Review by: Michael Stern

Zesto Drive-In’s chicken is broasted, meaning pressure fried, a process that yields crunchy crust and moist insides. In fact, the man who invented broasting, Louis Austin M. Phelan, is the same man who started Zesto Drive-Ins just after World War II. At one point there were more than 50 Zestos around the U.S., all with the same menu. But during the Eisenhower years, they were emancipated and each went its own way, independent of any national formula. The broasted chicken and soft-serve ice cream for which they were known has remained a menu staple at all of them, but today each has its own personality.

And really, it is personality that makes me enjoy return visits to the Zesto in West Columbia, South Carolina. I value the restaurant’s personality every bit as much as the food. Make no mistake: I really do like Zesto chicken, on which the skin is crisp and salty and impossible to stop eating; and the Zestoburger is satisfying in a vintage drive-in way (two thin patties cooked through, dressed to the nines); and the banana milkshake is admirably thick and tropical; and the slaw dog and corn dog are both exemplary $3 eats. But beyond such paradigmatic pop-culture dishes, the place itself is a joy. The very look of it is inspiring, with its huge chocolate-dipped cone rising high above, bookending the restaurant with a flapping American flag on the other side. Inside is all-business — a curious operating model. Walk in the front door, place an order and pay. Then go back out the door, walk around to the side, and enter the dining room through a separate door. Find a table to which a member of the staff brings the food.

What about the signature ice cream? It is plain and simple, truly ingenuous; and while the crunch of quickly-hardened chocolate dip around soft ice cream makes for all kinds of tactile tongue fun, the flavor of chocolate is, shall we say, elusive. I much prefer the ice cream plain, or in a cup topped with hot fudge.

What To Eat

Fried Chicken


French Fries

Chocolate Dip Ice Cream Done

Banana Milk Shake

Hot Fudge Sundae


Zesto Recipes


What do you think of Zesto?

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