Being asked how you want your hamburger cooked says everything about the hamburger you’re about to eat. Because any restaurant that can’t serve burgers still pink in the middle* might need to reconsider why they’re serving burgers at all.

And though fresh, cooked-to-order burgers may seem a lofty expectation for a rehabbed A&W drive-in, the old-is-new-again  Healdsburger (48 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg) may have finally risen above its frozen-patty past.

“How would you like that burger cooked?” is the first tip-off that the burgery is headed in the right direction.

Purchased by sports exec David Alioto in late 2011 there’s new promise in the whiffs of smoky, grilled beef that waft through the parking lot. Cheery outdoor picnic tables, freshly painted walls and some serious Cloroxing since my last visit are the next tip-off that someone cares. Channeling the retro-nostalgic, Wine Country vibe of Gott’s Roadside (aka Taylor’s Automatic Refresher) you’ll immediately recognize the aluminum serving trays and lack of service ware that’s become at Gott’s hallmark, along with an attentive, uniformed crew of under 25-ish kids snapping to attention when orders come in.

The produce is spanking fresh (not sad iceberg or pale tomatoes), real ice cream shakes whir in the blender and a manual potato cutter (similar to the ones at In-N-Out) thumps into action every few minutes.


But what’s bringing back the crowds: Off-square pricing for on-square deliciousness. As in $5.75 for a juicy, toasted sesame seed bun, Guy-would-flip-his-wig this is so divey-good, kind of burger.

That’s not to say you can’t get a $12 Wine Country creation if you’re feeling fancy. Cheese and other toppings are a la carte, so expect to pay more if you’re gussying things up. Daily Specials get creative (The Hangover has bacon, cheddar and a fried egg, along with the usual fixins), and change up frequently, but are usually about $10 with fries and a drink.

For cardiac tight-rope walkers, the 14-ounce double patty ‘Mondo’ ($7.75) offers twice the patty fun. Kids get a nod with the 3-ounce mini, hot dogs, corn dogs, and chicken strips. Fries (skin on, of course) are included with most specials.  Milk shakes are generous and creamy, but grown-ups may prefer the spike of a Chocolate Stout Float.

Healdsburger is finally the little neighborhood drive-in with burgers worthy of the discriminating palates of its hometown. And a burger just the way you ordered it.

Healdsburger: 48 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, (707) 473-9604.

*Your willingness to eat meat the way it should be cooked may vary. They’ll incinerate your burger (ie: medium/well) if that’s what you really want.