by Mike Corrigan, Ted S. McGregor Jr. and Chris Clancy
Zip's, multiple Inland Northwest locations -- There are at least 19 Zip's drive-ins in the immediate region, yet no two are exactly alike. They all feature the standards like the Papa Joe. And in many you can find specialties like the Wrangler and the incredible Doggoner (with an actual hot dog added to the beef patties and cheese). In recent years, Zip's has also made an effort to offer items for those trying to cut back on the fat. They offer several chicken and deli sandwiches. What you can always count on is a tightly run ship typified by immaculate food prep areas, machine-like efficiency and decent prices, along with some of the very best tasting fish 'n' fries anywhere. Did I mention the tartar sauce? Yeah, I guess I just did.
Halibut and Fries (Three-piece for $5.69) -- Zip's fish is a treat from the briny deep, a taste sensation for the old salt (mmm... salt) in all of us. The three-piece (the middle size) is proportioned just about right for moderate appetites. It's not the cheapest fish basket in town, but the quality of the halibut (as opposed to the cod you find in most other drive-ins) used here is exceptional and makes it a worthwhile dish. The fish flesh is firm and tender, and the breading is crispy and light. Oh, and the crinkle-cut fries rock. The included lemon wedge is a nice (and functional) touch. If you're getting it to go, you usually have to request tartar sauce -- and you need it. But Zip's is more than happy to oblige -- and it's free.
The Wrangler($2.99) -- This a gut-buster, to be sure, but stretched innards are a small price to pay for something so yummy. Inside a nondescript, nearly square bun, you'll find two patties of beef, strips of bacon, cheese and lots of Longhorn barbecue sauce. Spokane's own Longhorn has created a sauce so tasty, that it alone is practically worth the price. Where other sauces try to be tangy, it's sweet and subtle. In short, it's great on a burger. Zip's fries are delightful, in all their crinkle-cut glory -- these guys care about their fried spuds. Although Zip's has long ago morphed from Drive-In to Drive-through, it still maintains that hometown charm -- even though waiting times are longer than those at chain restaurants.
Turkey Club Sandwich ($3.49) -- Piled into a six-inch sub-style sesame seed bun are all of the ingredients that you would expect to find in a club sandwich: turkey, ham, bacon, tomatoes, cheese, lettuce, etc. However, that's about as far as your expectations will take you. The fact is, Zip's does not specialize in fresh deli sandwiches. Delicious burgers, fish and fries are really their forte. With deli sandwiches, freshness is the key, and that's the one ingredient left out of this one. But if a quick burger replacement is all you're after (and you already happen to be on the premises), their turkey club will suffice.
Corky's Drive-In, Garland and Monroe, 326-1407 -- This Garland stronghold sets itself apart from other drive-ins with a menu that features, among other things, a hot roast beef and grilled onion sandwich, Spokane's only (to our knowledge) Thai burger and a medley of raw veggies as an alternative to fries (though the fries are great, too). The atmosphere is friendly; our order-taker took the time to update us on our lunches. There's a real neighborhood feel here, too, as evidenced by the newspapers and magazines (provided by nearby Southpaw Alternative Newsstand) and music on loan from nearby record store, Unified Groove Merchants, which gives diners a break from the Muzak you hear in a lot of places.
Barbecue Chicken Burger ($3.50) -- Piled into a large sesame seed hamburger bun were lettuce, tomato, two pineapple rings, barbecue sauce and the most obviously processed chicken product I have ever seen in my life. The generously proportioned sandwich tasted, on the whole, very good and had a good balance between the indisputably fresh vegetables, the sweet fruit and the tangy barbecue sauce. The chicken "burger" provided texture but not much flavor. Its oddly uniform shape made me speculate on the precise mechanical process that had created it (injection-molding?), but overall the sandwich was quite satisfying. The fries were simply excellent -- crispy yet tender crinkle-cut numbers made even better with a dip in Corky's winning tartar sauce.
The Thai Burger ($3.25) -- Corky's offers a few totally random and unique burger treatments, so naturally I had to try one. Our host recommended the Thai Burger -- a hand-formed patty with Thai spices mixed in. Yowza. Flavorful? Yes. Pungent? Yes. Could still smell it on my clothes the next morning? Yes. This baby succeeds on the "something different" scale, but was a bit too intense. Next time I'll stick to the boring old tried-and-true menu items. But the food at Corky's is meticulously prepared and was delivered hot to our table in baskets. The French fries are some of the best I've had, perfectly cooked to a crisp without being drenched in oil. Even if some items don't quite work, Corky's scores points for trying to break the drive-in mold.
Ground Steak Sandwich ($4.50) -- There are steak sandwiches and then there are ground-steak sandwiches. The latter is often more akin to a hamburger -- or at least that was what I'd always assumed. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that while Corky's patty certainly was composed of ground meat, it was also flavorful, juicy, and lacking in that extra-greasy residue or odd bone fragment that you might expect to find in a burger. The whole thing was served up on a quality bun and included fresh tomatoes and processed cheddar - which was neither good nor bad. Overall, a nice substitute for your run-of-the-mill hamburger.