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10 Classic American Drive-In Restaurants

10 Classic American Drive-In Restaurants

It's hard to imagine, but if common wisdom is to be believed, the drive-in restaurant precedes McDonald's by about 19 years. See, the first McDonald's Bar-B-Que restaurant opened in San Bernadino, Calif., in 1940 with the prototypical carhop service that characterized drive-ins since the first one (supposedly), Kirby's Pig Stand opened in Dallas, Texas, in 1921. Of course, like most surviving drive-in prototypes, McDonald's has long gone from drive-in to drive-thru. Gone mostly, are classic round drive-ins designed by architects like Wayne McAllister, and their carhops. But there are places that keep the drive-in restaurant tradition alive.

Take for instance All American Drive In on Long Island, which Phillip Vultaggio opened in 1963 — it has been making believers out of Massapequans ever since. Built in the style of '50s fast food joints, All American is basically a glass-enclosed counter and kitchen in the middle of a huge parking lot. This is a drive-in not a drive-thru, as Iole Marshall, Mr. Vultaggio’s granddaughter, noted, “A drive-thru is with a window where you order. A drive-in you pull up to with your car.”

It's refreshing and comforting to know places like All American don't just survive, but thrive. Even more rare though are drive-ins with curbside service. But the tradition of paper hat-clad carhops and roller-skating waitresses taking orders and rolling up to your window balancing trays of fast food does live on. Take The Varsity, in Atlanta for instance — this drive-in pilgrimmage for fast food mavens has been doing its thing since 1928. Any time you get a hankering for a greasy cheeseburger and onion rings, you know you can pull right into the lot, chat with a friendly carhop, and have your food brought to you.

From Spartanburg, South Carolina's Beacon Drive-In and the Sycamore Drive-In in Bethel, Conn., to and Frisco's in Long Beach, Calif., there are more of these classics left than you might think. Wherever they are across the country, this list of America's great drive-in restaurants adheres to what you could argue, for all civiliation's progress, is still the ultimate in roadside eating: climate control (windows and AC), your choice of entertainment (radio, etc.), and your favorite guilty pleasures served to you by carhops.

Click here for 10 Classic American Drive-In Restaurants Slideshow.


A Tasty Visit to L.A.’s Past at Tiny Naylor’s

The midcentury was an age of diners, drive-thrus and drive ins, and this was certainly the case in L.A. and its environs. Built in 1949, the drive-in Tiny Naylor’s sat on the corner of La Brea and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and was an example par excellence of Googie architecture.

Photography by Marc Wanamaker–Bison Archives

L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, a new book from Santa Monica Press, explains “became one of the most popular drive-ins during the Golden Age of Hollywood, as well as one of the few twenty-four-hour establishments in the area. The eatery was owned by W. W. ‘Tiny’ Naylor, whose six-foot-four, 300-pound frame earned him his ironic nickname.”

Tiny Naylor’s also distinguished with its menu. “Besides burgers and shakes, the menu at Tiny Naylor’s also included corn on the cob, ribs, steak, and baked potatoes—all of which were unheard of for a drive-in. Everything served at the restaurant was made from fresh ingredients, never frozen.”

Unfortunately, Tiny Naylor’s went out of business in 1980 and the funky architecture was subsequently demolished. The Naylor family is still alive and well in the restaurant business, however, with the Du-Par’s chain of restaurants.

While we can admire vintage photographs of Tiny Naylor’s, George Geary gets us another step closer to the original with a recipe for classic drive-in fare, a chocolate malt.

Chocolate Malt

This creamy all-American classic pairs perfectly with a burger.

Recipe by George Geary, excerpted by permission from L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, published by Santa Monica Press.

2 large scoops chocolate ice cream
2 tsp. chocolate powdered drink
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp. malt powder
whipped cream
1 maraschino cherry

1. Place the chocolate ice cream, powdered drink, milk, and malt powder in a blender. Blend until creamy, about 30 seconds.


