SoCal is chock-full of delicious eateries. Here’s a list of some of our favorite drive-thru restaurants that offer the best bites around.
One of the great things about life in Southern California is that we can do just about anything without even leaving our vehicles. From drive-thru pharmacies and banks to a handful of remaining drive-thru dairy locations that also serve as grab-and-run snack shops for overpriced chips and candy bars, life is about as easy as it can possibly be for people in a hurry…or those of us who are just plain lazy.
Of course, the most popular drive-thrus are those dispensing our favorite foods because, hey, we’re hungry and we love the convenience and instant gratification of driving up and having a bag of food shoved through our car window.
You may have your personal favorite drive-thru restaurants, but this article isn’t about you. It’s about me. Me, me, me, me…ME! I’m going to share some my favorites, and a few of them may surprise you because they serve foods than one would not typically expect to find at a drive-thru.
Jim’s Famous ¼-Pound Burger
Jim’s Burgers in Rosemead is, as the name implies, known for their burgers. Their char-broiled burgers are excellent, as are the crispy french fries and onion rings. Jim’s is one of those neighborhood drive-thrus that has a menu board offering something for every taste, from teriyaki bowls and salads to Mexican specialties, so simply deciding what to order may take some time.
Jim’s, however, happens to be one of my favorite morning spots, and my breakfast of choice is banana nut pancakes. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Fresh banana is cooked right into the pancakes themselves, then they are topped with banana slices and chopped walnuts. Add crispy bacon and a couple of cooked-to-order eggs, and you have a hearty breakfast that is sweet, savory and delicious. They offer to top the pancakes with whipped cream but, unless you’re seriously jonesing for sugar, it really doesn’t add anything (except calories) to an already perfect breakfast.
Jim’s has a spacious indoor dining area and ample patio seating as well. During lunch and dinner hours, the drive-thru can get a bit congested, but the line moves quite quickly despite the fact that everything is cooked fresh to order.
The staff at Jim’s is always friendly and accommodating and, whether you avail yourself of the drive-thru or decide to dine inside, the service is always fast and efficient.
The Donut Hole
You’ve heard the phrase “Going through the eye of a storm,” but have you ever thought about going through the hole of a donut? You will do exactly that at The Donut Hole. In fact, you’ll pass through two giant 26-foot donuts as you enter and exit this unique drive-thru.
Built in the 1960s, the structure is an example of “programmatic” architecture. This was one of five Donut Hole locations, but is the only one that remains in operation today. As you pull inside, you’ll notice there are two sections to the structure, separated by the drive-thru lane. To your right, you’ll see the kitchen where the donuts are being made and, on your left, the giant windows where the donuts are displayed and the order window.
They offer a wide variety of colorful, eye-catching donuts, some of them topped with various breakfast cereals or even marshmallows. My personal favorite is a glazed donut split in half and filled with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Very tasty!
The Donut Hole was featured in the 1985 film “Moving Violations,” and in the opening scenes of the 1987 film “Dragnet” starring Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd.
Naugles Tacos and Burgers
Remember Naugles? Naugles was a popular fast food chain from 1970 until the mid 1990s when Del Taco purchased Naugles, converted the restaurants and the Naugles brand faded away. The concept was revived about five years ago under new ownership and there are three Naugles restaurants operating in SoCal thus far, all in Orange County.
Of course, I had to check out the newest Naugles location. It’s in Stanton and has the distinction of being the first drive-thru in the growing chain. The food is fresh and flavorful with the same great taste I remember from years ago. Tacos, burritos, burgers and crispy french fries are among the menu offerings.
Today, I’m having an original crispy taco as well as Naugles legendary Bun Taco which, as the name implies, is all the ingredients of an original taco on a soft burger bun, rather than a taco shell. Other popular Naugles favorites include the Combo Cup (beans, meat, sauce and cheese in a cup) as well as the Ortega Burger, a juicy cheeseburger with shredded lettuce, sauce, tomato and a zesty green chile.
Naugles other OC locations include a dine-in restaurant in a business park in Fountain Valley, as well as a walk-up location with patio seating on the beach in Huntington Beach. Based on the enthusiasm of Naugles’ customers, I’m sure we will see many more locations open in the future.
Yes, Naugles is back. As the late, great Peter Allen stated in his timeless song of the same name: “Everything old is new again.”
Fresh & Meaty Burgers
Some may feel that traveling along Florence Avenue in the Hyde Park section of L.A. takes you through a less-than-desirable part of the city, but I say if you are craving a good burger, you’re in exactly the right place.
