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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sacramento: Classic Burger Joints

20070417 Trails Charcoal Broiler
Trails Restaurant

Historic diners, vintage drive-ins, old hamburger stands, and newer small, unique local burger, fries, and shakes restaurants are where I usually choose to eat. The food is not good for me--I'm aware of that. But they are usually cheap, always tasty, and always have a lot of character.

I used to just go to nearby ones for convenience, but now I search out new ones, and occasionally receive tips from people who see my photos on Flickr about places I should, or "must," visit. I have conversations at work about old restaurants and the best of what they have to offer, and sometimes I'm just out driving a different way and spot a place I'd never noticed before.

Here's an inventory of the Sacramento area burger joints I know of, in a very rough west-to-east pattern. This is not meant to be a comprehensive survey--I'm always looking to add to more, and appreciate suggestions.

20050827  Redrum Burger
Redrum Burger

978 Olive Dr.
Davis

It started as Murder Burger in 1985, but was changed due to a legal dispute over the name with the former owners and complaints on the opening of a new location in Rocklin. I used to live right down the street on Olive Drive, the old US Route 40, and bicycled near here every day. Naturally I ate there quite a bit, despite the fact that it is high priced for a burger joint.

20050827  Redrum Burger

The place certainly looks much older than 1985, with the classic styling of the interior, and the tiny counter with stools--now the counter is just used to hold condiments and forks and such, rather than for dining. I haven't been able to determine if it was another restaurant before 1985, though.

20080202 Chili Cheese Dog
Chili Dog

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20060311 Run 'n' Tell
Run-N-Tell Drive In
1208 Sacramento Ave.
West Sacramento

I see this place on my way out to Ikea in West Sacramento via the road of the continually changing names I St., C St., 6th St., Sacramento Ave., and then past Run-N-Tell, Reed Ave. They serve burgers, fries, and shakes, but also Chinese food.

20060311 NITO'S FRUIT Flavored BARS
Old Ad for Nito's Fruit Flavored Bars

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20050829 Whitey's Jolly Kone
Whitey's Jolly Kone
1300 Jefferson Blvd.
West Sacramento

This was a place I was tipped off about by someone who saw my photos on Flickr. It's a thriving former drive-in, although it has never been open when I checked it on weekends (I see now that they are open 10-2 on Saturday), which makes it inconvenient for me. Too bad, the food is just as I like it, cheap and tasty.

20050829 Whitey's Jolly Kone

According to the Sacramento Bee, the restaurant opened in 1963, and their specialty is fresh-fruit shakes, particularly peach ones, offered only for a few weeks in the summer. I'll be sure to try and get one this year.

20050829 King Grilled Onion & Pepper Burger

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20061126 Fanny Ann's Saloon
Fanny Ann's Saloon
1023 2nd St.
Old Sacramento

This place can't be that old, but it is still a classic. It is decorated all over with antiques and just plain junk. You order at ground level, where there is a bar, but to sit at a table, go upstairs or down. It's usually quiet in the booths downstairs in the afternoons.

20061231 Jiffy Burger
Jiffy Burger

The other fun thing about the place is the Jiffy burger--a hamburger with peanut butter on it. I had to try it, and all I can say is that it tasted like a great bacon cheeseburger that some idiot slopped peanut butter on. I can also report that I saw a jar of peanut butter in the cooking area, and it was not Jiffy.

Owner Mac McCulloch describes the origin of the restaurant in a 2004 Sacramento Bee article: "It originally started in Santa Monica in the 1960s, when five airline pilots opened a bar called the Oar House on Main Street near the beach. That place had kind of the same scene as this one and really took off. Later, we were the seventh in the chain, the only one in Sacramento. About 15 years ago, there were 31 saloons altogether. Since then, a lot of them were sold off. There are about 20 still going (under various ownerships), but they have different names. We're the only Fanny Ann's ."