A Tasty Visit to L.A.’s Past at Tiny Naylor’s

The midcentury was an age of diners, drive-thrus and drive ins, and this was certainly the case in L.A. and its environs. Built in 1949, the drive-in Tiny Naylor’s sat on the corner of La Brea and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and was an example par excellence of Googie architecture.

Photography by Marc Wanamaker–Bison Archives

L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, a new book from Santa Monica Press, explains “became one of the most popular drive-ins during the Golden Age of Hollywood, as well as one of the few twenty-four-hour establishments in the area. The eatery was owned by W. W. ‘Tiny’ Naylor, whose six-foot-four, 300-pound frame earned him his ironic nickname.”

Tiny Naylor’s also distinguished with its menu. “Besides burgers and shakes, the menu at Tiny Naylor’s also included corn on the cob, ribs, steak, and baked potatoes—all of which were unheard of for a drive-in. Everything served at the restaurant was made from fresh ingredients, never frozen.”

Unfortunately, Tiny Naylor’s went out of business in 1980 and the funky architecture was subsequently demolished. The Naylor family is still alive and well in the restaurant business, however, with the Du-Par’s chain of restaurants.

While we can admire vintage photographs of Tiny Naylor’s, George Geary gets us another step closer to the original with a recipe for classic drive-in fare, a chocolate malt.

Chocolate Malt

This creamy all-American classic pairs perfectly with a burger.

Recipe by George Geary, excerpted by permission from L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, published by Santa Monica Press.

2 large scoops chocolate ice cream
2 tsp. chocolate powdered drink
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp. malt powder
whipped cream
1 maraschino cherry

1. Place the chocolate ice cream, powdered drink, milk, and malt powder in a blender. Blend until creamy, about 30 seconds.


A Tasty Visit to L.A.’s Past at Tiny Naylor’s

The midcentury was an age of diners, drive-thrus and drive ins, and this was certainly the case in L.A. and its environs. Built in 1949, the drive-in Tiny Naylor’s sat on the corner of La Brea and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and was an example par excellence of Googie architecture.

Photography by Marc Wanamaker–Bison Archives

L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, a new book from Santa Monica Press, explains “became one of the most popular drive-ins during the Golden Age of Hollywood, as well as one of the few twenty-four-hour establishments in the area. The eatery was owned by W. W. ‘Tiny’ Naylor, whose six-foot-four, 300-pound frame earned him his ironic nickname.”

Tiny Naylor’s also distinguished with its menu. “Besides burgers and shakes, the menu at Tiny Naylor’s also included corn on the cob, ribs, steak, and baked potatoes—all of which were unheard of for a drive-in. Everything served at the restaurant was made from fresh ingredients, never frozen.”

Unfortunately, Tiny Naylor’s went out of business in 1980 and the funky architecture was subsequently demolished. The Naylor family is still alive and well in the restaurant business, however, with the Du-Par’s chain of restaurants.

While we can admire vintage photographs of Tiny Naylor’s, George Geary gets us another step closer to the original with a recipe for classic drive-in fare, a chocolate malt.

Chocolate Malt

This creamy all-American classic pairs perfectly with a burger.

Recipe by George Geary, excerpted by permission from L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, published by Santa Monica Press.

2 large scoops chocolate ice cream
2 tsp. chocolate powdered drink
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp. malt powder
whipped cream
1 maraschino cherry

1. Place the chocolate ice cream, powdered drink, milk, and malt powder in a blender. Blend until creamy, about 30 seconds.


A Tasty Visit to L.A.’s Past at Tiny Naylor’s

The midcentury was an age of diners, drive-thrus and drive ins, and this was certainly the case in L.A. and its environs. Built in 1949, the drive-in Tiny Naylor’s sat on the corner of La Brea and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and was an example par excellence of Googie architecture.

