.

As a huge bonus, King’s fries are incredible. Ordering tots here is a mistake. The fries are what would happen if Dick’s fries were twice fried. Some squishy, some super crunchy, a bunch of those crispy ends, all super dark brown. Ketchup is just a distraction.

You could walk into King’s, act like a cool kid, and just get a drink. That’s what King’s is expecting you to do. But if you’re a true fat (and if you read my thesis about lettuce and kept going, you’re a true fat), you walk in and you order a burger. A burger this good shouldn’t be hidden behind a veil of hipsters and dark wood, but it is. And that’s fine, because true fats will always find good burgers.

 

http://www.kingsballard.com/

 

*Red Mill bacon deluxe with cheese and Dick’s Deluxe are the other two spots in my top three.

Lil Jon

tl;dr: Lil Jon does the standard diner classics very well. Eggs Benedict, the best indicator of a restaurant’s abilities, is consistently solid here.

Sometimes you want to sit down, order something you’ve eaten a million times before, and sit back in the booth knowing you’re going to get exactly what you expect. Sometimes you don’t mind that the hollandaise came from a packet. Sometimes, you just want a full coffee cup and an efficient waitress.

The eggs Benedict is the perfect example of why Lil Jon is the pinnacle of the standard diner experience. Most people think that a Benedict should be judged by their hollandaise. However, scratch hollandaise only shows up every once in a great while.* Though it is always a welcome and appreciated gesture, powdered hollandaise is the standard for every hangover crushing diner in the city, so this is not where the front runners separate from the pack.. The greats stand out by consistently plating up runny-yolked poached eggs.

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Lil Jon is the only place I’ve ever been that can consistently poach an egg during busy weekend brunch hours. I don’t know how they do it. Do they have one guy that just poaches eggs? Do they employ the one person in the greater Seattle area that can focus on poaching eggs while doing other things? Do they use the “poach them before service, then merely heat them up right before plating” trick (a solid trick if you ever decide to torture yourself and cook eggs Benedict at home)? Do they toss out the overcooked poached eggs instead of plating them because they aren’t fucking monsters? I don’t know. All I know, is the six times I’ve been at a table where a benny was ordered, the yolks were runny. The rest of the plate is something to be admired as well, but in a “this is exactly what I expected” sort of way. The hashbrowns are hashbrowns, the English muffin is toasted, the ham is thick and griddled, and the hollandaise is good.

Other than the solid, unassuming food at Lil Jon, the service is something to be appreciated. There’s a teamwork at play that isn’t entirely obvious unless you’re paying attention. It’s seamless and admirable, and makes for a calm environment in a super busy restaurant. No one seems rushed, but everyone seems to move with purpose. When a job needs to be done, someone picks it up and does it expeditiously, without visible attitude. It is just being done because it’s the right thing to do.

Lil Jon understands that there has to be a place where you can drag yourself to the table when the light of day is still too harsh. You have to be able to grunt your regular order and slump over your mug. You have to be able to rely on the humble work ethic of those who went to bed at a reasonable hour, and you have to be able to cut into an egg yolk, see the golden trickle down the side of your English muffin, and know you’re gonna come out the other side just fine.

http://www.liljonrestaurant.com/

*For those on the hunt for hollandaise nirvana, Glo’s is the tops. A full writeup will come eventually. Lola also makes their hollandaise from scratch, but there’s dill in it, which felt like a little bit of a hipster overreach to me. For the record, both Lola and Glo’s have served overcooked yolks when a Benedict was ordered at my table.

Ellenos Real Greek Yogurt

tl;dr: they only sell yogurt, so you really can’t go wrong. I highly recommend the lemon curd, muesli, or rhubarb. If you’re saving your yogurt for later, flavors that have crumble (lemon cheesecake, marionberry pie) get less texturally enticing overnight, but are still great.

Greek yogurt was a fad I never got excited about. Too thick, oddly grainy yogurt, simply eaten for the protein content? The full-fat versions were slightly better, but a 400 calorie snack ain’t doin’ me any favors. Actually, I never was a fan of yogurt in general. If I’m gonna eat a cup of sugar goo, it’s gonna be pudding or a milkshake, not some cornstarch/stabilizer dairy mess.

Then, Ellenos came along. Ellenos makes you realize that every single stupid cup, Tillamook, Yoplait, Greek Gods, Fage, they’re all doing it wrong. Calling Ellenos yogurt feels like a disservice because your only experiences with yogurt thus far have been sad diet food or boring breakfast. But it is not Ellenos fault that you’ve only eaten shit yogurt. It’s up to you to remedy your definition. It is up to you to experience actual, delicious yogurt.

