A few days ago, on the way to a dental appointment, I passed by Lou's Drive In, and seeing the restaurant for the 800th or so time, the experience got me thinkng that it has been years, many years, since I paid them a visit, to enjoy and "old school" burger in a 1960's atmosphere. I also got to thinking about how many "drive in" restaurants actually exist in the greater Sacrameno area - not many to choose from in 2016 - which got me to thinking that it was time to pay Lou's a visit, and to publish a write-up on this web site. Oh, am I ever happy I did!
Photo: The sign reads "Lou's Burgers," but the name of the restaurant is actually named Lou's Drive In. Since moving to the Sacramento area in the early 1990's, I've passed by this restaurant countless times, yet before today, January 20, 2016, I'd only enjoyed a burger at Lou's one time, before I owned a digital camera, or before the Internet took hold of my life. Today was "the day" to pay a visit to Lou's, to enjoy 1960's drive in restaurant atmosphere, and to enjoy a truly "old school" burger. At 10:00 on this Wednesday morning, I was the only customer, which is the way I like it, as it's easier to take photos and chit-chat with the staff, without annoying other patrons, and interfering with the daily operations.
Photo: Lou's Drive In does not have a drive-through, like most McCorporation restaurants feature. You pull up to the restaurant, park, get out of your car, and scan the menu. Then, you place your order at the order window and, naturally, pay for it, give the gal your name, and when your order is ready, they will call your name. Of course your order arrives in a bag, as Lou's makes "finger food," so no utensils are necessary, but you'll go through many napkins, as their burgers are juicy, messy, and a pleasure to eat.
As a "child of the 1960's" this restaurant reminds me of many of the drive-ins that I frequented as a senior at Merced High School, as on Friday or Saturday nights, if there wasn't a football game, we'd "drag the main" and always stop by a favorite burger restaurant that was very similar to Lou's. Lou's restaurant is really "old school" in that the gal at the order window slides open a window to take your order. She is protected from the elements - and the insects - by a screen window, just like the drive-in restaurants featured back in the 1960's. Most of the dining is outside, but in a nod to contemporary times, there is a small dining room - it is actually air conditioned - that you enter separately from the side of the restaurant.
Aside from the 2016 prices, the new cars, and a nod to "save the environment," which is mandated by the county, if you closed your eyes and walked up to Lou's order window, you'd almost swear it was 1966, rather than 2016. As a nice touch, I LOVE the open fluorescent lights!
Photo: Lou's menu is posted outside, near the order window - see previous photo - and also in the small dining room. Knives and forks aren't needed for most selections, but spoons are provided for milk shakes. Note how "1960's" the menu appears, but if you look closely, Lou's has entered the 21st century, as they offer a veggie burger, a menu selection that did not exist during the "drag the main" drive-in restaurant days back in the 1960's.
No wine or beer is served at Lou's, but if Pepsi products suit your fancy, you've come to the right place. I didn't order a soft drink, but the counter gal, Charlotte, told me that Lou's serves soft drinks with shaved ice. Shaved ice? Yes, it helps soft drinks retain their carbonation better than ice cubes, and shaved ice is another throwback to the 1960's. Obviously, Lou's Drive In has grabbed my attention...
From asking around, I understand that "Lou's" was a small burger chain, back in the day, and this restaurant, which is sometimes refereed to as "Lou's Drive In #2" is the last remaining link in the former chain.
Photo: Lou's dining room. It's completely isolated from the kitchen, except for a door, at the left of the photo, the staff uses to enter from the kitchen. Keep in mind, Lou's Drive In is a DRIVE IN RESTAURANT, so most patrons choose to eat in their cars - really they do... - or sit on the picnic tables in front of the restaurant, to enjoy their delicious burgers. On this Wednesday morning, January 20, 2016, I was the first patron to employ the dining room, and the counter gal, Charlotte, actually had to unlock the side door so I could dine inside, in comfort. The dining room is small, spartan, but it's clean and comfortable, and the walls are adorned with pictures and posters of local schools and sports teams.
