REVIEW: Johnson’s Drive-In – Siler City
There is a lot of history behind Johnson’s Drive-In, one of the our state’s most renowned burger joints which has been serving up burgers and fries to loyal customers in Siler City since 1946. There haven’t been that many local burger joints in the state that have been able to stand the test of time against the national chains like McDonald’s, Hardee’s and Burger King plus competing against new chains like Five Guys with similar business models doesn’t help their survival in today’s market.
Since starting Eat It, North Carolina, a lot of my friends have reached out to me about trying new places that they really enjoy. Most of the places are in the city that I live in but a few have been places within about an hour to an hour and a half from Greensboro where I live as well as doing a food weekend in a city or town a few hours away. Russ, a friend of mine from High Point, asked me if I wanted to ride down to Siler City with him when he went for business to try out Johnson’s. We left about 10 a.m. on a weekday and headed down to Siler City.
Johnson’s is open on Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. but you don’t want to show up late because they usually sell out of burgers before then. We got there around noon but luckily it was raining so Johnson’s wasn’t slammed like I had read that it would be. We still had to wait 15 to 20 minutes for a table but we were able to take in the atmosphere and observe the culture as we waited.
The menu at Johnson’s Drive-In is simple with burgers and dogs plus a grilled cheese and lettuce & tomato sandwich although I don’t think that the last two are bringing all the patrons through the door. Chili costs $0.30 extra, lettuce costs $0.15 extra and tomato costs $0.35 extra but you don’t feel like you are getting nickel and dimed while you’re there because all of the extras are very fresh and they won’t serve anything that isn’t.
Johnson’s is a place that locals love and you will see Claxton Johnson (above in the red hat) chatting them up. He is a friendly guy that will pretty much anyone that comes in there and will always greet you with a friendly smile. Claxton’s father opened up the restaurant in 1946 and Claxton has been working there since he was a child and knows pretty much everyone in town. He is the only one who cooks the burgers and does them in batches so that he has a chance to catch up with his loyal patrons.
Early each morning, Claxton meets a delivery truck at his restaurant to select that day’s meat. He doesn’t use boxed hamburger meat for his burgers. He handpicks whole sides of grain-fed USDA beef and takes them into the back of the restaurant where they are ground and then pattied into tennis ball-sized mounds and sent up to Claxton at the grill. He smashes the mounds of the never frozen beef into patties on the hot grill and then once they are cooked, he melts a thick slice (1/8″) of Velveeta cheese and then lays on the top half of the bun so they all melt together in an uber-gooey melt. He passes them down the line for topping and then they are served immediately.
I admit this isn’t the best picture that I have taken recently. I had a couple of close-up shots but they all turned out a little blurry and out-of-focus. The cheeseburger on the left was an all-the-way (chili, slaw, mustard, onions) and the cheeseburger on the right had lettuce, tomato, mustard and mayo. They were both delicious but when I go back, I am going to stick with the all-the-way burger because the combination of the toppings plus the huge slice of melted Velveeta cheese was incredible.
There isn’t a whole lot going on in Siler City but it is definitely worth the trip there. This is one of the best burgers that I have eaten in North Carolina and will definitely be going back again very, very soon. Let me know if you want to ride. They don’t have a phone at Johnson’s Drive-In so you can’t call and see if they are still serving. I suggest you make it an early lunch at Johnson’s to make sure that you are able to get a burger or two and not be that person who is standing in line for 10 minutes only to be turned away when they run out of meat.