Lunch in Waco, Elvis Presley style

July 8, 2011

So I found myself in Waco, Texas, after noon and hungry.  Where to eat?

Fortunately, I’d read about the burger emporium favored by none other than Elvis Presley, Health Camp.

Health Camp Drive In, Waco Texas, Photo by Ed Darrell

Even after the lunch rush cars and pickups crowd the door at Health Camp.

Who names a burger joint “Health Camp?”

Established in 1949, it’s still dispensing “100% Angus ground chuck” burgers.  While it’s not a competitor for the title of World’s Best, to me, it’s a good burger, and the fries were pretty good, too.  The place specializes in milkshakes in a wide variety of flavors, including banana, butterscotch and peanut butter.  I did not ask if the peach flavor comes from fresh, or real peaches.

Here’s a photo from a few years back:

Health Camp burger stand in Waco, Texas

Health Camp burger stand in Waco, Texas - TexasBurgerGuy

It looks much the same.  If you’re passing through on Interstate 35, it’s not really that hard to find it at 2601 Circle Road.  Circle Road terminates literally in a circle — a “circus” in British terminology — less than 100 yards off of I-35.  Take Exit 333A going either north or south, aim for South Valley Mills Road on the east side of the freeway.  The next intersection is the Circle off of Circle Road.  Other roads going into the Circle include LaSalle Avenue, Robinson Road.  Elite Circle Grill has a larger, easier to find sign — and the two essentially share a parking lot.   If you’re at the Elite Circle Grill, you’re close enough to Health Camp to walk.

Health Camp in Waco, Evlis's local favorite, photo by Ed Darrell

More parking than needed, Health Camp shares parking lot with the Elite Circle Grill; daytime shots suffer from not showing the neon on the flying-V sign. Photo by Ed Darrell, use encouraged, with attribution.

The business here is drive-in food, especially burgers and milkshakes.  Someone did a photo essay on drive-ins in Texas, and a dozen or so framed pictures of famous greasers lines the small dine-in room.  It’s formica and vinyl, and signs with plastic red letters on white — some of which have not been changed in months, perhaps in years.

It’s a classic place.  Not classy, but classic.

Interior of Health Camp Drive-in in Waco, Texas,   photo by Ed Darrell

Atmosphere? You came here for the burgers and the milkshakes. The seats work, the tables are clean, the ketchup isn't watered down. You want decor? Go to McDonalds.

They know what they’ve got.  A combo meal — burger, fries or tots or rings, and drink, will be north of $6.00; add a shake, you’re up to $8.00  Change back from your $10 or $20.

I got a cheeseburger, mayo, “all the way.”  Very good beef, satisfying, fresh and sweet onions.  Fries could have been cut in the place, but I’ll wager they were frozen — not highly processed beyond that.  Fried to a good crisp, they screamed for ketchup.

A stop here beats a stop at any of the big chains, but will cost you a bit more.  True burger aficionados may complain.  Let ’em.

I’ll stop there again with pleasure, unless I think I have time to try the Elite Circle Grill for a comparison.  I thought fondly of the Owl Burger at the Owl Cafe in Albuquerque, and the Big H from Hires Drive-In in Salt Lake City, both superior to the Health Camp product.  But they are related closely enough for horseshoes.

Health Camp cheeseburger and fries - photo by Ed Darrell

The Health Camp cheeseburger comes wrapped unassumingly in paper, served on a plastic tray. Clearly the management puts its effort into ingredients and preparation.

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