Photography by Marc Wanamaker–Bison Archives

L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, a new book from Santa Monica Press, explains “became one of the most popular drive-ins during the Golden Age of Hollywood, as well as one of the few twenty-four-hour establishments in the area. The eatery was owned by W. W. ‘Tiny’ Naylor, whose six-foot-four, 300-pound frame earned him his ironic nickname.”

Tiny Naylor’s also distinguished with its menu. “Besides burgers and shakes, the menu at Tiny Naylor’s also included corn on the cob, ribs, steak, and baked potatoes—all of which were unheard of for a drive-in. Everything served at the restaurant was made from fresh ingredients, never frozen.”

Unfortunately, Tiny Naylor’s went out of business in 1980 and the funky architecture was subsequently demolished. The Naylor family is still alive and well in the restaurant business, however, with the Du-Par’s chain of restaurants.

While we can admire vintage photographs of Tiny Naylor’s, George Geary gets us another step closer to the original with a recipe for classic drive-in fare, a chocolate malt.

Chocolate Malt

This creamy all-American classic pairs perfectly with a burger.

Recipe by George Geary, excerpted by permission from L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, published by Santa Monica Press.

2 large scoops chocolate ice cream
2 tsp. chocolate powdered drink
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp. malt powder
whipped cream
1 maraschino cherry

1. Place the chocolate ice cream, powdered drink, milk, and malt powder in a blender. Blend until creamy, about 30 seconds.


A Tasty Visit to L.A.’s Past at Tiny Naylor’s

The midcentury was an age of diners, drive-thrus and drive ins, and this was certainly the case in L.A. and its environs. Built in 1949, the drive-in Tiny Naylor’s sat on the corner of La Brea and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and was an example par excellence of Googie architecture.

Photography by Marc Wanamaker–Bison Archives

L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, a new book from Santa Monica Press, explains “became one of the most popular drive-ins during the Golden Age of Hollywood, as well as one of the few twenty-four-hour establishments in the area. The eatery was owned by W. W. ‘Tiny’ Naylor, whose six-foot-four, 300-pound frame earned him his ironic nickname.”

Tiny Naylor’s also distinguished with its menu. “Besides burgers and shakes, the menu at Tiny Naylor’s also included corn on the cob, ribs, steak, and baked potatoes—all of which were unheard of for a drive-in. Everything served at the restaurant was made from fresh ingredients, never frozen.”

Unfortunately, Tiny Naylor’s went out of business in 1980 and the funky architecture was subsequently demolished. The Naylor family is still alive and well in the restaurant business, however, with the Du-Par’s chain of restaurants.

While we can admire vintage photographs of Tiny Naylor’s, George Geary gets us another step closer to the original with a recipe for classic drive-in fare, a chocolate malt.

Chocolate Malt

This creamy all-American classic pairs perfectly with a burger.

Recipe by George Geary, excerpted by permission from L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, published by Santa Monica Press.

2 large scoops chocolate ice cream
2 tsp. chocolate powdered drink
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp. malt powder
whipped cream
1 maraschino cherry

1. Place the chocolate ice cream, powdered drink, milk, and malt powder in a blender. Blend until creamy, about 30 seconds.


A Tasty Visit to L.A.’s Past at Tiny Naylor’s

The midcentury was an age of diners, drive-thrus and drive ins, and this was certainly the case in L.A. and its environs. Built in 1949, the drive-in Tiny Naylor’s sat on the corner of La Brea and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and was an example par excellence of Googie architecture.

Photography by Marc Wanamaker–Bison Archives

L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, a new book from Santa Monica Press, explains “became one of the most popular drive-ins during the Golden Age of Hollywood, as well as one of the few twenty-four-hour establishments in the area. The eatery was owned by W. W. ‘Tiny’ Naylor, whose six-foot-four, 300-pound frame earned him his ironic nickname.”

Tiny Naylor’s also distinguished with its menu. “Besides burgers and shakes, the menu at Tiny Naylor’s also included corn on the cob, ribs, steak, and baked potatoes—all of which were unheard of for a drive-in. Everything served at the restaurant was made from fresh ingredients, never frozen.”

