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Best drive-thrus

Where to pop in for a bite

Eastside Big Tom’s Jim Dandy. Photo credit: Dutch Randall

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Far too often I find myself not wanting to go out and not wanting to cook, which usually lands me in my car and in a drive-thru. Drive-thrus have a reputation for poor-quality food, but that's not always the case. I've driven around and "thru" enough South Sound towns to find a few that are worth staying in the car.

In Olympia, Eastside Big Toms is not a secret, and for a burger, there are very few that can compare. For most, it's all about the "goop," a delicious creamy sauce that singles out Big Toms from the others. However, don't overlook the simplicity of the other burgers, like the Jim Dandy that includes two seasoned patties, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and mayonnaise. Add your own shake recipe from a huge combination of ingredients - may I suggest cherry and hot fudge?

Eastside Big Toms, 2023 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.357.4852, Facebook

Go Philly. Photo credit: Dutch Randall

Drive-thrus are not limited to burgers, and at Go Philly in Downtown Tacoma, you can get one of the best Philly cheese steaks west of Philadelphia. Fresh hoagie rolls are packed full with thinly sliced steak and onions, seasoned thoroughly and then partnered with real Cheez Whiz. During lunch hours, you can have a small sandwich, fries and a soda for under $8. I like mine with the mushrooms for just a bit more.

Go Philly, 1402 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma, 253.572.3000,

The North End neighborhood and most of Tacoma is familiar with the burgers and shakes at Frisco Freeze. However, these traditional favorites aren't the best part of the menu.  This is one of the few places you can enjoy a jumbo prawn basket from the comfort of your own car. Available in 10, 15, or 20 pieces, deep-fried prawns are served with made-to-order hot fries, tartar and cocktail sauce. Add a shake in any combination of 10 flavor options, and you have yourself a full meal.

Frisco Freeze, 1201 Division Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.6843, Facebook

Memo’s chicken enchiladas. Photo credit: Dutch Randall

Now open in Lakewood and Tacoma, Memos Mexican Restaurant makes the list not just because of its wide variety of burritos, 20 to be exact, but also because it is open 24 hours a day. Breakfast or dinner servings are available anytime you feel like jumping in the car. The chicken enchiladas are some of the best in town; large chunks of meat are rolled in corn tortillas and smothered in mole sauce, then topped with cheese and fresh lettuce and paired with beans and rice. Quick, fresh and passed right through your car window.

Memos Mexican Restaurant, 1703 6th Ave., Tacoma, 253.572.9503, and 9602 Bridgeport Way SW, Lakewood, 253.267.5968,

Let's face it - burgers seem to be the easy out when we're in our cars, but some burger shacks have more to offer. With fast and friendly service, Frugals in Parkland is one such place. In addition to its made-to-order fresh beef burgers, it also offers a BLT sandwich that is piled with generous amounts of bacon, thick slices of fresh tomato, and crispy lettuce on toasted bread. Located on Pacific Ave, right off of Hwy 512, it's easy and quick to get to as well.

Frugals, 10727 Pacific Ave. S., Tacoma, 253.535.9775,

Daddy-O's in Lacey is a tiny little hut with just two burgers on the menu - a single or double patty - that's it. Both come with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and mayo; you just have to decide how much beef you want. Fair warning: As tasty as this burger is, it's a bit messy for car dining but perfect for taking home to the family.

Daddy-O's, 4663 Whitman Lane SE, Lacey, 360.528.8208, Facebook

Out and About Burgers’ BMC. Photo credit: Dutch Randall

Out and About Burgers in Puyallup has a simple menu with just a handful of selections, including a grilled cheese sandwich for any discerning vegetarian. In the spirit of its simplicity, it also has one of the area's best burgers. The BMC is just a toasted bun, two meat patties, and three slices of melted cheese. There is nothing to distract you from the flavor of the beef patties, and it reminds you of what a burger is supposed to be. Add a malt to your order, and it really will take you back to a simpler time.

Out and About Burgers, 14214 Meridian Ave. E., Puyallup, 253.677.1974, Facebook

Lefty's Burger Shack in University Place is technically a walk-up, so you do have to get out of your car. But it makes the list because in addition to great burgers from a family-owned business, this is one of the few places in the Northwest that you can find deep-fried pickles. Yep, deep-fried pickles. If you've never tried them, they are crunchy with a bite of vinegar and plenty of creamy ranch for dipping. It's a treat that makes it worth getting out of the car.

Lefty's Burger Shack, 8317 27th St. W., University Place, 253.565.0887, Facebook

The gyro is the star at It’s Greek to Me in Tacoma. Photo credit: Dutch Randall

It's Greek to Me in Tacoma serves up fast and authentic Greek cuisine for either dine-in or take-out. The menu includes salads, sandwiches and even pizzas, but if I'm grabbing something quick to go, it's going to be a gyro. Warm pita bread is stacked with seasoned ground lamb and beef and topped with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and finally drenched in creamy tzatziki sauce.

It's Greek to Me, 1702 6th Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.1375,

Steamboat Annie’s fish and chips. Photo credit: Dutch Randall

Just across Eld Inlet on the West side of Olympia, Steamboat Annie's is a family-owned business that shows its love for food in every order. A small location with a large menu that includes burgers, sandwiches and more than 50 flavors of shakes, its fish and chips is worth leaving the beaten path. Huge, meaty filets of cod are stacked atop a generous helping of French fries with plenty of tartar for dipping.

Steamboat Annie's, 3634 Steamboat Island Road NW, Olympia, 360.866.2274

Lakewood House of Donuts recently added a drive-thru only in Puyallup. I have to admit, I like the idea of grabbing donuts in the morning without getting out of the car.  The donuts are still made fresh daily in Lakewood, they are still large, and they are still available in both traditional and seasonal flavors. You can't beat a fresh maple bar from a drive-thru either in Puyallup or at the original location.

Lakewood House of Donuts, 9638 Gravelly Lake Dr., Lakewood, 253.588.2647, and 1111 N. Meridian, Puyallup, 253.268.3629,

The advantages of a drive-thru meal are countless. The idea of grabbing a bite to eat, without leaving the comfort of your car, doesn't have to be a chore. After all, it is intended to make things easier. And if you give these selections a shot, you'll make things easier on your palate as well.

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