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20081018 Jim-Denny's
Jim Denny's
816 12th St.
Downtown

Jim Denny's is a vintage diner that used to be open 24 hours to serve people near the bus station. The tiny little building with its lunch counter, and no tables, has survived while skyscrapers have been built around it. It's expensive, and after experimenting with extended hours, they've returned to closing at 3 p.m., but it's a real thrill for me to eat in a place like this where history is so palpable. Everything I've eaten there has been excellent too.

20050916 Jim Denny's Hamburgers

From what I can glean from Sacramento Bee articles, Jim Van Nort and Dennis McFall opened the first Jim-Denny's on 16th St. in 1934, and opened the present location as Jim-Denny's No. in 1940. Jim Van Nort cooked at the restaurant until 1988, when he retired and underwent coronary surgery. The restaurant only stayed closed a few months before opening under new ownership. I know it has been closed for at least one stretch since then, after another ownership change. Jim Van Nort died in 2001.

More photos of Jim Denny's.

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20050928 Earl of Sandwich
Earl of Sandwich
631 16th St.

Downtown/Midtown


This was a place I always enjoyed, along the old US Route 40. I went there once and found they were closed, due to a recent fire. They did reopen, but not long afterwards they went out of business. It's a story I've found repeated many times in my research of old businesses--people expect their business to recover after a fire, and sometimes they do reopen for a little while, but most often it ends up killing the business.

A 1999 Sacramento Bee article says that the Earl of Sandwich as that point had been around "some 30 years," suggesting that it opened in the late 1960s, but my own research in city directories suggests that it more likely opened in the late 1970s, as there used to be a gas station at this corner.

20051221 Patty Melt
Patty Melt

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20080808 Geneva's Big Burgers
Geneva's Big Burgers

863 Arden Way
North Sacramento

This former Ben's Big Burger seems to do a steady business. They have a wide menu with a lot of good food. Most people get their food to go, but there are two picnic tables on the east side, and a scary little room on the west side. There are some metal pieces on top that I assume are from an old sign. I'd love to see what it looked like.

20080503 Rib Eye Steak Sandwich
Rib Eye Steak Sandwich & Onion Rings

20051210 Geneva's Big Burgers

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20050830 Big D's BBQ
Big T's Drive In
2300 Del Paso Blvd.
North Sacramento

It was Erwin's Frostie in the earliest listing I can find for it, from 1964, then Palmer's Frostie in 1965 before becoming Ben's Big Burger, like the burger joint above, in 1966, and staying under that name until at least 1996. It was Big T's, and still serving up burgers and shakes, when I found the place in 2000. Since then it has been Big D's BBQ and La Piedad Mexican Restaurant, but mostly it has been closed, as it is now.

20050830 Big D's BBQ

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20051102 Connie's Drive-In
Connie's Drive-In
4010 Marysville Blvd.
Del Paso Heights

I found this on a search for drive-ins. A lot of places I've found listed online this way are no longer there, but this one was still in business, right near the on-ramp for I-80. In the early 1970s it was Coffelt's Jolly Kone.

20090803 Hot Link
Hot Link with Mustard and Onion

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20080501 Nation Wide Freezer Meats
Nation-Wide Freezer Meats
1930 H St.
Midtown

This is not the original location for Nation-Wide Freezer Meats--there is a mural inside showing that, and the old sign that used to hang above it is now on the floor propped up against a window. The food is quite expensive for a burger joint. The hamburgers, called French ground steak burgers, are excellent, but I don't care for the enormous fries.

20090915 Triple French Ground Steak Burger with Cheese
20061017 Enormous Fries

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20080303 Trails Charcoal Broiler
Trails Restaurant
2530 21st St.
Tower District

Like Jim Denny's, this restaurant will make it in both my classic burger joints and vintage diner surveys. It's a real beauty, with a great vintage neon sign, wheel wagon chandeliers, and general western theme.

