All you have to do to find the nearest McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A near you is type “fast food” into Google. But that’s not quite what we’re talking about here. The following are drive-thrus where your dollar can support local businesses while keeping you socially distanced. Some may even hail the drive-thru as a lost art. From improvised setups to longstanding staples, here are 12 restaurants, two of which are technically drive-ins, where you can check out the Dallas food scene from the comfort of your car.
Emporium Pies [Now Pickup or Delivery only]
With a colorful, revitalized Victorian home as its storefront, Emporium Pies certainly doesn’t look like your typical drive-thru—and it’s not. The pies that are handmade fresh daily might be one clue. Founded in 2011 by Megan Wilkes and Mary Sparks, a duo introduced by a mutual friend, the shop also bakes their pies sans artificial preservatives and hydrogenated oils. During COVID-19, the shop has set up a temporary “pie-thru” in the alley by its Bishop Arts District location. Employees take customers’ orders at one pop-up canopy tent and dish out prepackaged pies or slices at the next one. Don’t be fooled by the approachable, open-air tents, though. They will only serve patrons who come in cars. Choose from their seasonal selection of pies posted on a chalkboard outside.
As a mezcaleria, Las Almas Rotas has long been known for its selection of spirits and bar service. Owners hired chef Armando Aguilar to level up their food menu, but his first day just happened to coincide with Dallas’ shutdown of dine-in services. Now, Las Almas Rotas is serving more robust cuisine offerings through a makeshift drive-thru. On-the-go customers including bikers, pedestrians, and drivers can pass through the adjoining, mural-bedecked alleyway and grab their order from the restaurant’s side door. Since opening the drive-thru, Las Almas Rotas has rolled out new menu items like a taco eight-pack and a chorizo verde burrito that Texas Monthly raved about.
Housed in a 1929 Texaco station turned diner, Bubba’s was built for customers in cars. Anybody looking to get southern comfort food in uncomfortable times can load up on Bubba’s rich yeast rolls, mashed potatoes, and fried chicken. Bubba’s also offers family packs for the whole minivan. Choose from a plethora of rotating veggie sides to counteract the Crisco-filled rolls. The recipes are heirlooms of the Vinyard family, whose late matriarch Mary Beth crafted the recipes and opened the restaurant with her husband Paul, also known as Bubba, in Dallas in 1981.
Another longtime Dallas staple in Oak Lawn, Great American Hero was founded by New Jersey native Dominick Oliverie in 1974. Since then, the sandwich shop has served subs to Dallasites hankering for a mouthful of deli-style deliciousness. Try a specialty like the Heroletta, stick with a classic Reuben or choose from their vegetarian options. With a bright yellow, pink and blue exterior and a large, Instagrammable mural at the back, there’s still ambiance to enjoy from your car at this local drive-thru.
If you miss hanging out at indie coffee shops but aren’t ready to sit in a limited-capacity cafe, you can still support a local roastery at White Rock Coffee Express in Lakewood and Lake Highlands. The menu features smoothies and traditional coffee drinks, as well as cleverly named beverages like the Adam Bomb (two shots of espresso blended with vanilla and cinnamon) and the White Rocker (with caramel and chocolate syrup). The food menu offers lunch items and an array of baked goods including doughy cinnamon rolls and sugar-crusted blueberry muffins from their commercial bakeshop. Housed in narrow buildings with a farmhouse aesthetic, this coffeehouse was meant for drive-thru customers to get their caffeine fix on the go.
The menu is pretty simple at this Old East Dallas chicken joint. There’s fried chicken breasts, thighs, gizzards and practically any other body part a chicken has. The chicken might be sandwiched in a bun with a few pickles or extra seasoned as hot wings, and there are a few sides like okra and french fries. But if you’re coming to Chicken House Plus, you’re coming for chicken. Formerly known as Brothers Chicken, Chicken House Plus has been owned and operated by husband and wife duo Chan and Suzy Park for 12 years. There are only a few lonely barstools inside the cramped shop and the speakers are busted, so pull up to the window to order.
The original 1985 Jakes Burgers and Beer in Lake Highlands features the only drive-thru at any Jakes, dating back to its days when the only location was a transformed gas station with a drive-thru and counter service. Since the restaurant’s expansions throughout D-FW, the menu has also expanded to include brunch options and sides like fried cauliflower. However, the burgers with locally sourced beef and packed into buns speckled with poppy seeds remain the chain’s staple. The latter part of the Jakes name references the wide selection of local suds that customers can order even through the drive-thru—just don’t drink them in the car.
The North Dallas, East Dallas, Plano and Balch Springs locations of this local taqueria all provide drive-thru service, offering an alternative to your sad burrito from Taco Bell. At La Paloma Taqueria, you can order staples like tamales, tortas and burritos. If you’re looking for cuisine you wouldn’t find at larger fast-food chains, get a taste of traditional homestyle dishes with their lengua tacos, menudo or arroz con leche.
Celebrities and locals alike have declared their devotion to this Dallas favorite since 1951. While the original location that elicits such nostalgia from loyal sentimentalists doesn’t have a drive-thru, its Addison and Lakewood locations do, and they still make the burgers with the same old-school recipe. Burger House is known for its beef patties that aren’t all that beefy, but rather thinly shaped and easily stacked. D awarded Burger House the title of Best French Fries in 2012. The fries might be more famous for the seasoning salt that’s sprinkled on them and on onion rings. The seasoning salt is so adored that they sell it at stores and ship it worldwide.
You can enjoy the Great Outdoors Sub Shop from the great indoors of your car at its Dallas, McKinney and Richardson locations. New Jersey native Jerry Oliverie opened this sub shop in 1973 with his brother. If that story sounds familiar, that’s because Dominick Oliverie, owner of Great American Hero, is Jerry’s brother. While the brothers now own separate local franchises, they’re both still bringing New Jersey subs to North Texas. The menu features specials like The Great Outdoorsman (turkey pastrami, capicola, spiced ham, salami, bologna, pepperoni and cheese), classic favorites like the cheesesteak and breakfast sandwiches on croissants.
The neon sign that looms above the no-frills kitchen and glorified parking lot that is Keller’s Drive-in hints at the restaurant’s beginning in 1950s Dallas, which hasn’t changed much since. A jukebox rattles out tunes and most burgers cost less than three bucks. Yet, this drive-in has been named America’s best drive-in and its burgers that cost less than a latte have been included on lists of America’s best burgers. Turn on your hazard lights to signal to carhops that you’re ready to order. Keller’s fans recommend the No. 5 Special as the go-to burger, a poppy seed bun with a thin patty, lettuce and tomato doused with Thousand Island dressing inside.
As the name of this classic East Dallas drive-in might hint, this restaurant is lactose friendly and born in an era before oat milk filled the shelves of every Whole Foods. The soft-serve ice cream can be eaten by itself or submerged in a foamy mug of root beer that looks like it belongs in an ad for the soda. The burgers are straightforward pieces of culinary invention. The onion rings are thick, and the fries are real. If you’re feeling parched for something besides their legendary root beer, they also make fresh-squeezed lemonade.