Bend has no shortage of great restaurants when you’re craving gourmet food in a swanky setting.
But sometimes, you just want to roll up your sleeves, tuck a napkin in the front of your shirt, and bite into the biggest, juiciest burger you can grip in your ketchup-stained fingers.
When the burger craving strikes, head for Pilot Butte Drive-In. With locations on both the east and west side of Bend, Pilot Butte Drive-In is a casual diner specializing in quality food in huge portions. They’ve been voted “Bend’s best burger” 14 years and counting, and though the honor is well-deserved, they’re more than just a burger joint.
I’m a regular at breakfast time when the four-egg, build-your-own-omelet is one of the best deals in town for $6.50. For that price you get hash browns and toast (I always pick the homemade English muffin) and grilled onions. You can then add your choice of ham, bacon, or sausage for $2, bell peppers, guacamole, mushrooms, or ortega chiles for $1.25, and cheese, salsa, or sour cream for 75-cents.
Another great breakfast option is the chicken fried steak & eggs ($12.50), which my brother loves ordering for the novelty of taking up the entire table with plates overflowing with food. It comes with two eggs, hashbrowns, hand pressed and battered tri-tip steak, and a choice of toast, english muffin or a biscuit.
At lunchtime or dinner, their halibut fish and chips is divine, and their kids’ menu is one of the best in town.
But let’s face it – most people come here for the burgers.
When the Visit Bend team stopped by for dinner, we opted for a divide-and-conquer approach on the burger menu. One person chose the mushroom cheeseburger piled high with sauteed mushrooms and smothered in pepper-jack cheese. Another opted for the Hawaiian burger with grilled ham, pineapple rings, teriyaki sauce, cheddar cheese, thousand island, lettuce, and tomato. Someone else chose the chili cheeseburger and made it a point to say it’s imperative to dip your fries in the chili.
For the first five minutes, no one spoke. We were all too focused on stuffing our faces with the gooeyist, yummiest burgers imaginable.
My personal favorite is a tossup between the ortega burger (grilled mild chilies and melted jack cheese with mayo, lettuce and tomato) or the blue cheese burger (crumbled blue cheese, blue cheese dressing, lettuce, tomato, and pickles.
The gluten-free diner in our party opted for the roasted garlic burger without a bun. Our resident vegetarian chose the Veggie Burger. Guests with a hearty appetite or an urge to share with a friend will enjoy the 18-ounce Pilot Butte Burger for $20.95. Those on the opposite end of the spectrum will appreciate ordering off the kids’ menu with the mini-cheeseburger ($4.45) or mini-hamburger ($3.95).
Naturally, you want to wash down your gourmet burger with an extra-special beverage. Pilot Butte Drive-In offers a wide array of freezes, floats, shakes, and malts from $3.75-$5. One member of our party ordered a strawberry milkshake that left her swooning, while someone else gulped down an Oreo malt that was apparently so good he forgot to share.
The newer west side location also sells beer and wine, with several great beer offerings from breweries on the Bend Ale Trail. At the east side location, they have a fabulous fire pit in the center of the diner that makes things very cozy on cold winter days.
I have several out-of-town relatives who tell me no visit to Bend is complete without a visit to Pilot Butte Drive-In, and it’s easy to understand. The scrumptious food, great prices, and cozy atmosphere have kept me returning again and again in the 15 years I’ve lived here, and I plan to keep returning for 50 more. In a town where restaurants sometimes appear and disappear with the whims of the economy. Pilot Butte Drive-In is one Bend staple that seems destined to stick around forever.
Pass the ketchup?