20051126 Trails

Rumor has it that America's Mermaid, Esther Williams, was once owner or part owner of the restaurant, but I have not been able to confirm this. She did buy a restaurant called Trails in Los Angeles around 1950, and changed the name to Esther & Ben Gage's Trails. According to a waitress at the Sacramento Trails, a customer reported that their decor was just like the Trails in Los Angeles.

20051031 Trails

This restaurant opened around 1953, and was actually Trails No. 2, with another Trails Restaurant being listed on Fulton Avenue. What makes me doubt a connection with the restaurant in Los Angeles is that this is a small, homey restaurant, whereas the Los Angeles Trails had monkeys, birds, and fish on display, Howard Hughes and Howard Hughes. A photo in the April 16, 1951 issue of Life shows Esther Williams in the kitchen of Trails, surrounded by tuxedoed waiters. I will continue to investigate.

20070506 Pastrami Sandwich

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20080302 1/4 lb. Bacon Cheeseburger
Ford's Real Hamburgers
1948 Sutterville Rd.
South Sacramento

Formerly a Mr. Taco Drive In, they've closed in the old outdoor seating area. I think Ford's opened up in 1988, and it used to win the reader's choice in the Bee for best hamburger every year, until In-N-Out took over. A blogger on Sac Rag declared it the best burger in Sacramento. I've found it to be average in quality, and more expensive than average.

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20071225 Suzie Burger
Suzie Burger
2820 P St.
Midtown


This place is less than 6 months old, but it has all the makings of a classic joint for years to come. The key is the great job they've done renovating the old Phillip's 66 gas station, which was a Tuneup Masters for most of its life. Not only is the setting stylish, but they've tried to recreate the Suzie Burger from a former restaurant that I never ate at, and serve it up with a little sandwich bag filled with pickles and carrots. It's different, anyhow.

20080204 Pepper & Onion Cheese Steak

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20060304 Scott's Burger Shack
Scott's Burger Shack
4127 Franklin Blvd.
South Sacramento


It has been a Burger Shack since at least 1971, but not always Scott's. It was C&E Burger Shack, Emmy's Burger Shack, and just the Burger Shack. Before any of those it was Helen's Drive-In, but I believe it started life as a Tastee Freeze, and one was from at least 1956-1967. They have some ridiculously huge burgers here, but I've only sampled the more usual fare.

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20051005 Cookie's Drive-In
Cookie's Drive-In
5640 H St.
East Sacramento

Cookie's was opened in 1965 by Walter and Doris Price, who sold the business in 1980. So far I've only eaten there once, but I enjoyed my ostrich burger.

20051005 Ostrich Burger

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20070421 Village Drive-In
Village Drive In
3810 60th St.

I went for a long time without discovering this classic hamburger stand, and so has the Sacramento Bee, apparently. There is no mention of it in their database, which goes back to 1984. From my research in the city directories, I would estimate that it was built around 1966, and has always been the Village Drive In. It seems to be popular with kids after school.


20070414 Cheeseburger

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20050919 Burger Chief
Will's Burgers
6727 Folsom Blvd.
East Sacramento

On the old US Route 50, Will's Burgers still has the sign up from its previous incarnation, Burger Chief, but the distinctive shape of the sign lets you know that originally it was a Dairy Queen.

20050908 Burger Chief

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20080715_7062
The Flaming Grill
2319 El Camino
Arden-Arcade


This is an old Tastee Freeze that has seen a succession of restaurants since the 1960s. It was the Deli Bean, a drive-thru coffee shop and deli, when I moved to the area, and then was Sha's, serving Thai food. I really meant to try it out, but didn't make it before Sha's closed down.

The new owners have done an awful lot of work on the place. Its main problem was lack of seating, so they created outdoor seating areas protected from weather in the winter with big heaters, and shaded but open to the breeze in the summer.

