A bright pink building with a neon sign in the shape of a tailfinned car, Don’s is a big slice of Americana – a burger-and-malt drive-in that dates back to 1958. It is decorated in old vinyl records, fancy hubcaps, and images of mid-century pop-culture heroes; and its menu is a roster of fast-food fundamentals. Car-hop service for in-car dining is available, as are outdoor seats with a view of the Grand Traverse Bay.
There are sandwiches (BLT, ham & cheese), chili, and a soup of the day, but the big decision to make at Don’s is whether to get a hamburger or a brace of Coney Island hot dogs. The Coney is topped with chili sauce, available regular or foot-long. The burgers come as sliders (1/8 pound), quarter-pounders, and as Big Ds, which are a couple of patties adding up to 1/2 pound. They are cooked to order — rare if you wish — and stuffed into a bun with a choice of toppings that range from mustard and ketchup to cheese, bacon, mushrooms, and olives. Seriously large appetites might want to consider a 3/4-pound Monster Burger.
Don’s is renowned for shakes and malts, blended to order and thick enough to require powerful suction with a straw. The menu includes vanilla and chocolate plus strawberry, cherry and raspberry that can be made with either syrup or, for about a dollar extra, with fresh fruit. In season, a cherry malt is thick with intensely flavorful pieces of sweet cherry.
Don’s motto: If you haven’t been to Don’s Drive-In, you haven’t been to Traverse City, Michigan.