There aren’t many Drive-In restaurants in Florida, but somehow in Central Florida, you can find Dino’s, John’s and, Mike’s Drive-Ins less than an hour from each other. I was planning to spend about a week in Central Florida with the idea that I would hit up all three drive-ins eventually.
There are two main roads we travel on when we road trip, I-75 and the Florida Turnpike. Unfortunately, none of the drive-ins can be found on those main roads.
In all my years, I’ve never taken US-27. It drives you right up the middle of the state from great little town to great little town and all the way to the beginnings of the panhandle.
John’s Drive-In and Mike’s Drive-In are about ten miles from each other on US-17/US-98, with Dino’s not too far from there in Winter Haven. So if you’re confused with all the route jargon, don’t be.
Luckily, the age of foldable maps and tom-toms is gone. Instead, they’ve been replaced with dummy-proof apps like Google maps and Waze.
The original plan was just to hit up John’s, but then we came across Mike’s (about 10 miles from each other), and after that, I figured, we might as well visit Dino’s too.
So is the tale of my visit to 3 Central Florida Drive-In restaurants.
3 Central Florida Drive-In Table of Contents
The first thing that catches my eyes when we arrive at John’s Drive-In (17 N Charleston Avenue, Fort Meade) is that the building looks just like *Tom’s Drive-In and Restaurant in Lakeland. Tom’s is only about 25 miles, which has me thinking that they were both a part of a *drive-in restaurant chain back in the day.
Any of you restaurant chain-building obsessed folks reading this? Please let me know if it looks familiar to you.
The curb service for John’s is located on the side of the building with a crudely handwritten sign, which I loved by the way. There is a menu board with their extensive menu, but Marcela and I were really here to have burgers, maybe fries, and possibly hot dogs.
Since there were no hot dogs available, a Patty Melt and a double cheeseburger with fries made up our order at John’s. There is a 1/2 lb. Miner burger on the menu, but I opted to stick to the smaller regular ones.
They nailed it with that Patty Melt on griddled rye, caramelized onions, and gooey, stretchy cheese.
The Double Cheeseburger (1/4 lb) came with raw onions, pickles, cheese, and a mustard-mayo sauce. I skipped out on the lettuce and tomatoes. This pretty little ditty was better than the Patty Melt.
The carhop took our order from the driver’s window and brought us the food in a couple of bags.
We were not offered one of those trays that hook on your car window, so we made do.
After finishing our food, my wife Marcela got off the car and threw out the garbage. We were headed to check-in at our hotel in Lakeland, or so we thought.
*turns out that chain was Whataburger
We must have been about 10 minutes away from John’s and mid-conversation about the plans for our road trip when I see Mike’s Drive-In (1055 US-17, Bartow) in the distance. It took a minute or so for me to register what I was viewing.
After having passed it by, Marcela suggested I turn around. Great idea, she knows best.
According to the Facebook page for Mike’s Drive-In, they opened their doors in 1969. There’s even an original 1970 Mike’s Drive-In menu on display in the indoor seating area.
I read about their Yellow Jacket burger, a 1/2 pounder cooked to your temp liking. Marcela insists on some fried pickles; who am I to argue?
We throw a foot-long all-beef dog into the mix with yellow mustard and raw onions. Both were solid choices.
The Yellow Jacket comes with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mayo, and mustard, much like double at John’s Drive-In. I skip out on the lettuce and tomatoes as always.
It’s a beefy burger with a nicely toasted bun, but I probably should have ordered the regular burger so that I’d have a better basis for comparison between John’s and Mike’s. Mike’s curb service did indeed have a carhop but again, no window tray.
We ate in our car once again, but she returned to check on us and take our garbage. But, again, we were on our way to the hotel, kinda.
Arby’s & McDonald’s in Winter Haven
We were stuffed and weren’t even able to finish our food at Mike’s. I mention to Marcela that Dino’s Drive-In is only about 20 minutes away and that there is probably an antique shop near there for her to check out.
Not only was there an antique shop for her to enjoy, but I came across old Arby’s and McDonald’s signs.
A few years back, my friend David Hosticka, owner of the Dog ‘n Suds in Muskegon, Michigan, came down to Miami to participate in my event, Wiener Bash.
He stopped in at Dino’s Drive-In (2929 Havendale Blvd NW, New Haven) on his drive-down since it was an old Dog ‘n Suds Drive-In restaurant. Since 1968 it’s been Dino’s Drive-In.
I wasn’t sure how we planned to do it, but we needed a burger and a dog from Dino’s. There is full-on curb service here with tray and all, at last!
The fries were at Dino’s were crinkle cut and fried on the crispy side. The chili dog was enormous, and I was about a bite in before I realized that if I didn’t leave room in my stomach.
There was no way I could even try the double cheeseburger. The burger had the same toppings as the other three drive-ins, and once again, I said NO to the lettuce and tomato.
This fella was a winner, but I couldn’t cash in my earnings. I was too stuffed.
I did, however, as a tribute to its history as a Dog ‘n Suds order a Root Beer to attempt to wash everything down.
*Some of you may have noticed that I mention Tom’s Drive-In, which was down the street from my hotel in Lakeland. Why didn’t I include it in all the festivities? Tom’s does not have curb service.