20080620 Mushroom & Swiss Bison Burger

I'm guessing it's a chef that runs the place, because even though it's a burger and sandwich place, they do it up in style. You can get a burger and your choice of fries, potato salad, or fresh fruit for $4.99, or spend a little more to get a seared ahi tuna sandwich. They feature burgers made from lean bison and ostrich meat. Much to the detriment of my health, they now offer 1/2 price 1/2 pound sirloin burgers from 3-6 p.m.

I hope the word gets out about this place quickly enough that it survives, because it really deserves to.

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20090221 J & R's Drive-In
J&R's Drive In
8200 Florin Rd.
Florin

A long ways from where I live, in the southern suburbs, this place is a relatively recent discovery of mine. It seems to be run by an older couple who do their burgers right.

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20061005 Squeeze Inn
Squeeze Inn
7918 Fruitridge Rd.

The Squeeze Inn is famous for the cheese skirt on their cheeseburgers--a big slice of delicious cheddar melted long enough that it extends well beyond the burger. The restaurant was covered on a show on Food Network.

20070227 Squeezeburger w/ Cheese

It's an easy place to drive pass without noticing it. I should know, I couldn't find it the first time I tried to go there. Then there is very little parking space and very little space to sit inside at the counter, but there are outdoor tables out back as well.

20070227 Squeeze Inn

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20051003 Lou's Burgers
Lou's Drive In
6229 Watt Ave.
North Highlands

A lot of people still eat in their cars here, despite the tables out front. But you do have to go up and order your food.

20090425 Double Cheeseburger w/ Mushrooms

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20050917 Tom's Burger & Frosty
Tom's Burgers & Frosty
6115 Watt Ave.
North Highlands

Originally a Dairy Queen, this place is decorated with an Air Force theme, since it used to serve the people stationed on nearby McClellan AFB.

20050917 Burger & Fries

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20050829 Hagen's Orange Freeze
Hagen's Orange Freeze
2520 Walnut Ave.
Carmichael

A very popular place with suburban families.

20090322 Double Cheeseburger

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20060121 Hoagy's Bar-B-Q
Hoagy's BBQ
2830 Walnut Ave.
Carmichael

20060121 Hoagy's Bar-B-Q

This was a Foster's Freeze from at least 1968-1982. Now it serves Korean barbecue and burgers--the barbecue is better than the burgers, but best of all is the peach coffee shake.

20060208 Spicy Chicken Dinner
20080310 Peach Coffee Shake

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20041004 Willie's Burgers & Chiliburger
Willie's Burgers & Chiliburgers
5050 Arden Way
Carmichael
&
2415 16th St.
Tower District

20070807 Hammer 5
Hammer 5

The location on 16th St. is the original, opened in 1991, but the one in Carmichael is right across the street from my gym, and I eat there frequently. The food is styled after the famous Tommy's in Los Angeles. The interior is chic industrial. While I've sampled a couple of the monster burgers here, my usual fare is the chili cheese fries.

20070425 Slammer TCC
Slammer TCC

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20080406 Sam's Classic
Sam's Classic
7442 Auburn Blvd.

Citrus Heights


On the old US Route 40. Sam's Classic looked familiar to me, and that's because it is a former Sno-white Drive In. There used to be well over a hundred of these burger stands in California, most in the Central Valley. A few survive. This one was a Sno-white up until at least 1970, but had changed names by 1975.

20080406 Chili Cheeseburger

13 comments:

Thomas Hawk said...

Tommy's in L.A. is my favorite hamburger of all time. I eat a few of them every time I go down there and ate quite a few of them growing up as a kid. Nothing quite like it. Willie's makes a very close imitation burger and I always get one every time I go to Sacramento.

Jana said...

Lou's Burgers used to have an inside seating area just to the side of the walk up window. The last time I was there you could still see a few booths. I am pretty sure they closed that area in the mid 80s.

Rio Linda has a few good burger spots. Archway Frostie on the corner of M Street and Rio Linda Blvd and Bullwinkle's in the old Mar-Val shopping center.

