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The fast-food drive-thru has got to be one of the best inventions of the 20th century. Think about it: piping hot, freshly made food, handed directly to you through your vehicle’s driver’s-side window.
Thank Harry and Esther Snyder, who owned an In-and-Out Burger in Baldwin Park, CA, in 1948.
According to most accounts, at least one other drive-thru already existed. But Harry’s the one who spent late nights in his garage developing the two-way speaker box – an early version of the technology still used today – that allowed people to order and receive meals without ever stepping foot out of the car.
Since then – drive-thru explosion! They’re everywhere, and hungry people can get everything from the original burgers and fries to tacos to doughnuts and even a caramel macchiato with caramel in the cup, upside down, with whipped cream, a shot of decaf espresso and cinnamon on the top (no drizzle).
If you find yourself in Central Florida, check out these excellent examples of drive-thru wonderfulness:
The certifiable, verifiable, one and only family-owned granddaddy of drive-thru opportunities is Beefy King.
It’s a landmark. It’s an icon. It’s an Orlando tradition and rite of passage. Since 1968, this place has been renowned for its steamed roast beef sandwiches. Generations of Orlando residents have grown up chowing down on Beefy King goodness.
You never know who might be in the line, inside or out. Jimmy Fallon popped by for lunch one day during an Orlando visit. And back in his Orlando Magic days, power forward Shaquille O’Neal was a frequent late-night visitor.
The current menu includes ham, turkey, pastrami and BBQ beef and BBQ pork sandwiches, plus platters, salads and a range of sides. And how times have changed – now you can even get a veggie sandwich, which comes with coleslaw, pickles and onions.
Inside dining is also available.
Location: 424 N. Bumby Ave., Orlando.
This fast-casual chain started out as a humble hot dog cart in New York City in 2001. Fast forward to today: it’s an empire with 400 locations around the world, including six in the Orlando area.
Yes, the Shack still serves those Big Apple-style dogs for the purists alongside a full menu of burgers – including the veggie variety – fries, shakes, chicken bites and lemonades and teas made in house with real cane sugar.
Only 11 of those many, many stores include a drive-thru option and one of them is here in Orlando at Vineland Pointe Shopping Center, 11637 Daryl Carter Parkway.
All the transplanted Midwesterners swear by this chain’s butterburgers and frozen custard. Oh, and cheese curds. It’s a Canadian/Upper Midwest thing, don’t worry about it.
The rest of the menu features mainstream favorites such as chicken, fish, grilled cheese, soups, salads and the like.
Culver’s brought their curd-y goodness to the Sunshine State in 2014 and the butterburger message spread quickly to the uninitiated.
Several locations dot the Orlando landscape, but what makes the store at 1616 E Semoran Blvd. in Apopka super special is that it’s literally across the street from Mullinax Ford of Central Florida. Our flagship!
Think about it: come for an oil change and enjoy a root beer float while you wait. Doable, right? And would you mind bringing us some fries? We really like those. Thanks!
Drunken Monkey Coffee Bar
Are you a vegan java junkie? Then point your wheels toward this eclectic coffee house. The college-y vibe wafts from the window of the drive-thru as surely as the aroma of a quad-shot cappuccino.
The monkey serves breakfast all day, as well as lunch wraps and panini, both veggie-friendly and suitable for omnivores and regular, vegan and gluten-free desserts.
Location: 4 N. Bumby Ave., Orlando
Tortas El Rey
Have a taste for tortas? You know what tortas are, right? They’re a traditional Mexican favorite, kind of like a burger except they have taco fillings inside a bun.
If so, venture down South Orange Blossom Trail to this emporium of south-of-the-border street food. Yes, the surroundings might seem a tiny bit sketchy, but you’ll be ok in the drive-thru, trust us.
The place is small – it’s housed in a former Checkers, which is basically a kitchen with a wrap-around drive-thru and a walk-up counter in front – but it cranks out tacos, burritos, quesadillas and other Mexican favorites. If you know your way around authentic Mexican cuisine – or you’re just adventurous – try the tacos, gorditas or burritos made with beef head. Yep, beef head. Buen provecho.
Location: 6151 S Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando
Locals know where to get a little bit of everything with drive-thru convenience. We’re talking fruit smoothies and both cold and hot coffee concoctions, plus Maine lobster rolls – wait, lobstah rolls – clam chowdah, pizza and healthy wraps and veggie-friendly options. Oh, and they make their own gelato.
Consider stopping by on your way toward the beach. Getting in and out of the drive-thru and parking lot are easier that way.
Location: 115 Flagler Ave., New Smyrna Beach
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