3 Central Florida Drive-In Restaurants in One Visit

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.

A Tale of 3 Central Florida Drive-In Restaurants
A Tale of 3 Central Florida Drive-In Restaurants

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 (10 miles down the way), 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.

John’s Drive-In in Fort Meade

John's Drive In in Fort Meade, Florida
John’s Drive-In in Fort Meade, Florida

The first thing that catches my eye when we arrive at John’s Drive-In is that the building looks just like *Tom’s Drive-In and Restaurant in Lakeland. Tom’s is only about 25 miles away, which has me thinking that they were both a part of a drive-in restaurant chain back in the day.

Are any of you restaurant chain-building-obsessed folks reading this? Please let me know if it looks familiar to you.

Car parking area, Curb Service parking is to the right
John’s Drive-In Menu Board

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 my wife 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 half-pound 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. 

Wrapped Patty Melt from John's Drive In in Fort Meade, Florida
Wrapped Patty Melt
Wrapped Double Cheeseburger with Fries from John's Drive in Fort Meade, Florida
Wrapped Double Cheeseburger
Double Cheeseburger from John's Drive in Fort Meade, Florida
Double Cheeseburger

The quarter-pound double cheeseburger 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, Marcela got out of the car and threw out the garbage. We were headed to check in at our hotel in Lakeland, or so we thought.

*as it turns out, that chain was Whataburger

John’s Drive-In
17 N Charleston Avenue
Fort Meade, FL
(863) 285-9680

Website- https://www.johns-drive-in.net
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/p/Johns-Drive-In-100036934578951

Monday 10:30 am – 9:00 pm
Tuesday 10:30 am – 9:00 pm
Wednesday 10:30 am – 9:00 pm
Thursday 10:30 am – 9:00 pm
Friday 10:30 am – 9:00 pm
Saturday 10:30 am – 9:00 pm

Mike’s Drive-In in Bartow

Mike's Drive In in Bartow, Florida
Mike’s Drive In in Bartow, Florida

We must have been about 10 minutes away from John’s and mid-conversation about the plans for our road trip when I saw Mike’s Drive-In 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.

Outdoor Menu from Mike's Drive-In in Bartow, Florida
Outdoor Menu
Curb Service Hours from Mike's Drive-In in Bartow, Florida
Curb Service Hours
Mike's Drive-In 1970 Menu
Mike’s Drive-In 1970 Menu

I read about their Yellow Jacket burger, a half-pounder cooked to your temp liking. Marcela insists on some fried pickles; who am I to argue?

Fried Pickles from Mike's Drive-In in Bartow, Florida
Fried Pickles
Footlong Hot Dog from Mike's Drive-In in Bartow, Florida
Footlong Hot Dog

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.

Yellow Jacket Burger Basket with Fries & Cole Slaw from Mike's Drive-In in Bartow, Florida
Yellow Jacket Burger Basket with Fries & Cole Slaw
Yellow Jacket Burger from Mike's Drive-In in Bartow, Florida
Yellow Jacket Burger

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, no window tray.

We ate in our car once again; she returned to check on us and take our garbage. Then, we were on our way to the hotel, kinda.

Mike’s Drive-In
1055 US-17
Bartow, FL
(863) 533-5353

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/mikesdrivein55

Tuesday 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Wednesday 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Thursday 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Friday 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Saturday 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Sunday 10:00 am – 3:00 pm

Old School Arby’s and McDonald’s in Winter Haven

We were stuffed and weren’t even able to finish our food at Mike’s. I mentioned 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.

Arby’s 10 Gallon Hat Sign
McDonald’s Over 99 Billion Sold Sign

Dino’s Drive-In

Dino's Drive-In in Winter Haven, Florida
Dino’s Drive-In in Winter Haven, Florida

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 on his drive-down since it was an old Dog ‘n Suds Drive-In restaurant. Since 1968, it’s been Dino’s Drive-In.

Menu Board from Dino's Drive-In in Winter Haven, Florida
Dino’s Drive-In Menu Board

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 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.

Chili Dog from Dino's Drive-In in Winter Haven, Florida
Large Chili Dog

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.

Double Cheeseburger with Crinkle Cut Fries from Dino's Drive-In in Winter Haven, Florida
Double Cheeseburger with Crinkle Cut Fries

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 wash everything down. A perfect ending to a great drive-in adventure.

Dino’s Drive-In
2929 Havendale Blvd NW
Winter Haven, FL
(863) 967-0230

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/people/Dinos-Drive-In-Drive-In/100085711929808/

Monday 10:00 am – 10:00 pm
Tuesday 10:00 am – 10:00 pm
Wednesday 10:00 am – 10:30 pm
Thursday 10:00 am – 10:30 pm
Friday 10:00 am – 11:00 pm
Saturday 10:00 am – 11:00 pm
Sunday 10:00 am – 10:00 pm

*Some of you may have noticed that I mentioned 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. They also recently closed.

18 thoughts on “3 Central Florida Drive-In Restaurants in One Visit”

  1. I’m curious as to why The HobNob in Sarasota, FL was left out of this article… So, my name is Rachelle, and Aaron, the grill cook/ historian mentioned in Council’s part of this article, is actually my husband. We were actually married in the old pool hall on Halloween in 2019, right before it’s closure in 2020. I started working there a month before he did. Even more coincidently, we had actually first met while being employed at the HobNob Drive-In.
    I’m completely positive it’s absence from this article probably necessary, but I always love a good dirt story.

  2. John’s in Ft. Meade used to be a What-a-burger. The covered, inside dining, parking area, used to be the drive in. Back in the 70’s, all us hot rodders and teenagers used to hang out there.

  3. Grew up in the Winter Haven area. All those places brought back some fine memories. Looks like you heard about the What-a-burgers (bacteri-a-burgers when I lived there) but they had car hops. If you ever make it back to WH, you got to go to Andy’s Igloo. Burger and a Big Daddy banana shake…. now that’s livin’.

  4. You totally missed out at mike’s if you did not order a shake. They are worth the drive so come on back. There are also a number of antique stores in Fort Meade around the corner from John’s.

  5. Enjoyed your review….been to all 3 myself. If you’re ever up this way (Robinson, IL), our Dog n Suds just sold, and it will remain a Dog n Suds! Yay! They are fixing the original sign as we speak so that it will light up once again. I can’t wait to make it part of my regular routine now that it will once again be open regular hours and weekends.

  6. Have you ever been to the Dixie Drive In in Greenwood, SC? Order the chili cheeseburger with half fries/half onions rings. How about Buddy Freddy’s Country Buffet in Plant City, FL? The stuffing is so awesome! Fried chicken, etc. All good.


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