Lou's Drive In has been at this North Highlands location for 50+ years, and they are a sponsor of local schools along with local sports teams. Besides the great food, the fact that Lou's sponsors local projects is an outstanding reason to dine at their fine restaurant. Oh yes, I prefer to dine at one-of-a-kind restaurants, rather than national chain restaurants. Lou's is local, home-grown Sacramento, and a drive-in restaurant that harkens back to the 1960's. Lou's is definitely my kind of restaurant.
Photo: Friendly order gal, Charlotte, hands out an order to another customer, and graciously allows me to take her photo. Since the majority of the menu items could be considered "finger food," Lou's presents the orders - dine-in or take-out - in a paper bag, as it was done, before the invention of styrafoam containers. Paper bags and paper napkins are better for the environment, so the say applies, "what's old is new."
I'm looking into the kitchen, from the dining room. As in 1960's drive-in restaurants, the kitchen is totally self-contained, and not integrated with the dining room. I may be wrong, but I imagine the door to the dining room was added as an afterthought. If you look to the rear of the photo, through the open door, you'll catch a glimpse of the grill that's used to cook the burgers. Charlotte was the order gal, but there was another gal performing cooking duties, and I didn't get the chance to snap her photo. By the way, Charlotte actually seemed to enjoy my photo-taking, endless questions, and all of my craziness. Quite a nice person!
Photo: I scanned the menu... and scanned the menu some more, but I ended up with a "signature" item from the menu: A "Lou's Burger Double Cheese." Sure, if you're going to write a web article on a restaurant for a first time visit, protocol dictates you order a "signature" item from the menu. Lou's menu offers single, double and triple burgers - I bet they'd do a "quad" if you asked them - but at 10:00 in the morning, I wasn't up to a triple burger, so I split the difference and ordered a double burger, plus a small order of fries.
OK, I'll start with the fries. Notice they're totally "old school," and very chunky. The fries are quite different from what you'll find served in chain fast food restaurants; but I must confess that I find no fault in fries served anywhere, or any style. But, at Lou's, the fries are chunky and large. You'll find them juicy and tender in the middle, and deep fried to a golden brown on the outside, which makes for a delicious combination. Yes, just like the fries I used to enjoy as a teenager, back in 1968.
From the menu, I ordered a "Lou's Burger..." If you plan to publish an article on a restaurant for the first time, you must order a "signature" selection from the menu, right? I opted for a double cheeseburger, but the menu also offers single and triple burgers, so I simply took the middle ground, which works for me. My burger arrived about 5 minutes after I placed my order, as my friendly counter person, Charlotte, called my name.
The burger: In a phrase, "old school." The bun is toasted on the griddle, and butter is applied to the bun. You get two patties of meat, two slices of American cheese, shredded lettuce, and upon request, diced onion. Besides from the butter on the toasted buns, the remaining condiment is Thousand Island dressing... which is a throwback to 1960's burger dining cuisine. The bun, the meat, the veggies and the condiments were fresh, delicious, and skillfully prepared. Lou's "Double Cheese" is a burger to remember!
Photo: Charlotte snaps my photo - on my request - as I prepare to enjoy my delicious "Double Cheeseburger" and fries. She offered me packages of ketchup, which I accepted, as I savor ketchup on my fries, but I'm not a child, so I don't like ketchup on my burger.
Photo: Just a close-up photo of the burger that I was about to enjoy. Note that it, and the fries, come wrapped in paper, which is readilly bio-degradable and eco-friendly. I don't "hug trees," but I do enjoy a great burger, and no matter how it's wrapped, if it's good, then I'm a happy burger eater. If you're a fan of 1960's style burgers, and drive in restaurants - not drive through - then you need to pay a visit to Lou's Drive In for a delicious burger.
When you're in the mood for a delicious, freshly cooked, unique and "old school" burger, with a 1960's drive-in atmosphere, there is no better place to satisfy your burger craving than Lou's Drive In, located in North Highlands. As a burger enthusiast, I endorse this outstanding restaurant.
Lou's Drive In
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