Smile Politely

Just Hamburgers is just a short drive away

Just Hamburgers is a tiny, old-school burger drive-in located in Paxton. It’s practically just a window — there isn’t any seating — and the parking lot is decent size, but not huge. Just Hamburgers has been slinging griddle patties, fries, and a few other sandwiches since 1971. My guess is that the inside hasn’t changed one bit since opening, and although the number stickers on the menu board (and a Facebook post from 2014) indicate otherwise, it seems as if the prices haven’t changed either.

Paxton isn’t too far up the road from C-U. I had never been to Paxton before, but a few people had told me about Just Hamburgers earlier this year, right around the time I visited Rantoul for some burgers. I was warned about the lack of seating, so I waited until we had some warmer weather before I had a hamburger picnic. There are a couple of picnic tables on the side of the building, and there is a park a short drive away, but this is an old school drive-in, and you’re meant to eat in your car.

When I arrived last Friday, the parking lot was packed and there was a line spilling out the door. It was a lovely day, after all, and it was lunchtime. I waited in line, and when I finally (after about 10 minutes outside) made it inside, I realized how the line seemed so long: the inside space is tiny. There is about a four people distance between the door and the register, which is directly in front of the door. To the right is the waiting area, which on this busy day, contained a snaked line of people waiting in line to pick up their food from the pick up window (which is to the right of the register).

The menu is on the left side of the wall near the cash register, and prices are amazingly low. A jumbo sized milkshake (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, orange in the summer) is the most expensive item on the menu at $3.40. Hamburgers are $1.20, cheeseburgers $1.40, and a double cheeseburger is $2.60. A side of fries will run you 85 cents, and a small milkshake is $1.80. You can literally save your pennies and eat here. Just Hamburgers, accepts, as you may have guessed, just cash.

I ordered the double cheeseburger ($2.60, ketchup, mustard, extra pickles), fries ($.85), and a small strawberry shake ($1.80). I was told my number and stood in line behind the rest of the hungry. The line to pick up food moved quickly. When I stepped up to the pick up window, I was told that they couldn’t make my shake because the milkshake machine just “went to heck in a handbasket.” I was refunded my money and sent along my way.

I was disappointed that there was no shake to be had, but figured it was the universe telling me I didn’t really need those calories. I sat down at a picnic table, set up a napkin placemat, and unloaded my goods. The fries were piping hot and golden. The burger was wrapped in paper, and I could see that the cheese had oozed out a bit, cooled off, and took on the shape of paper wrapping. I forgot about the milkshake immediately.

The double cheeseburger was good. The patties were super thin, a little crispy on the outside, and well salted. There was cheese in between the patties, and a generous portion of pickles (as well as ketchup and mustard) on top. The pickles and condiments added some brininess and just a little bit of crunch. The cheese was also a little salty, but more than for flavor, it served as a binder between the patties and the patties and the bread. The bun was a plain white bun, and smushed just a little bit from the wrapping process.

Those fries? They were pretty much perfect. They were hot. They were fried to golden, crispy exterior perfection. They were perfectly salted. They left some grease marks on my napkin placemat. Yum. 

I ate my food pretty quickly, and immediately regretted not having ordered some more food. It wasn’t necessarily because I was still hungry, per se, but rather I very much enjoyed the combination of fat and salt I had just consumed. My meal did feel a little incomplete without the sweetness of a milkshake to wash it all down, so I’ll just have to return soon to try the burger-fries-shake combination.

Just Hamburgers is open for lunch and for dinner. Each day there is a different special, with lunch options and dinner options. Thursday night, for example, is Mexican night, which means you can have some tacos or burritos or nachos. Wednesday is for chicken, and you can get a chicken sandwich for lunch or chicken strips for dinner. Prices vary for the specials, but everything appears to be under $6.

Just Hamburgers is not fancy. Just Hamburgers is not healthy. But it sure is tasty, and definitely worth the drive to Paxton.

Just Hamburgers is located at 214 E Ottawa in Paxton. The restaurant is open Monday though Friday, 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and 4-7 p.m, and Saturday, 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. For more information, follow Just Hamburgers on Facebook, or call at (217) 379-4222.

Photos by Jessica Hammie. 

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