Unfortunately, Tiny Naylor’s went out of business in 1980 and the funky architecture was subsequently demolished. The Naylor family is still alive and well in the restaurant business, however, with the Du-Par’s chain of restaurants.

While we can admire vintage photographs of Tiny Naylor’s, George Geary gets us another step closer to the original with a recipe for classic drive-in fare, a chocolate malt.

Chocolate Malt

This creamy all-American classic pairs perfectly with a burger.

Recipe by George Geary, excerpted by permission from L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, published by Santa Monica Press.

2 large scoops chocolate ice cream
2 tsp. chocolate powdered drink
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp. malt powder
whipped cream
1 maraschino cherry

1. Place the chocolate ice cream, powdered drink, milk, and malt powder in a blender. Blend until creamy, about 30 seconds.


A Tasty Visit to L.A.’s Past at Tiny Naylor’s

The midcentury was an age of diners, drive-thrus and drive ins, and this was certainly the case in L.A. and its environs. Built in 1949, the drive-in Tiny Naylor’s sat on the corner of La Brea and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and was an example par excellence of Googie architecture.

Photography by Marc Wanamaker–Bison Archives

L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, a new book from Santa Monica Press, explains “became one of the most popular drive-ins during the Golden Age of Hollywood, as well as one of the few twenty-four-hour establishments in the area. The eatery was owned by W. W. ‘Tiny’ Naylor, whose six-foot-four, 300-pound frame earned him his ironic nickname.”

Tiny Naylor’s also distinguished with its menu. “Besides burgers and shakes, the menu at Tiny Naylor’s also included corn on the cob, ribs, steak, and baked potatoes—all of which were unheard of for a drive-in. Everything served at the restaurant was made from fresh ingredients, never frozen.”

Unfortunately, Tiny Naylor’s went out of business in 1980 and the funky architecture was subsequently demolished. The Naylor family is still alive and well in the restaurant business, however, with the Du-Par’s chain of restaurants.

While we can admire vintage photographs of Tiny Naylor’s, George Geary gets us another step closer to the original with a recipe for classic drive-in fare, a chocolate malt.

Chocolate Malt

This creamy all-American classic pairs perfectly with a burger.

Recipe by George Geary, excerpted by permission from L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, published by Santa Monica Press.

2 large scoops chocolate ice cream
2 tsp. chocolate powdered drink
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp. malt powder
whipped cream
1 maraschino cherry

1. Place the chocolate ice cream, powdered drink, milk, and malt powder in a blender. Blend until creamy, about 30 seconds.


A Tasty Visit to L.A.’s Past at Tiny Naylor’s

The midcentury was an age of diners, drive-thrus and drive ins, and this was certainly the case in L.A. and its environs. Built in 1949, the drive-in Tiny Naylor’s sat on the corner of La Brea and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and was an example par excellence of Googie architecture.

Photography by Marc Wanamaker–Bison Archives

L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, a new book from Santa Monica Press, explains “became one of the most popular drive-ins during the Golden Age of Hollywood, as well as one of the few twenty-four-hour establishments in the area. The eatery was owned by W. W. ‘Tiny’ Naylor, whose six-foot-four, 300-pound frame earned him his ironic nickname.”

Tiny Naylor’s also distinguished with its menu. “Besides burgers and shakes, the menu at Tiny Naylor’s also included corn on the cob, ribs, steak, and baked potatoes—all of which were unheard of for a drive-in. Everything served at the restaurant was made from fresh ingredients, never frozen.”

Unfortunately, Tiny Naylor’s went out of business in 1980 and the funky architecture was subsequently demolished. The Naylor family is still alive and well in the restaurant business, however, with the Du-Par’s chain of restaurants.

While we can admire vintage photographs of Tiny Naylor’s, George Geary gets us another step closer to the original with a recipe for classic drive-in fare, a chocolate malt.

