Endangered Diner

Get thee to Ballard, before Zestos is no more.

Growing up, I always wanted a high school with a burger joint across the street. All the coolest TV kids had after-school hangouts. There was Arnolds, the Peach Pit, the Max. But I went to high school in the country, and going out to lunch meant sneaking off campus, driving to town, and choosing one of the fast food restaurants that dotted the main drag.

I should have grown up in Ballard. Theres a Zestos practically next door to Ballard High School (There was one near West Seattle High School, too, years ago when Zestos was a chain, but the Ballard location is the only one still in business.) Still a joint in every sense of the word, Zestos is the kind of place that serves fries by the basketful ($1.25 for a small, $1.80 for a large), calls a corn dog a side dish, and prices its burgers by the number of patties (one, two, or three). Theres a working jukebox inside and a real 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air on the roof. That kind of joint.

Fifty years after Zestos grilled its first patty, the menus expanded to include breakfast on weekendseggs, Swedish pancakes, and, of course, hamburger steak and eggs ($6.50)sandwiches like BLT ($4.50) and grilled ham and cheese on rye ($5.25), and healthy menu items such as a veggie burger ($5.95), a salmon burger ($6.25), and a grilled chicken sandwich ($6.35). but the menu still centers on a daunting variety of burgers, fish and chips, and milkshakes. The quality is somewhere between fast food and gourmet, similar to something you might be served at a backyard barbecue. A plain old hamburger costs $3.25, cheese and additional patties extra.) Specialties range from the Hawaiian (with pineapple and sweet and sour sauce, $4.95), through the Westerner (with bacon bits and sour cream, $4.95), to the Godfather (with Parmesan and pickles on hot, buttered French bread, $6.95).

The fish and chips ($4.95 for a three-piece) are delightful: tender but fried to a perfect golden brown. Theres more, too: clam strips, deep-fried prawns, soups, even salad. Its like the quintessential high-school lunch spot of my dreams. Sadly, it may not be around for long. Rumors (and a couple of local news reports) peg Zestos with two possible ill fates: it could be leveled soon and replaced with either condos or a monorail station. Wheres the Fonz when we need him?


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