Bubba's. Photo by Nick Rallo.

Cheap Eats

The Best Drive-Thru Restaurants in Dallas

Because let's face it, it's still too hot to get out of your car.

Some crows flap out of an alley behind Bubbas, nearly flying into the car in front of mine. From the gesture made by the person’s arm that’s hanging out the window, the birds nearly scared them to death.

Next to the fading menu, Bubbas’ HVAC unit is chuffing along and engine exhaust fades into the steamy aroma of Crisco and butter. The fearless crows and the smell of the narrow drive-thru alley are not why you’re here. You’re edging through the line like a log ride at Six Flags because of the biscuits—warm, dense, and lacquered with margarine.

You are here because the velvety egg folded with cheese and brittle bacon. At least, that is the right reason to be waiting in Bubba’s Cooks Country at 6 a.m. The chicken-fried diner opened in the winter of 1981. That must have been the perfect temperature to hit Bubbas’ drive-thru: biscuits and gravy are, just as they always were, as comfortable as a high-thread count duvet. A meal of mashed potatoes, fried okra, and fried chicken is hibernation food.

It’s of one of Dallas’ oldest, and best, ways to drive-thru for a hot meal. But it’s not the only great drive-thru in town. We’re lucky to have several. Here they are.

Bubba’s Cooks Country
The cure for the modern American sad-desk-lunch begins with extra rolls. They are as old-fashioned as sweet tea on the porch. The diner crafts the rolls a day before you’re getting them, a mixture loaded with crisco and sugar. Nor artisinal flour here. Each bite has an I-can’t-believe-its-not-butter-richness. Crack open the middle of the roll, and add a squiggly-fried chicken tender and some gravy for a perfect car sandwich.

Tip: employ Bubba’s when you have a buffer of at least 30 minutes to counteract the Ambien-like effects of the food.

Great American Hero
They are sandwich heroes. That’s what Dominick Oliverie, who’s owned Great American Hero for decades, calls his long-serving employees. The service here is as fast as a Dallas thunderstorm and no other drive-thru sandwich exists. There’s no artsy concept—it’s just sandwiches, fun, fast, and as homey-delicious as it was when it opened in the early ’70s.

Tip: the Heroletta—a NASA-precise layered ham, turkey, Monterey Jack cheese, salami, capicola, provolone sandwich that’s lashed with oil, dry spices, mushrooms, pepperoncinis, and olives—is a beautiful thing.

White Rock Coffee Express
White Rock Coffee’s owners, Bob and Nancy Baker, sift through coffee beans to achieve roasty, chocolatey notes from their little grindhouse on Northwest Highway. They also serve a chicken salad sandwich, classic on soft wheat bread that tastes like someone’s been standing over a grandma with a megaphone to make “More, Grandma! More.” It’s a perfect little sandwich at the Hillside drive-thru in Lakewood.

Tip: their breakfast sandwich is a little more expensive, and better, than any corporate chain.

Chicken House Plus
It’s been a decade since he took the keys, and Chicken House owner Chan Park can still be found taking phone orders in the kitchen. The drive-thru may not look operational, but, trust us, it’s moving along just fine. Catch the right moment and you’ll witness, through the barred-window, chicken yanked from the frier and puffed with dry seasonings. The chicken is the star—it has to be at this price because everything else is store bought. It’s tender and humming with seasoning. Skip Popeye’s for the day and drive through a local dive.

Tip: pass on the fish. The chicken sandwich, with extra pickles, is just simple and great.

Start
As morning rush hour dwindles, it’s the best time to be at the ordering window at local Erin McKool’s underrated fast food joint. The scrambled eggs taste like direct sunlight. Be patient if there’s a line of rumbling cars. Everything, except the tater tots, is fresh and sourced locally or handmade—which is just a bunch of buzzwords that mean the food is real. In a stout breakfast burrito, you’ll find those sunshine-soaked eggs resting against white cheddar. It has decadent, salty bite, cut by good red salsa.

Tip: the vegetarian burger, which (add a slice of the white cheddar if you like that sort of thing) is a labor of love at this joint.

Jakes Burgers and Beer (Lake Highlands)
The King’s drive-thru for chicken fries and the Golden Arches are last ditch options. The little green hut on Skillman—the neon sign that advertises the best three words in the English language, “Drive-Thru Beer”—is your local, bag-translucent-with-grease fix. There’s patty melt on the menu now. How many joints are left where you can get a patty melt without ever having to turn off your car’s engine? The crisp white bag, folded neatly, holds the goods since the mid-’80s. This isn’t Stranger-Things kitsch—it’s a Dallas classic.

Tip: there’s a lot of fluff on the Jakes menu. Stick to the simple stuff. The number one, a double cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, thinly-sheared onions and Thousand Island dressing is perfect with a cold soda and some tater tots.

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