Next time you’re wandering around the Mission, pondering what to eat next, ease on down 18th Street towards South Van Ness Avenue for an experience that’s oozing with nostalgia.
Whiz Burgers Drive-In has been a landmark in the Mission since 1955, and to this day it continues to cook some of the best burgers in the city. Beneath Whiz’s towering sign is a box-shaped restaurant plopped on the edge of a parking lot. Scattered about are a handful of picnic tables, and along the restaurant there is a countertop with some stools bolted into the cement. After ordering your food at the first window, shuffle five feet to the next one to pick it up, then find a sunny spot on the concrete oasis to indulge.
When it comes to a great burger, the expectations should be simple: a slab of cheese, a little mayo, some fresh lettuce, pickles, tomato, and onion. That’s all you need. For $5.60, Whiz’s “Burger Burger” is a classic quarter-pounder that’s masterfully mediocre. From the sesame seed bun to the canary yellow cheese, it’s all exactly what I’m looking for, right down to the grizzle on the beef patty from the flat-top grill. Well-portioned and layered, this burger is perfect because it knows exactly what it is. It’s a goddamn burger.
If you’re in the mood for something a little off-the-cuff, you can’t go wrong with the grilled patty melt. This close cousin of the cheeseburger is prepared on sliced toast with grilled onions and that same beaming, gooey cheese. Essentially a grilled cheese accompanied by tender chuck beef, this $6.75 patty melt will sear its mark onto your memory. Top it off with one of Whiz’s infamous banana milkshakes made with vanilla ice cream and fresh bananas, and you’ll be a customer for life, my friend.
Bottom line, the almighty cheeseburger was around before anyone was talking about food the way we do today. What was once, and still sometimes is, the image of cheap junk food has now evolved into the holy grail of patriotic deliciousness. The cheeseburger is now a criteria of praiseworthy chefs and craftsmanship around the country. But at Whiz, you’ll be reminded why some things are just meant to be enjoyed in a parking lot at the corner of an intersection.
Whiz Burger, 700 South Van Ness Ave., 415-824-5888, no website.