What’ll ya have? That’s been the catchphrase at Atlanta’s The Varsity for nearly 90 years. Known as the world’s largest drive-in restaurant, this place offers you plenty to think about before you answer that question.
The first time we visited The Varsity’s main downtown Atlanta location, it was a Saturday night in the summer and we had two cars full of hungry family members. It took us a while to eat because this place is literally packed at peak dining times like it was then.
So, you can expect to stand in line at the counter for a bit if the joint’s hopping, but that’s okay because you’ll have more time to decide on your order if you’re a newbie. We ended up sampling a variety of items among the people at our table, including cheeseburgers, hot dogs, fries, onion rings and the Varsity Orange, an orange juice-like soda that’s the shop’s signature drink (along with the Frosted Orange shake pictured below).
The food at The Varsity is good and exactly what you’d expect of a drive-in style diner in the South. I’d venture to say the food’s also less greasy than some spots you’ll visit, such as the much-heralded Beacon drive-in located in Spartanburg, South Carolina (a restaurant we actually don’t prefer because it takes greasy spoon a little too far for our taste), and that significantly improves the experience. The Varsity is like an iconic local fast food restaurant, unique to Atlanta, with lots of special menu options.
The cheeseburgers are good and simple, akin to a basic burger you’d find at other national fast food chain restaurants. You have all the traditional topping options to customize your burgers how you like them.
The hot dogs are beefy and housed by a steamed-ish and slightly-toasted bun. I prefer mine with the meaty, zingy chili, which isn’t runny like many hot dog chilis, and it’s popular enough it can be bought by the can at the restaurant.
The French fries are one of my favorite things about The Varsity. They’re potato-y inside, crispy outside, slightly salty and absolutely hand-cut.
Sweet tea is a must, after all you are dining in the South, but test out the peach-flavored tea if you’re feeling adventurous. I didn’t expect I’d like it much, but it’s now my favorite way to drink tea at any restaurant I’ve visited!
And for dessert, if you’re not getting a Frosted orange shake, opt for one of the delicious fried pies. You can’t go wrong, but my favorites are the peach and the seasonally-available sweet potato.
You can’t miss The Varsity if you’re driving on Interstate 85 right through downtown Atlanta. We’ve learned, however, through several road trips that have taken us around Atlanta that we prefer stopping at the Norcross location northeast of downtown. It’s easier to get in and out, the counter lines are usually shorter, and there’s more parking and seating available most of the time. If we plan a visit to The Varsity ahead of time, that’s become our stop instead of downtown.
Whichever location you’re near, there are plenty of reasons to stop at The Varsity and answer the age-old question: What’ll ya have?
The Varsity, multiple locations, Atlanta, Ga.