My quest to find good cheeseburgers has taken me to many unique places. One of the more unique places I've visited is Bobo's Drive In in Topeka, KS. I was in Lawrence and going to Wichita for a meeting and a dealer training and decided to go over on the Kansas Turnpike to Topeka, then head south. Bobo's was conveniently on the way.
Bobo's Drive In was established in 1953 by Bob Bobo. (Although I did read one place that it may have begun in 1948.) Bobo had a number of recipes from his wife and his mother than he incorporated into the menu - a menu that hasn't changed much in over 50 years. The restaurant featured a small dining room, along with an outdoor car park area that was manned by carhops who would take your order and bring you your food. In 1988, Bob Humes bought the place and ran it for 19 years before it was bought by Richard and Tricia Marsh. Some workers at Bobo's have been there for well over 30 years. One lady, I've heard, has been there since 1958!
I've known about Bobo's Drive In for a number of years. But it was a segment on "Drive In's, Diners and Dives" on The Food Network that I saw recently that piqued my interest. If you haven't seen the segment, here it is:
Bobo's Drive In is located just to the west of downtown Topeka at the corner of SW 10th Ave and SW MacVicar Ave. (see map). I got there about 1:15 on a weekday and the car park was nearly full. The routine at Bobo's is that you sit in your car with your lights on and a carhop comes up to you and gives you a menu. She will then put a number tag under your windshield so they'll be able to match the order up with the car.
The burgers at Bobo's Drive In are hand-packed and then smashed on a hot flat grill. There's a certain art to doing that without smashing all the juice out of the meat. I've read that you have to smash them early in the grilling process and some of the juices will get sealed within the meat, surrounded by a crust-like shell on the burger. While it's not my favorite way to make a burger, there is still something good about a smashed burger.
Since I saw on the "Drive Ins, Diners and Dives" segment that the burgers are paper thin, I decided to try a triple cheeseburger with everything on it. Everything is lettuce, pickles, tomatoes and onions. They give you
small packets of ketchup and mustard to add if you wish. The girl took my order and she said it would out in a jiffy.
About 10 minutes later, out came the carhop with my triple cheese burger. Smashing down the burger does make them thin, but it spreads them out. A triple may have been too much, but I was hungry and it looked good.
And it was. Even though a lot of the initial juices are smashed out during the cooking process, that's what gives a good smashed burger its taste when it's cooked in its own juices. l'm sure the grill they use at Bobo's Drive In is the same one they had for 56 years and that makes a difference in how the burger tastes, as well. The burger was big, juicy and flavorful. I still needed five or six napkins to clean up while I ate the burger at Bobo's. It was definitely not a burger that you could drive down the road and try to eat.
My burger cost $4.29 plus tax. I drank bottled water that I got earlier in the day. I thought it was an excellent value for a very good burger. While I tend to like a more thick burger that has a lot of juiciness to the meat, I have to say that I can understand why people in and around Topeka think Bobo's burgers are the best. I liked it a lot and can't wait to get back to try another one (with possibly a chili dog topped with Bob Bobo's mother's secret family recipe for chili) on my next visit.