Shelby's Burgers fires up a retro smash burger diner in southwest Spokane's Latah Valley

click to enlarge Shelby's Burgers fires up a retro smash burger diner in southwest Spokane's Latah Valley
Erick Doxey photo
Shelby's sports a retro, diner feel.

Susan Shelby first learned about hospitality from her father. He was a grocer, a local businessman who knew the power of a personal touch, like sending a crate of oranges to each new client for Christmas.

Shelby, with a similar knack for food and branding, grew into a savvy restaurateur herself. She owns Latah Bistro, Latah Latte, and Wine & Taps. Her newest venture is Shelby's Burgers, an authentic, retro smash burger joint next door to her fine dining establishments in west Spokane's Latah Valley. After two years scouring LA for the best smash burger secrets, Shelby opened her roller-derby-chic diner on June 12, offering a sassy, saucy, fast-casual dining experience to residents of nearby Eagle Ridge and beyond.

"This is the walk-up window right here," Shelby says, motioning to a big sliding window under a black-and-white striped awning.

High-top tables and bright yellow chairs fill up the patio. Order out here or inside, where you can sit at the stainless steel counter and watch patties sizzle on the grill right in front of you, like the concessions stand at a baseball game.

"So this is also like a walk-up diner — a breakfast, lunch and dinner bar," Shelby says.

click to enlarge Shelby's Burgers fires up a retro smash burger diner in southwest Spokane's Latah Valley
Erick Doxey photo
Lacy edges are a Shelby's specialty.

Neon signs shaped like french fries and milkshakes hang in the windows at Shelby's. Framed tributes to the Bing Crosby theater, Gonzaga University and classic cars decorate the walls. Merch with edgy vintage vibes, like a 1950s housewife smeared with ketchup saying "Don't tell my husband" or a girl with a burger peeking out from her skirt stamped "Hot Buns," is available for purchase.

"I wanted to have character," says MacKayla Miller, longtime manager of Latah Latte who's now overseeing Shelby's. "All the other places in LA kind of seemed the same as each other."

Shelby and Miller didn't just look around LA. They ate their way through every famous smash burger joint to decide what was worth bringing back to Spokane.

They settled on a "laces out" burger, a patty so paper-thin that the lacey edges caramelize on the hot griddle. With equal parts charm and stubbornness, Shelby convinced her sourcers at the longtime local supplier Angus Meats to create a new beef blend unique among all burgers in Spokane. The result is a patty with a chewy texture closer to steak, with its crispy edges spilling out the sides of a double toasted bun.

"The burger is supposed to be messy," Miller says. "It's supposed to look that way — the meat is showing, some of the cheese is showing. That's literally exactly what the true smash burger is supposed to look like."

Menu items are named for classic Fords. Even though there's no relation between the restaurateur and Carroll Shelby of Ford Mustang fame, why not take advantage of a happy coincidence?

The Shelby's 350 ($9) shows off the single patty with American cheese (smash burgers must be served with American cheese, Shelby says) plus fresh iceberg lettuce, pickles, onions, ketchup and mustard. Upgrade to a double ($14) or triple ($19), or cruise with the Oklahoma ($14), which is jacked up with Shelby's own secret sauce. If you're burned out on beef, try the Firebird ($14) a plant-based fried "chicken" sandwich drenched in spicy Louisiana sauce.

In true diner fashion, Shelby's also serves breakfast, with biscuits and gravy ($11), truffle tots ($6), or a Rise and Shine bacon and egg plate ($12). If you're a true burger fan, make it the Best Day Ever ($14), a smash burger topped with everything and an egg. Tune ups (extra fixings) include maple aioli, cowboy sauce, and hot honey, each just a dollar extra.

Burgers for breakfast is a Susan Shelby staple. She'd fix them for herself in the back of Latah Bistro when she needed a quick meal. Eventually, her back-of-the-house secret became an addiction that she spread to the rest of her staff.

"There's been days where we got sick because we've been to so many smash burger bars," Shelby says as Miller laughs.

The owner's energy is indefatigable and contagious. She shouts happy greetings to her staff across the parking lot, then turns to say that she forgot to add grilled cheese to the menu. In addition to opening her fourth restaurant, she's building a new house and taking her employees on a skiing trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, all the while staying perfectly put together with gently curled blonde hair and smudgeless mascara.

"And we're gonna do boozy shakes," she adds, circling back to the menu at hand.

Even though it's a burger joint, Shelby's most iconic menu item might be a milkshake. Her most prized possession is a juice hopper filled to the brim with 40 pounds of oranges. Shelby plans to serve fresh orange juice at every meal, plus a signature orange milkshake, booze or no booze, as a tribute to the man who started it all. In lieu of a plaque, which her dad wouldn't allow, fresh oranges and vinyl citrus trees remind of her father's legacy.

"I think when you love something, it doesn't feel like work at all," she says. "Since it's taken two years, I feel pretty confident that it's going to be a hit." ♦

Shelby's Burgers • 4241 S. Cheney Spokane Rd. • Open daily 7 am-7 pm • • 509-315-8128

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Eliza Billingham

Eliza Billingham is a staff writer covering food, from restaurants and cooking to legislation, agriculture and climate. She joined the Inlander in 2023 after completing a master's degree in journalism from Boston University.