I first found out about this spot during a food fight segment on the CBS late-night talk show, The Late, Late Show with James Corden. Corden and others were circling the building in vehicles, throwing burgers at each other from car to car. It was an entertaining segment, but all I could think was – those burgers look amazing!
Fresh & Meaty Burgers is exactly as the name implies – freshly prepared burgers with lots of meaty goodness. I could probably get by with a single cheeseburger, but their big, juicy double cheeseburger is calling to me and it does not disappoint. The french fries are a must-have, as well. They serve thick, fresh cut fries that are crispy on the outside and tender and flavorful on the inside.
My double cheeseburger combo with fries and a drink is reasonably priced at around 10 bucks. Their menu also includes turkey burgers, veggie burgers and breakfast sandwiches. Service in the drive-thru is reasonably fast and the staff is always friendly.
Who doesn’t love Baskin-Robbins ice cream? Baskin-Robbins is the world’s largest ice cream specialty store chain and it was founded right here in Southern California – in Glendale, California, to be precise – way back in 1945 by Burton Baskin and Irvine Robbins.
With more than 8,000 locations worldwide, it isn’t hard to find one and, quite honestly, they are usually in convenient locations with ample parking. But why park and actually walk a few feet to get ice cream when you can simply drive through and have it handed to you through a window? My favorite Baskin-Robbins location is at their training center in Burbank.
Cars line up, sometimes out into the street, to make their way to the drive-thru window to pick up their sweet treats. With so many possible choices, the only problem with drive-thru ice cream is trying to decide what to order without holding up the line of cars behind me. I usually order a two-scoop sundae, one scoop each of Rocky Road and Pralines ‘N Cream, topped with hot fudge, whipped cream, nuts and a cherry. Ice cream perfection!
Their legendary Pralines & Cream flavor was actually developed by Irv Robbins and his wife Irma in the kitchen of their home in the 1970s, and quickly became one of their most popular flavors. While Baskin-Robbins is referred to as “31 Flavors” by many, the company actually has more than 1,300 flavors in their flavor library and offers a new “Flavor of the Month” each and every month!
Like most people, I appreciate the convenience of drive-thru restaurants and, while it’s no problem finding burgers, Mexican food or even drive-thru donuts, I love Italian food and always thought it would be awesome to be able to pick up flavorful Italian cuisine in the same way. That prayer was answered by Fazoli’s.
Fazoli’s, founded in 1988 in Lexington, Kentucky, is a fast casual chain with 200 locations across America, the closest to me being in Chino Hills. It’s a bit of a distance from where I live, but well worth the drive to get fast, tasty Italian food. There is a spacious indoor dining area but many people, including myself, choose to take advantage of their convenient drive-thru window.
The menu at Fazoli’s features everything you would expect from an Italian eatery, from Pizza and baked pasta dishes to freshly made sandwiches. There’s even a mouth watering strawberry, spinach and bacon salad. My personal favorite at Fazoli’s is their Ultimate Pasta Sampler. Four different types of sauce-topped pasta, each separated in a compartmentalized take-out box, served with two soft, buttery breadsticks for just $9.99. Now that’s a tasty bargain!
I’ve made several visits to Fazoli’s and the food never disappoints. The quality is consistent and, as mentioned, the prices are quite reasonable. Another Fazoli’s restaurant can be found in Riverside County in the city of Norco.
Bánh Mì Chè Cali
There’s nothing better on a cool, overcast day than a bowl of steaming, flavorful pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and, luckily for me, there’s a convenient drive-thru Vietnamese eatery on the way home from my office. Yes, pho from a drive-thru!
Bánh Mì Chè Cali has numerous locations throughout Southern California and they are well known for tasty, reasonably priced food. Don’t expect five-star dining. The locations I’ve visited are certainly not fancy, and some even look a bit dated. But don’t let that scare you away. They offer an exceptional value for the money.
Of course, they offer a variety of pho and spicy soup dishes, but their menu has so much more, from crisp, flavorful egg rolls and shrimp spring rolls to delicious Bahn Mi sandwiches served on a fresh baked baguette. They sell the baguettes by themselves for just $1 each, so I always stock up on fresh bread while I’m there.
I’ve tried a number of their items and all are quite good, but I generally order the Chicken Noodle Soup and a baguette. White meat chicken, tender noodles and a delicious broth. And, of course, they include a generous portion of bean sprouts, fresh jalapeno slices and other condiments with which to enhance the soup’s flavor. I dip the baguette in the broth. Delicious!