Roller skates revolutionized drive-up diners, dramatically reducing the time it took carhops to approach cars, remove the tires, and affix them to their own shoes. Indulge in speedy service with today's Groupon: for $12, you get $24 worth of burgers, malts, and breakfast fare at Mel's Drive-in. This Groupon is valid at the Geary Boulevard, Lombard Street, Fourth and Mission, and Van Ness Avenue locations.
In 1947, carhops at the original Mel's Drive-in shuttled burgers and malts to hungry carloads; today, the chain of diners continues welcoming hungry wayfarers with homemade comfort fare served in nostalgic, retro dining rooms. The menu of appetizers and entrees and breakfast and drinks still offers Mel's favorites, such as the Melburger ($7.25), a juicy third-pound burger atop a sesame bun that pairs with crisp american fries ($2) as naturally as cowboy boots with a prom dress, and Mel's sliders, such as the goat cheese and turkey slider ($3.75 each) and short rib slider ($4.50 each). Blenders churn McGoo's ice cream into the diner's signature ultra-thick shakes and malts ($5.25+). On a plate of all-American meatloaf ($11.75), homemade gravy tackles lumpy mashed potatoes while a buttered roll referees. With late-night hours, diners can indulge cravings in the wee hours with a plate of Mel's thick-slice french toast ($8.25) or dip forks into a house-made, double-crust apple pie ($5.25).
The interiors of Mel's Drive-in hearken back to the wholesome '50s with tabletop jukeboxes, kitschy décor, and booths upholstered in Wonder Bread. Its original Van Ness location served as the local watering hole in George Lucas's American Graffiti, and waiters at the Geary Avenue shop pull sodas from a replica of the original 1953 soda fountain.
In 1947, owners Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs assembled a staff of 14 carhops to serve passing motorists at the first Mel's Drive-In. For the next two decades, customers partial to automobile dining flocked to the chain’s 11 California locations, eager to wash down grass-fed half-pound burgers with thick milk shakes. As fast-food outlets outpaced the drive-in's once-speedy service, its popularity declined, and it was eventually scheduled for demolition. The building got a temporary reprieve, however, when filmmaker George Lucas decided to use the drive-in's original location on Lombard Street as the colorful backdrop for his film American Graffiti. As bulldozers destroyed the last remnants of the historic drive-in, American Graffiti opened in theaters.
A decade later, though, Mel's son Steven reopened Mel's Drive-In in an attempt to carry on his father's dream. Steven restored the drive-in's multiple locations to mirror their original motif by stocking each with midcentury must-haves such as illuminated marquees, jukeboxes, and Elvis-themed WiFi passwords. The drive-in’s menu, meanwhile, balances period-appropriate fare, such as hot dogs and burgers, with healthy options, such as the Haven’s Famous vegetarian sandwich, two slices of nine-grain bread topped with avocado, sprouts, and tomatoes.