It's XXX, but it's drive-in fun for the whole family
Special to The Seattle Times
Back in 1930 when the world was new, XXX wasn't something to hide from your children — it was a really good brand of root beer. A drive-in featuring the spicy beverage opened in Renton and soon burgeoned into a national chain. Seventy-plus years later, there's but one left in the world, and it's in Issaquah. And it still has really good root beer.
Surely you've seen the giant barrel just off Interstate 90, on your way to or from the ski hill, and wondered if it was worth a stop. Wonder no more: The joint that last year won "Best Burger" in the Issaquah Press' Best of Issaquah poll, puts sprinkles in its homemade milkshakes, shouts "Hello!" when you walk in the door and "See you later!" when you walk out and sports a working jukebox filled with all the best A-sides of the '50s has an awful lot to recommend it. And not just the fact that the ghost of Potsie lives here.
It's the décor, a charming car wreck of a place with cherry-red banquettes and black-and-white floor tiles, packed to the rafters with what must be paraphernalia from every T-Bird and Mustang and Little Deuce Coupe ever gunned through Western Washington. José Enciso and family, XXX's owners since 1999 and car buffs themselves, collected this stuff from customers, and somehow it makes the perfect stage set for the monstrous bacon-burger-onion-ring-and-root-beer feast you're going to devour.
For that's why you're here, you and all the other soccer parents and ski families and teenagers on first dates. It's big, greasy, messy food, served with laughably insufficient paper napkins by sweet servers who will make the whole place sing "Happy Birthday" to you if it's warranted. Go ahead, grab a vintage hub cap down off the wall and start your own percussion section. Chances are even that won't drown out Del Shannon.
58 Impala burger: A half-pound of beef in two patties, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, mayo, Thousand-Islandy XXX sauce, criss-cross strips of bacon and, alas, American cheese added up to an almost-delectable burger. (Note to management: I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one out there who would gladly pay more for actual cheese.) It's big and messy — though not as messy as the herkin' Triple XXX'er, a three-patty monster as big as a headlight — and not a bad deal for the money. It's one of 14 burgers on the menu, including varieties smothered in BBQ sauce, chili, grilled onions or sautéed mushrooms. One bizarre creation, the Cutlass 442, features a burger topped with grilled ham, bacon and a roasted hot dog.
Piston onion rings: They call 'em "gourmet," and if that means crunchy and (relatively) greaseless, they're right. I far preferred these to the ordinary fries, which were slightly redolent of old grease, but the 4-year-old at the table declared the seasoned Curly-Q's the "bestest" of the lot. Heck, who needs to decide: For $5.95 you can slam your arteries shut with all of the above plus cheese puffs, deep-fried mushrooms and chicken nuggets. (Side of gravy with that?)
Honda Goldwing: This is a basket of beer-battered halibut and chips, a meal that proves what a burger place this really is. The fish was overcooked, cloaked in something much more like what you get in the frozen-food section of the grocery store than beer batter.
Frosted root-beer mug: Once you get over your disappointment that nobody's brewing up batches of the secret XXX root-beer recipe in back — Coca Cola bottles it for them — you will probably like this one a lot. Less froth and more spice than you may be used to adds up to a unique and refreshing gulp.
Vanilla milkshake: This is a real soda fountain, folks, with floats and malts and sundaes and banana splits, all made from real Darigold Premium ice cream. The vanilla shake suits me just fine, but just because I'm a purist you don't have to be: They offer caramel, banana, marshmallow, blackberry, peanut butter, even Piña Colada flavors. The shakes are great, and if by the end your sprinkles aren't bleeding happy rainbows all over your whipped cream, you sucked the thing down too fast.
Itemized bill, meal for 2
58 Impala (burger) $6.45
Piston onion rings (with burger, substituted for fries) $1.85
Honda Goldwing (fish 'n' chips) $7.95
Frosted root-beer mug, regular $1.45
Vanilla milkshake, regular $3.25
Kathryn Robinson: KathAnRob@aol.com