Great posts and photos!

chris said...

The former DQ/Will's Burgers in east Sac is now a Greek gyro place...

Anonymous said...

Sam's Classic on Auburn Blvd in Citrus Heights was a Lou's Burgers for many years. I am 32 now and can remember always going there as a small child in the early 80's...it only changed to Sam's Classic in the early 2000's...it's OK but Lou's was better!!

JoBee said...

Hoagy's BBQ on Walnut in Carmichael is closed sometime in early 2009.

If you go to Hagen's on Walnut, be sure to get a fruit freeze of some sort -- they have loads of flavors!

And Willie's makes a great mozarella, tomato, basil sandwich. I know, not as manly as a burger, but it really is fantastic.

Anonymous said...

when in Rio Linda make sure you go to "THE CREAMERY" for awesome BIGGG sundaes and large nachoes plus a full menu awaits you.....and BOWLWINKLES featuring the "Rush Limbaugh" and the "GAGGLER" ("have you been GAGGED lately") BURGERS!!! Both located in the Saveway shopping center on "M" street By the way, Willie's Burgers can't hold nothing on Tommy's burgers in L.A. I grew up on Tommy's burgers, fries and the tommy's chili tamales....you just can't duplicate the UNIQUE tommy's taste from their chile!!!

Anonymous said...

when in Rio Linda make sure you go to "THE CREAMERY" for awesome BIGGG sundaes and large nachoes plus a full menu awaits you.....and BOWINKLES featuring the "Rush Limbaugh" and the "GAGGLER" ("have you been GAGGED lately") BURGERS!!! Both located in the Saveway shopping center on "M" street By the way, Willie's Burgers can't hold nothing on Tommy's burgers in L.A. I grew up on Tommy's burgers, fries and the tommy's chili tamales....you just can't duplicate the UNIQUE tommy's taste from their chili!!!

Anonymous said...

Village Drive In on 60th st. has been around for awhile. It used to be called Mary's Village Drive In. I was born in 57' and can remember going there with my older cousin to play the pin ball machine. Well, he played, I watched! I was probably 5 or 6 years old. Mary was a very kind, and patient older woman that made the best burgers and cherry lime ricky's. During the summer we would walk the mile almost every day to buy one of her cherry lime ricky's. I stopped in a few months ago while I was in town. The current owners are doing a great job. Mary would be proud!

Anonymous said...

The Earl of Sandwich on 16th was probably my choice for best burger ever!!! They put some kind of gravy on it. My first stop there was in 1976 when I worked down the highway at Ch. 31. At that time anyway, there was no place to sit inside. You walked in one door, placed your order, walked down and told them what you wanted on it, then paid for it and walked out the back door. The walls where packed with movie star photos and signatures of famous actors were written on the walls. Must have been a favorite during gigs at the Music Circus.

Anonymous said...

Had many a burger at Ben's Big Burger on Arden as I worked right down the street and you could order ahead and have it ready when you got there. It was a great burger. No longer live in Sac so don't know if Geneva's is still that good.

Anonymous said...

Earl of Sandwich I believe had multiple locations, one being on folsom blvd at 59th. Not sure when they moved in/out.

MonkeyMan said...

Sorry folks, but the classic Sacramento burger begins and ends with Tiny's on Fulton...suspiciously missing from this list.

r4ph said...

this is true, i lived 1 blockover in the 80s.

About Me

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I love to learn about, visit, photograph, research, and write about everything that is interesting, unique, and historical about Northern California, and wherever else I should be fortunate enough to find myself.  I've spent many years scouring the roadside in my little car for interesting subjects and walking down hiking trails in the Sierra Nevada and along the coast to get to know the wonder that is Northern California.  I share most of this via photos on Flickr, and as much as time permits me to on my blog, the NorCal Explorer.  Fine art prints of my photos are for sale on Imagekind.