This Classic Oregon Drive-In Transports You Back to the Good Old Days with Every Bite

mikes drive in oregon city
Mike's Drive-In / Google Images

Portland's fast-food scene has been buzzing with the arrival of the new In-N-Out, a beloved staple for many burger aficionados. Yet, as we've recently reported, amidst this fresh wave of excitement, there stands a venerable institution that continues to hold its own. Mike's Drive-In, with its long-standing tradition of quality and flavor, unquestionably gives its new competitor a run for its money. For those who revel in the iconic taste of In-N-Out, Mike's offers an experience that not only parallels but, in my personal book, surpasses it. With their classic approach to burgers and shakes, I would choose the homegrown allure of Mike's any day over the allure of the new entrant.

As the sun began to descend, casting a golden hue over the streets of Milwaukie, I found myself pulling into a spot at the iconic Mike's Drive-In. This local institution, with its unmistakable retro charm, has been serving up classic American drive-in fare since 1971, and I was there to see if it truly lived up to its long-standing hype.

Mike's Drive-In / Google

From the moment I stepped out of my car, I could tell that Mike's Drive-In wasn't just another burger joint—it was a slice of Americana that had preserved the essence of its early days. The vintage sign, the bustling walk-up window, and the spacious picnic area where families and friends gathered, gave it a vibe straight out of "American Graffiti," a nostalgic nod to the high school days of the 1960s.

Established over five decades ago, Mike's Drive-In has not only withstood the test of time; it has thrived, churning out made-to-order culinary delights that showcase the simple yet impeccable quality of a bygone era. The secret to their success?

A commitment to freshness and community—a principle evident in every aspect of their operation. From locally sourced ground chuck and daily sliced vegetables to the in-house preparation of over 30 milkshake flavors, Mike's continues to honor its founding motto, "All food cooked fresh to order so it’s fresh and hot just for you! Since 1971."

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Mike's Drive-In / Google

Sitting down at one of the picnic tables, I decided to start with what I had heard was the most popular item on the menu—the classic deluxe.

Mike's Drive-In / Google

This quarter-pound ground chuck burger came adorned with fresh lettuce, mayonnaise, pickles, tomatoes, onions, and a generous slice of Tillamook cheddar cheese. With the first bite, I understood the appeal. Unlike most classic burgers, Mike's version retained a blush of pink in the middle, a testament to their fresh, never frozen beef policy, lending a juiciness that is hard to find elsewhere.

Alongside my burger, I opted for an upgrade from the regular shoestring fries to plank fries for an additional seventy-five cents. These thick, flat slabs of potato were a textural symphony—soft and creamy on the inside, encased by a crisp outer layer, seasoned with the perfect combination of sea salt and garlic salt. It was clear why these fries warranted a small wait; each meal at Mike's takes a minimum of ten minutes to cook, emphasizing quality over convenience.

Mike's Drive-In / Google

As I savored my meal, I couldn't help but be transported back to a simpler time, a feeling that Mike's Drive-In has effortlessly maintained over the years. The ambiance wasn't just retro; it was authentic—a rare quality in a world constantly chasing the next culinary fad.

My culinary journey through the menu continued with the Mike’s special deluxe—a behemoth of a burger topped with bacon, a fried egg, Tillamook cheddar cheese, and Thousand Island dressing. It was indulgence personified, a burger that was both hearty and ingeniously crafted. Each element played its part, with the smokiness of the bacon complementing the richness of the egg and the tanginess of the dressing tying it all together.

Mike's Drive-In / Google

No visit to a drive-in is complete without a milkshake, and at Mike’s, this isn't just a side act; it's a main event. With over 30 flavors to choose from, I was spoilt for choice. Ultimately, I settled on a seasonal specialty— the Wild Huckleberry Shake, available during the peak months of August and September. Made with fresh Oregon berries, including strawberries, blackberries (Marion berries), and raspberries, the shake was a creamy, fruity delight that perfectly captured the essence of Oregon’s natural bounty.

Mike's Drive-In / Google

As I sipped on my shake, nostalgia washed over me with each refreshing mouthful. It was then I reflected on the substantial heritage of Mike's Drive-In. In 2021, they marked a significant milestone, celebrating their 50th year of serving the community. This half-century mark is a testament to their survival and prosperity, even amid the economic tremors caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Todd Freeman, the owner since 1983 after the original Mike’s untimely passing, has been the custodian of this legacy. Starting at the drive-in when he was just 14, Freeman has maintained the old-school ethos while steering the establishment towards the future.

 Todd Freeman, owner of Mike's Drive-In, bought the business in 1984 when he was 21 years old. (Image by Samantha Swindler / The Oregonian)

His connection to Mike's Drive-In runs deep, so much so that despite the occasional mix-up with names (he gets called 'Mike' quite often), he has never felt the need to rebrand.

Mike's Drive-In / Google

This new venture, situated at the former site of a Subway store, aims to continue the tradition of Mike's by gutting the building with the hope of opening by late April. This ambitious project comes with its challenges, including equipment back orders, but Freeman remains optimistic. His vision goes beyond just serving food; it's about embedding the drive-in into the fabric of the community, as evidenced by their support for local Little League teams.

As my evening at Mike's Drive-In drew to a close, I was left with not just a satisfied appetite but a deep appreciation for what Freeman and his team have accomplished. Mike's isn't just a place to grab a bite; it's a testament to the enduring appeal of quality, consistency, and a personal touch. And as they embark on this new chapter, it is clear that while they may be rooted in tradition, their eyes are firmly set on the horizon.

For anyone who loves a good burger, a creamy milkshake, and the allure of a drive-in that feels like it's been plucked out of history, Mike's Drive-In is not just a must-visit—it's a must-return. Here's to the next 50 years of burgers, shakes, and memories at this beloved Milwaukie landmark.

If you're ever in Oregon City, you can find this nostalgic gem at 905 7th St, or call ahead at (503) 656-5588 to have your order ready for pickup. The full menu, a delightful ode to drive-in classics and inventive creations, awaits your perusal at mikesdrivein.com. Whether you're a local or just passing through, a stop at Mike's is an opportunity to partake in a legacy of culinary delight that has been charming taste buds for over fifty years. Mike's Drive-In isn't just a restaurant; it's a cornerstone of the community, inviting everyone to be a part of their ever-unfolding story.

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Tyler James, founder of That Oregon Life, is a true Oregon native whose love for his state runs deep. Since the inception of the blog in 2013, his unbridled passion for outdoor adventures and the natural beauty of Oregon has been the cornerstone of his work. As a father to two beautiful children, Tyler is always in pursuit of new experiences to enrich his family’s life. He curates content that not only reflects his adventures but also encourages others to set out and create precious memories in the majestic landscapes of Oregon. Tyler's vision and guidance are integral to his role as publisher and editor, shaping the blog into a source of inspiration for exploring the wonders of Oregon.