For people heading to Lake Tahoe from the west on US-50, Placerville, CA marks a convenient stopping point. If the stop includes a meal break, Placerville-or old Hangtown, as it was known in the early days-offers many choices for a meal. For hamburgers, let the time of day be your guide.
Old Town Grill (444 Main Street)
Long and narrow, the Old Town Grill features a rear dining room and a patio dining area. Place your order at the counter as you enter; then head for a table and wait for a treat. Daily specials fill a wipe-off board.
The generous hamburger patty appeared to be hand-shaped. It arrived at the table on a toasted (but not burnt, thank you!) sesame seed bun, dressed with crisp leaf lettuce, a generous tomato slice and pickle chips. The Grill adds a special sauce to their burgers. I chose to skip the onions available.
The large sandwich, cut in half for convenient handling, comes with tasty fries. Add the condiments available on the table and you are ready to dive in to the delicious American classic.
Flannel-backed vinyl tablecloths cover the tables and sports memorabilia adorns the walls. The restroom is quaint but clean and well-stocked. The entire restaurant was immaculate, even though a constant stream of diners passed through. The waitress kept the tables clean and the beverages filled.
A varied menu, including soda fountain favorites, makes the Old Town Grill a great choice for a group. The only negative I found was the restaurants hours. They open at 11:00 a.m. and close at 3:00 p.m., so go for lunch, not dinner.
Mel’s Diner (232 Main Street)
Mel’s looks like something out of the 1950s, for good reason. The management makes a determined effort to reproduce the look and feel of those golden days. Expect a big serving of nostalgia with your meal, and a little bit of ego with many of the offerings carrying a name starting with Mel.
The burger arrives with lettuce and tomato on a grilled bun. Although it seems to be a machine-formed patty, the meat covers the bun. The taste is good, pretty much what you’d expect from a pre-formed burger. A generous serving of fries accompanies the burger.
Mel’s offers breakfast as well as lunch and dinner, opening at 6:00 a.m. daily and closing at 10:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, midnight on Friday and Saturday. With a beverage menu including shakes and malts, Mel’s works hard to recreate the era. Too bad the prices couldn’t stay in the past as well.
In-n-Out Burger (3055 Forni Road)
Retro reigns at In-n-Out Burger. The red and white tile with palm tree silhouettes shines in a squeaky clean establishment. Truly a “hamburger joint,” In-n-Out Burger offers limited choices: a hamburger, a cheeseburger, a “double-double” cheeseburger, French fries and beverages.
So what puts it on my list? What they do, they do extremely well. Super fresh meat on beautifully toasted buns, served with crisp lettuce and sliced tomato, and it tastes great. They offer onions on their burgers and will grill them for you, if you’d like.
The staff gives polite and friendly service, and makes you feel as though it’s a privilege to serve you. No one behind the counter had hanging hair (a big pet peeve of mine). Everyone wore a hat and hair was covered.
With a choice of dine-in the dining room or on the patio, take out or drive-through, In-n-Out Burger gives you lots of ways to get their burgers. That’s good, because there is usually a line of cars at the drive-through and rows of people at the counter. The efficiency of the staff prevents any long waits, so don’t be put off by the line.
In-n-Out opens at 10:30 a.m. daily; closing is at 1:00 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday.