Retro eats

I don’t like people who tell me they don’t eat fast food. Sure, they’ve got their reasons—the food is often bland, overprocessed and generally considered calorically unsound. But knowing that you’re doing something not too great for yourself is part of the joy of junk food. Though I don’t recommend a steady diet of the stuff, an occasional dip into the grease vat can be liberating.

My 12-year-old niece Katie was visiting my parents all week, but because of my schedule, I hadn’t seen her much. So I invited her along to dine with me at Sonic, one of the newest additions to the fast-food market in Reno.

Though Sonic is new in town, the chain has actually been around for quite some time. Starting in Oklahoma in the 1950s, the chain has grown to more than 2,000 restaurants throughout the country.

What is Sonic’s catch? It’s a drive-in, but without all the nostalgia. At each parking slot, colorful menus are posted, filled with the expected array of burgers and fries and shakes. But there are some interesting items as well, including Coney dogs, jalapeño burgers and tater tots.

Katie and I pulled in and took our time looking over the menu. When we decided, I hit the call button near the bottom, and a voice greeted us soon after to take our order. My niece, not feeling too hungry, decided on the chicken strip snack, served with ranch dressing ($2.69). She also ordered a large side of tater tots ($1.39). I chose one of the burgers, a Super Sonic No. 2, topped with mustard, dill pickle, onion, lettuce and tomato ($3.19). The No. 1 substitutes mayonnaise for mustard. For my side order, I chose the regular-size onion rings ($1.29).

A good part of the variety on Sonic’s menu is in its drink section. Slushes, Sonic Blasts (soft-serve ice cream mixed with candy crumbles) and limeades are all things you won’t find at other fast-food places. Katie picked a medium watermelon slush ($1.19), which was overwhelmingly sweet and tasty. I just wanted a regular vanilla shake ($1.59), and that’s what I got.

All of our food arrived courtesy of a young lady on roller skates. She hung the tray from my window, collected the money and was gone. The three chicken strips looked pretty good-sized. Golden brown on the outside and well-cooked-through inside, the strips received a positive rating from Katie. Her tater tots, a food item I hadn’t eaten since I was 12 or so, were a nice alternative to french fries. Easy to pop into the mouth, they were probably my favorite thing we ordered.

My burger was acceptable but nothing special, especially considering the price. An Awful Awful and fries at the downtown Reno Nugget diner is only $3.50, and it is 10 times the hamburger this was. But there was nothing particularly bad about the burger. It was just average.

I did enjoy the onion rings, which seemed to be fairly fresh for a fast-food joint. The onion was a little undercooked, making them pretty chewy. But they tasted like real onions and weren’t too horribly greasy.

The drive-in is still a youth concept, something the franchisees of this Sonic have capitalized on, putting their restaurant right next to Hug High School. Katie and I talked about her favorite amusement park rides, new movies she liked and the best new music while the cars around us pumped rap, the occupants canvassing the parking lot for potential suitors and suitees. With quick service, a great location, and a parking lot filled with young drivers, it is easy to see that this Sonic will be here for a while.