When you step up to Ellenos, you might be overwhelmed. You might look at the case and think, damn, there is no way I’m going to choose a flavor without sampling every single one. You’re wrong. Choose any flavor. They’re all good. Even the natural unsweetened is fantastic if you’re into that whole sugar avoidance thing like me. The only recommendation I have is to eat any flavor with crumbles in it immediately. After a few hours, the crumble distracts from the texture of the yogurt, rather than complimenting it.

The yogurt is silky in a way that feels engineered. Like, a real food product probably shouldn’t be this creamy. A small spoonful coats your entire mouth in a way that is deeply satisfying. The flavors are intense swirls of rich color, and they all stand up to the yogurt’s richness without detracting from it. This yogurt stops you in your tracks and makes you wonder what the hell you were eating up until this point.

Does the word yogurt look weird to anyone else now?

http://ellenos.com/

 

 

Buca di Beppo

tl;dr: the only thing I’m writing about and advocating for is the cheesecake. Everything else is your average, run of the mill Italian. A notch above Olive Garden. But that cheesecake, man. Order it with raspberry sauce and hazelnuts on the side and add them later if you feel it’s necessary (you won’t).

Steven and I aren’t really fussy people when it comes to occasions. It’s my birthday? Have some friends over for dinner. His birthday? Pretty much the same. Presents? Not really our jam. But on our last anniversary, I wanted dessert. Specifically, I became obsessed with the idea of Buca di Beppo cheesecake. And there’s not much else I can do to explain to you how good this cheesecake is without just telling you the story.

All I wanted for our anniversary was to split a dessert with my dude. I didn’t really care what it was, but Steven wasn’t having the same obsessive thoughts about our sugar adventure, so I was on my own in deciding. We currently live in Mountlake Terrace, otherwise known as no-restaurant’s-land, but getting down to Seattle really didn’t jive with the comfy pants I was wearing. I was racking my brain, trying to figure out the best way to have the lazy anniversary we both wanted, but still chowing down on the best dessert possible.

Hot Cakes in Ballard (which deserves its own post, lemme tell you what) sounded fantastic, but was just a smiiiidge too much of a production. Ice cream at the grocery store was just a little too everyday normal. Pie isn’t really Steven’s thing, so A La Mode is out the window. And then, BING! Buca di Beppo cheesecake. I remembered from my childhood splitting a piece four ways with the rest of my family and going absolutely bonkers about it. We talked about that cheesecake for years. I remember it being impossibly creamy, simultaneously light and rich, and that it was paired with an intense, not-too-sweet raspberry sauce.

It was the perfect solution to our anniversary dessert hunt. Steven had never tried it (along with most people, I would assume), there’s a location in Lynnwood, and I remembered it to be some of the best cheesecake I’ve ever experienced. I called the restaurant to order a slice to go, only to hear, “Sorry, we’re actually out of cheesecake right now.” To which I exclaimed a little too heartily “NOOOOO REALLY?!” The host shared in my dismay, and I was heartbroken. I hung up and flopped over on the couch. Woe was me.

At this point, an anniversary with any other dessert seemed lacking. My sights were set, and there was no other way around it. Steven mentioned grocery store cheesecake in that way you do when you know your idea is going to be shot down. There was no other cheesecake for me at this point. There was only one way. We were going downtown.

To those who may not know me and my husband as well, the fact that I was willing to sacrifice an hour of laziness to track down this piece of cheesecake doesn’t seem all that impressive (well, except for the fact that I’m weird enough to drive downtown just for cheesecake). But to those who understand our shared love of couches and comfy pants, this is quite an honor. Steven and I don’t just set aside laziness for nothing. It took some cajoling on my part to actually convince Steven that this was worth doing. I was taking this man, that I apparently love, away from the one thing he wanted to do for cheesecake I remembered from ten years ago. This was a true test of my recommendation skills.

You obviously know the end to this story. The tl;dr and the fact that I’m posting about it ruin the ending, but obviously that slice confirmed my suspicions of cheesecake greatness. It was exactly how I remembered. A contradiction of adjectives, this cheesecake is an example of a dessert menu done well. According to the host at the downtown Seattle location, all of their desserts are exceptional. It’s really too bad that this is the only one I’ll ever be capable of ordering.

http://www.bucadibeppo.com/restaurants/wa/seattle/menu/dinner