Chocolate Malt

This creamy all-American classic pairs perfectly with a burger.

Recipe by George Geary, excerpted by permission from L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, published by Santa Monica Press.

2 large scoops chocolate ice cream
2 tsp. chocolate powdered drink
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp. malt powder
whipped cream
1 maraschino cherry

1. Place the chocolate ice cream, powdered drink, milk, and malt powder in a blender. Blend until creamy, about 30 seconds.


A Tasty Visit to L.A.’s Past at Tiny Naylor’s

The midcentury was an age of diners, drive-thrus and drive ins, and this was certainly the case in L.A. and its environs. Built in 1949, the drive-in Tiny Naylor’s sat on the corner of La Brea and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and was an example par excellence of Googie architecture.

Photography by Marc Wanamaker–Bison Archives

L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, a new book from Santa Monica Press, explains “became one of the most popular drive-ins during the Golden Age of Hollywood, as well as one of the few twenty-four-hour establishments in the area. The eatery was owned by W. W. ‘Tiny’ Naylor, whose six-foot-four, 300-pound frame earned him his ironic nickname.”

Tiny Naylor’s also distinguished with its menu. “Besides burgers and shakes, the menu at Tiny Naylor’s also included corn on the cob, ribs, steak, and baked potatoes—all of which were unheard of for a drive-in. Everything served at the restaurant was made from fresh ingredients, never frozen.”

Unfortunately, Tiny Naylor’s went out of business in 1980 and the funky architecture was subsequently demolished. The Naylor family is still alive and well in the restaurant business, however, with the Du-Par’s chain of restaurants.

While we can admire vintage photographs of Tiny Naylor’s, George Geary gets us another step closer to the original with a recipe for classic drive-in fare, a chocolate malt.

Chocolate Malt

This creamy all-American classic pairs perfectly with a burger.

Recipe by George Geary, excerpted by permission from L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, published by Santa Monica Press.

2 large scoops chocolate ice cream
2 tsp. chocolate powdered drink
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp. malt powder
whipped cream
1 maraschino cherry

1. Place the chocolate ice cream, powdered drink, milk, and malt powder in a blender. Blend until creamy, about 30 seconds.


A Tasty Visit to L.A.’s Past at Tiny Naylor’s

The midcentury was an age of diners, drive-thrus and drive ins, and this was certainly the case in L.A. and its environs. Built in 1949, the drive-in Tiny Naylor’s sat on the corner of La Brea and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and was an example par excellence of Googie architecture.

Photography by Marc Wanamaker–Bison Archives

L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, a new book from Santa Monica Press, explains “became one of the most popular drive-ins during the Golden Age of Hollywood, as well as one of the few twenty-four-hour establishments in the area. The eatery was owned by W. W. ‘Tiny’ Naylor, whose six-foot-four, 300-pound frame earned him his ironic nickname.”

Tiny Naylor’s also distinguished with its menu. “Besides burgers and shakes, the menu at Tiny Naylor’s also included corn on the cob, ribs, steak, and baked potatoes—all of which were unheard of for a drive-in. Everything served at the restaurant was made from fresh ingredients, never frozen.”

Unfortunately, Tiny Naylor’s went out of business in 1980 and the funky architecture was subsequently demolished. The Naylor family is still alive and well in the restaurant business, however, with the Du-Par’s chain of restaurants.

While we can admire vintage photographs of Tiny Naylor’s, George Geary gets us another step closer to the original with a recipe for classic drive-in fare, a chocolate malt.

Chocolate Malt

This creamy all-American classic pairs perfectly with a burger.

Recipe by George Geary, excerpted by permission from L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, published by Santa Monica Press.

2 large scoops chocolate ice cream
2 tsp. chocolate powdered drink
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp. malt powder
whipped cream
1 maraschino cherry

1. Place the chocolate ice cream, powdered drink, milk, and malt powder in a blender. Blend until creamy, about 30 seconds.