“I’m a Cheesy Gordita Crunch guy,” says the chef of Canlis.
It’s drive-in, drive-through and road-trip season, and especially on sunny days, sometimes food doesn’t have to be goody-goody to be good. Here’s where some of Seattle’s top chefs go for fast food, here at home or when they’re on the road (including some in Eastern Washington — and North Carolina! — recommendations you might want to add to your list).
But I’ll go first — it only seems fair. In town, my long-standing Dick’s order is a quickly chanted “Cheese[burger], fries, two tartars, two ketchups, please.” Dick’s is good because it’s Dick’s (and Jason Stratton, Jerry Traunfeld, and I understand you might not be on board with our tautology). Burgermaster also exerts an occasional siren song (and its classic drive-in-style burgers are made with local, grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef — so it sort of counts as goody-goody, too).
Faced with a choice of chains along a highway, it’s McDonald’s for a flat, little, somehow pleasantly fake-tasting cheeseburger and their surprisingly good French fries (which, hey, both Taichi Kitamura and Jacques Pépin like, too). Or, if available, Taco Time — but I have nothing to say about it that can come close to chef Maximillian Petty’s story here.
Maximillian Petty, Eden Hill:
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“My very first job was as a drive-thru ‘concierge’ — my title, not theirs — at Taco Time. I also wore the cactus suit at the new store and danced with my headphones on to Ace of Base. Suffered heatstroke from that. Twice. Since those glorious days, I have had a love affair with Mexi-Fries. They are always hot and always crispy, and always amazing. With them, I will order a taco and then put the Mexi-Fries within the taco to make it even better. It is all-around magic, and I am not ashamed.”
Taichi Kitamura, Sushi Kappo Tamura:
“It’s McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish and fries for me. It’s a perfect texture-balance of soft, steamed bun; crunchy breading; and flaky white fish meat. It only has tartar sauce and American cheese, without any bullshit vegetables. McDonald’s fries are still, and will always be, the best fries to me. I remember how it was a luxury treat for my family back when I was a child in Japan. I had to share a small fries with my little brother!”
Zoi Antonitsas, the forthcoming Little Fish:
“When in Seattle: Taco Time! Natural Chicken Soft Taco, Mexi-Fries, four hot sauces. Been going there since I was a kid. It’s addictively good.
“When in Cali: In-N-Out! Double-Double Animal protein style! Duh. Or El Pollo Loco: three-piece chicken meal with mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw, lots of salsa and tortillas.”
Edouardo Jordan, Salare and brand-new JuneBaby:
“Popeyes, which I don’t get to enough. Three-piece dark, rice and beans, biscuit with honey, and corn on the cob. Reminds me of home. Love the spices on the chicken. The beans and rice is the bomb. Love sugar on my biscuit, and the corn is loaded with butter — probably margarine, but who’s telling. Perfect airplane food. It never makes it to the actual plane.”
Heather Earnhardt, The Wandering Goose:
“The bologna, hashbrown and cheese biscuit and the sausage, egg and cheese biscuit from Biscuitville — anytime I’m driving back home in North Carolina, it’s a must-stop! Even if I’m not hungry, I buy them anyway. If you go inside, you can see them making the biscuits through the glass window.”
Brady Williams, Canlis:
“Growing up in Southern California, we were in the mecca of fast food. In-N-Out was a staple of any road trip we went on, and still is anytime I’m down there — I actually was just driving with Nelson, our wine director, from SF to LA last week, and we hit it up. My order is a Double-Double Animal Style with Animal fries and a Neapolitan shake. Then I feel like shit, but it’s totally worth it.
“I’m also a (not-so) secret Taco Bell lover. I’m a Cheesy Gordita Crunch guy — no lettuce. And a Crunchwrap Supreme guy. And a Mexican Pizza guy.”
Tamara Murphy, Terra Plata:
“Oh, goodness … Taco Bell No. 3: three beef tacos, hard shell. This is exactly what my mom made: browned ground hamburger meat, shredded cheddar cheese, lettuce and diced tomato. We did fry our own shells. And put a bottled green sauce on top. Three is just enough.”
Jeffrey Vance, No Anchor and Navy Strength:
“My go-to/guilty pleasure is going to have to be a Crunchwrap Supreme at Taco Bell. If you are in the car, it’s perfectly wrapped for driving. Plus any kind of radioactive orange American or nacho cheese is a miracle of modern food science and probably one of the best-tasting things on this planet!”
Monica Dimas, Neon Taco, Tortas Condesa, and Sunset Fried Chicken Sandwiches:
“Miner’s Drive-In in Yakima. It’s big, messy, and so summer nostalgia. That plus tots and a soft serve or float, and I’m set. Yakima/central Washington in general has some legit quick burger spots (the closest we have is Uneeda Burger, which I love). The fried seasonal veggies at Burger Ranch [also in Yakima] is not bikini-body friendly and happy about that. And Majors Restaurant [Yakima again] for a lovely cheeseburger that isn’t just a total gut bomb and awesome onion rings.”
John Sundstrom, Lark:
“Whenever I road trip to Washington wine country, I always make a pit stop in Yakima for a giant Miner’s Drive-In burger. I love the semi-hokey old west vibe and the million choice menu. Also I’ll hit Los Hernandez in Union Gap for killer fresh pork or green chili tamales to eat right then (plus a dozen to put in the freezer!).”
Renee Erickson, Bateau and more:
“Road-trip food: Los Hernandez Tamales in Union Gap — great stop on the way to Eastern Washington. In springtime, they have asparagus tamales!”
Larkin Young, Alchemy:
“Well, my only road trips that involve fast food are return trips from the Snoqualmie Pass area. On my way back, I love stopping into Triple XXX in Issaquah. A bacon cheeseburger and chili-cheese fries never tasted so good — I just don’t want to stop eating. Bad part is you sink into a food coma driving home — whoever gets the short straw has to drive back avoiding both traffic and sleep.”
Shota Nakajima, Naka:
“It was kind of a family tradition to get ice cream cones from Dairy Queens on road trips when I was growing up, so it has a soft spot in my heart. The chocolate-dipped ones were only for special occasions.”
Toshiyuki Kawai, Iconiq:
“Honestly, I love Jack in the Box’s crispy chicken burger — it’s crispy and juicy and reminds me of karaage.”
Jason Stratton, Mbar:
“Apart from the boring native Seattle fetish for Dick’s cheeseburgers (FWIW, I LOVE the fries), I’m pretty fast-food averse in general. Plus I’ve never had a driver’s license (!!!), so my forays are all via foot unless I’m chauffeured.”
Jerry Traunfeld, Poppy and Lionhead:
“Honestly, the only fast food I ever eat is a Dick’s Deluxe.”