Not far off Highway 99 in Merced; an honest to goodness drive in exists and it’s not a franchise chain. I can park my car in a stall and order right from the driver’s seat. I know Sonic does it, but it’s part of their franchise schtick. I can’t recall the last time I was in a town that had a genuine local drive-in. Nostalgia aside, I didn’t feel like eating in my car, so I ordered at the walk-up window.
Basic cheeseburger, fries and a root beer for $4.95. Yep; for just under $5 I’m going to have a full belly. I was instructed to find a seat and my order would be brought out to me. In about 5 minutes, here comes the order. The burger is wrapped up in white paper, like any classic drive-in. The fries are ridge-cut and seasoned with a seasoning salt. The root-beer, a super- medium size, stands boldly over my meal in white Styrofoam.
No, my burger is not cooked medium rare and it doesn’t come from grass-fed cows. No, my fries are not hand-cut that morning. I doubt my root-beer is artisanally crafted. But who cares. It’s a drive in classic that cost less than $5. This isn’t serious food, it’s nostalgia, it’s cheap, it’s fast food that isn’t McDonald's. It’s what McDonald's crafted into a global franchise. It’s food industrialization at its finest, wrapped up into a local business that manages its costs and volume efficiently enough to stay in business. And it seems to be one of the more popular places to eat in Merced.
So next time you’re traveling Highway 99 and you find yourself in Merced and you want a nostalgic burger and fries that isn’t McDonald's, go to the H&W Drive-In.