- Enrique Limón
When Woody's Drive-In (6172 S. 1300 East, Murray, 801-266-6934) opened in 1989, it entered a market that didn't seem to have room for another throwback carhop burger joint. The burger drive-in restaurant scene had been around long enough for corporations to assert their dominance—Utah even saw the rise of quite a few of its own franchise-ready burger concepts. Even though fast-food seemed like it would squash a place like Woody's, it has stood in its humble Murray location for nearly 30 years.
So how do they do it?
Indeed, that's the question on my mind when I pull in with my wife and daughter. As per its slogan—"Come back to the '50s"—the place is set up like the drive-in establishments of a bygone age where diners could park their car and order food through a scratchy intercom system, presumably before they popped the collars of their leather jackets and performed musical numbers about street racing for pink slips. Situated above each intercom box sits Woody's enormous menu. Taking a few minutes to scan the offerings, it dawns on me that this is the secret of Woody's success.
- Enrique Limón
For starters, Woody's creates a one-stop, quasi-nostalgic place to indulge your greasier cravings. The trademark Woody Burger ($4.49, pictured) adds a bit of versatility to traditional pastrami burgers because you can order one with sliced ham. Pastrami burgers are just about as Utah as fry sauce—which is Woody's burger condiment of choice—and it's hard not to compare Woody's with other local establishments. Its flour-topped, sourdough buns are sturdy enough to keep the quarter-pound patty, melted cheese, pastrami, lettuce, pickles and tomatoes all in line. For those who are on the lookout for something downright gigantic, the Woody Burger has a big brother called the Super Woody Burger ($12.99), which packs nearly three pounds of ground beef into a salted mélange of bacon, ham or pastrami. Regardless of the size, this pastrami burger lands dead center between delicious and disgusting. I've definitely had better, but I've also had a lot worse.
An unexpectedly tasty dark horse is the gyro ($3.99), which can always be hit or miss wherever you dine. Woody's is a little smaller than other gyros around town, but the seasoning on the meat imparts the spicy, peppery flavor I was hoping for. Other than the sauce being a little on the bland side, this is a tasty alternative to the menu's burger section.
While venturing into Woody's non-burger territory, I sail into some rough waters. I accept full responsibility for the weird compulsion that makes me think ordering a halibut sandwich ($4.59) at a burger place is a good idea—this one is skip-worthy. On occasion, I've had really good fish sandwiches in similar places, but here we have a flash-fried frozen fish patty with tartar sauce that seems to have forgotten its pickles.
Woody's side-dish game is perhaps where it outshines some of its competitors. At the top of the list, the zucchini fries ($2.79) reign supreme. Fried zucchini often gets so decimated by the deep frying process that you end up getting little more than a few flaccid straws of overcooked Cucurbita. These, however, maintain just the right amount of toothsome body beneath their crisp outer layer. Slather 'em up with some fry sauce, and you've got something really special. The house onion rings ($2.59 small; $3.99 large) also are ahead of the curve. They're thick-cut, and their outer texture is light and crumbly. The fries ($1.79-$2.79) are also solid, and they come in traditional or curly. All of these sides can be added to a combo meal, which is a nice way to mix it up on repeat visits.
Wrapping things up, a dip into Woody's vast pool of milkshakes and ice cream cones is hard to pass up. I throw a mental dart at its huge selection and a caramel cashew milkshake ($3.49-$3.69) ends up being our dessert destiny. The large is served like a Russian nesting doll—the smaller cup served inside a giant cup that acts as a protective boundary and a way to contain the overflowing ice cream. Again, not the finest bit of shakecraft that I've come across, but still a nice way to round out a meal.
As a place where you can get curly fries and a pastrami burger or gyros with a side of zucchini fries, Woody's variety is what's kept it afloat for the past three decades. The nostalgia factor and occasional classic car shows undoubtedly capture a wide audience of Murray residents, but from a purely culinary perspective, Woody's sheer quantity of fast-food staples is what keeps Pink Ladies and daddy-o's lining up for more.
AT A GLANCE
Open: Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Best bet: The trademark Woody Burger
Can’t miss: A side of rockin' zucchini fries