Stan's Drive-In remains true to the early '60s aesthetic

Tony tipped his fedora up, tilted his chair back and looked hard at me.

"Go to lunch," he said. This was odd, since it was 10 in the morning. It turned out he didn't mean immediately. Tony is the editor of the Beacon Hill News & South District Journal. What he wanted was a story about cheap, fast lunch places in South Seattle - maybe several.

I decided to start at Stan's Drive-In, a classic drive-in on the east side of Rainier Avenue, just south of Dearborn Street. It has the kind of '60s-modern sign that used to grace all such eateries in the days before the Beatles. The tiny, slope-roofed building (no inside eating here, this is a drive-in) sits back on an asphalt expanse that would look perfect with a '55 Chevy, a '58 Plymouth and a two-seater Thunderbird out front.

None of those cars were there at lunchtime last Thursday. The parking lot was filled with a couple of not-new cars and an assortment of trucks with company logos painted on the sides. This is the kind of place where your lunch companions are likely to wear coveralls with a name over the breast pocket.

Jae Oh has owned Stan's since 1993 and keeps it open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. He said his top seller is hamburgers, and his special, the double deluxe burger with fries, is just $3.49. Deluxe burgers have sesame buns, lettuce, tomato, relish, mayonnaise, onion, mustard and pickles. The deluxe special is just one of more than 15 entrees on the menu for less than $5, including fish, chicken strips, teriyaki chicken and egg rolls. There is also a selection of lunch combos that include a soft drink.

A hamburger would have been my choice ordinarily, but the big sign out front promised not just hamburgers, but fish and chips. I like fish and chips. I have been looking for a good, cheap fish and chips place near my apartment for some time, and this looked like a chance to find one. When I got up to the little opening in the big plate glass windows I discovered that Stan's not only has fish and chips, it offers catfish and chips.

The heart of this Missouri (that's Mi-ZUR-ah, son) boy leapt. Fate had stepped in and made my choice for me, even though it was one of the most expensive single items on the menu - $6.49. The catfish came in three long, breaded strips on a bed of French fries in a paper basket, served with lidded vials of tartar sauce and ketchup balanced on top. It was wonderful!

"We have our own recipe for tartar sauce and we have our own breading," Oh said. I can tell you, both recipes are excellent.

Oh is also proud of his milkshakes.

"We have old-fashioned style milkshakes," he said. "They are made with real ice cream and come in nine different flavors."

The burgers come in different flavors too, including mushroom and Swiss cheese.

I guess I'll just have to go back and try them all, if I can just make myself order something other than catfish. Maybe I'll have a milkshake, too.

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