When you think of a drive-in restaurant with carhops, you think of Happy Days and the ’50s, right? Not so—these still exist right here in the Dayton area and they are busy! One such drive-in is just minutes from downtown Dayton.

The Root Beer Stande—owned by Emily Collins for the last seven years—is not your typical carhop operation. Collins says that after graduating college with a fine arts degree she heard that the Root Beer Stande was for sale and she wanted to take a chance. So, she bought it. No regrets, just a lot of hard work and long hours. Emily and her team deliver more than the usual carhop fare—and they hook the tray right on your car window. 

On a recent warm and sunny Saturday, I pulled into the Root Beer Stande at 1727 Woodman Drive in Dayton. The parking lot was packed, nearly every spot full and the picnic tables full of people. Scott approached my car and offered me a menu. I could tell the staff was having fun. Music was playing under the carhop canopy and the staff was busily going from car to car. 

I looked at the menu and it was full of the usual fare. Hot dogs—short, foot-long, all-beef and even monster-dog varieties are available—to which you can add chili, onion, sauerkraut, cole slaw and even ghost peppers. Hot dogs range in price from $2.49 to $6.49 (for the monster). The typical burgers—single, double, triple, bacon and even a lady burger—are available with all of the fixings. Burgers range in price from $1.99 to $4.79 (for the triple). Then there are baskets—foot-long, pork tenderloin, chicken filet and barbecue—that come with fries and a medium drink and range in price from $6.39 to $8.49. 

Deep-fried items include the usual crinkle-cut fries and onion rings to chili fries, pickles, cauliflower, mushrooms, mozzarella sticks, jalapeño poppers and even pretzel bites. Most of these are available in small and large sizes. 

There are 16 sandwich offerings, walking tacos, nachos, a kid’s meal and even daily specials. Then there are desserts—blendies, sundaes, fried brownies, funnel cake fries, slushies, shakes, malts and, of course, floats. 

If that isn’t enough, there is the new menu insert. This is where Collins has really kicked it up a notch. The restaurant serves specialty burgers—all-American bleu, mushroom and swiss, black and bleu, the Fire Alarm, the Rodeo and even a chili cheeseburger. But wait, there’s still more. There are hatch chili chicken street tacos, a foot-long corn dog, boneless Buffalo bites, a spicy chicken sandwich, a Triple Decker Club, fried cheese ravioli, battered waffle fries, pickle fries and the life-changing smoked Gouda mac and cheese bites. 

I tried a number of things. I had never experienced a walking taco, so that was a must. Then, I wanted to sample the pickle fries, Gouda mac and cheese bites, hatch chili chicken tacos, the black and blue burger and, of course, a frosty mug of root beer. 

The food arrived and the tray was hooked to my window (as a child I always feared the window would just break off and which now seemed totally possible with my huge order). I immediately dug into the walking tacos—a Frito bag filled with corn chips, chili, cheese, lettuce, sour cream, salsa and jalapeños . What’s not to love? I ate it like my life depended on it. 

Then I moved onto my sampling of fried foods. I first dug into the fried hatch chili chicken street taco—a deep-fried, rolled tortilla filled with asadero cheese, diced chicken and hatch chiles. It was just spicy enough and was oozing with melted goodness. I dipped mine in salsa. Then, I had to try the lightly breaded dill pickle “fries”—deep-fried and served with ranch dressing. Last, but certainly not least, on the list of fried foods were the smoked Gouda mac and cheese bites. Little breaded bites of mac and cheese made with smoked Gouda—nothing short of delicious! 

Finally, after a brief respite and a couple big drinks from my frosty mug of root beer, I bit into my black and bleu burger, topped with bourbon bacon, marbled bleu cheese, an onion ring and A1 sauce, served on a split-top bun—a tasty sensation to the last bite. 

This is no ordinary drive-in. While it looks that way as you pull in, what you experience from the friendly and attentive staff to a menu that is rich in delicious options is simply extraordinary. Do yourself a favor: step back in time, take a date, take your kids or grandkids or just go alone. You do not want to miss this summertime treat. I am definitely going back for some funnel cake fries. 

The Root Beer Stande is open from the beginning of March through October.