If you’re a fan of fast dining, then you should explore the historic side of America’s drive-thrus. The first drive-thru was Red’s Giant Hamburg in Springfield, MO (located along the historic Route 66), opened by Sheldon “Red” Chaney in 1947. Since then, drive-thru dining has become a way of life in the United States. And there are historic restaurants and important locations in the rise of the drive-thru that you can visit today.
Here are our top eight recommendations!
Randy’s Donuts (Inglewood, CA)
The iconic Randy’s Donuts
is located just south of Los Angeles in Inglewood (near LAX), making it a perfect first stop when you hop off your one way flights
to California. Randy’s has been serving up fresh donuts, muffins, and scones to hungry drive-thru customers for over 62 years. It’s also appeared in countless movies that take place in L.A. There’s no way you can miss one of the best historic drive-thru restaurants — just look for the huge donut on the roof.
Waylan’s Ku-Ku (Oklahoma City, OK)
One of the original drive-ins (the predecessor to the drive-thru) along Route 66, Waylan’s
in Oklahoma is easily recognizable by the ku-ku
(or cuckoo) bird on top. They now offer both drive-thru or dine-in service. Memorabilia from days gone by line the walls, making a trip to Waylan’s feel like stepping back in time. Waylan’s also offers a full menu of retro fare that’s different from your typical fast food finds – try the fried green tomatoes and fresh cherry lemonade.
Maid-Rite Sandwich Shop (Springfield, IL)
Along with Red’s, Maid-Rite
in Springfield, IL also claims to be the first drive-thru in the country. You can visit this historic restaurant, located along Route 66, and enjoy the vintage charm of the original building while digging into a loose-meat burger and sipping on a shake or a cup of their famous homemade root beer.
King Tut Drive-In (Beckley, WV)
King Tut has been serving up the same beloved recipes since it opened in the early 1940s. Diners here will enjoy the restaurant’s classic fare like chicken strips, hamburgers, and milkshakes. King Tut also likes to keep its menu interesting with unexpected dishes like sweet potato waffle fries, ham loaf, and pan-fried chicken livers. With staff baking the restaurant’s bread, rolls, and pies daily, it’s no wonder that King Tut is consistently ranked as one of the best historic drive-thru restaurants in Beckley.
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Superdawg Drive-In (Chicago, IL)
is one of the only drive-in restaurants left in Chicago, Illinois, and it’s impossible to miss. This building’s eye-catching design features two upright hot dogs on the roof, each of which is 12 feet tall. Not much has changed about the restaurant since it first opened. Diners still order at individual speakers, and carhops still bring spicy Superdawgs that have been topped with pickled green tomatoes right to their cars. Superdawg has been featured on several television shows, including Food Network’s Emeril Live
McDonald’s (Downey, CA)
In Downey, California, you’ll find the country’s oldest remaining McDonald’s
restaurant. Opened in 1953 by Roger Williams and Bud Landon, the Downey McDonald’s was the famous chain’s fourth franchise location. After suffering earthquake damage in 1994, the restaurant was almost demolished. Fortunately, the public and the National Trust for Historic Preservation stepped in and convinced McDonald’s to restore the building. Today, the restaurant is open for business and looks nearly the same as it did when it was first built. After eating, visitors can explore the building’s attached museum and gift shop.
Red’s Giant Hamburg (Springfield, MO)
Considered the nation’s first drive-in restaurant, Red’s Giant Hamburg is located in Springfield, Missouri. Opened by Red Chaney shortly after World War II, the original building was demolished after his retirement in 1996. However, the new Red’s location is dedicated to following its tradition. Just like Red did, the new owners keep a ’55 Buick parked near the iconic sign to prevent it from being backed into. Even better, everything at this 50s-themed diner is made fresh to order, from the pork tenderloin sandwich to the classic Sooper burger, just like Red would have wanted.
Evelyn’s Drive-In (Tiverton, RI)
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Evelyn’s Drive-In has a menu that stands out from traditional drive-in fare. Diners can choose from a wide range of fresh seafood options and local favorites at this historic restaurant. Evelyn’s Drive-In also has waterfront seating and catering services. This makes it easier than ever for people to enjoy dishes like lobster rolls, Maryland crab cakes, and pan-grilled sea scallops. If you’ve always wanted to eat like a celebrity, make sure you order the lobster chow mein. It was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, with the world-famous Guy Fieri.
Are there any other historic drive-thru restaurants you’ve been to and loved? Tell us in the comments!