1292 East Michigan Ave
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Hours: Mon-Wed 11:00am-9:00pm; Thu 10:00am-6:00pm; Fri-Sun 11:00am-9:00pm. Open seasonally.
My family of four was seated in cozy surroundings, with comfortable slate gray seats that worked well to hide dirt. At our feet, there were crumbs, interspersed among Lego pieces, rocks, and a stray gum wrapper.
No, I’m not describing the inside of the latest eatery to take the Ann Arbor area by storm. I’m talking about the inside of my car, because that is where we were seated recently when we ate at Bill’s Drive In on East Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti.
Bill’s Drive In is an unassuming little yellow hut next to an open-air parking lot. Since 1939, Bill’s Drive In has served hot dogs, loose meat sandwiches, chips, and homemade root beer. That’s it, but as we learned, it’s enough.
We pulled into the parking lot on a drizzly Friday night and parked about 8 spaces away from the hut. There were folks eating in 5 other cars in the lot. “Now what?” queried my husband.
“They come to us,” I said just as a carhop appeared beside the driver’s window. He looked at us expectantly. “We’ve never been here before,” I explained. The young man told us they serve hot dogs with ketchup, mustard, chili, cheese, or onions; loose meat sandwiches of ground up hamburger served in hot dog buns; chips, and root beer. “Our chili and root beer are homemade,” he finished.
We ordered 1 hot dog with ketchup for my 5-year-old daughter and 1 with ketchup and mustard for my 8-year-old son. Then my husband and I got a couple chili dogs with cheese and onions. We also wanted to try a loose meat sandwich with chili, cheese, and onions. We ordered root beers all around. The carhop did not write our order down. Rather, after listening to our entire order, he accurately repeated it before rushing back to the hut.
Less than 5 minutes later he returned with our meal served on a tray that attached to our car window. “That’ll be $10.39,” he said.
“Excuse me?” I replied.
“That’s it? For everything?” I passed him the cash (they do NOT accept credit cards) while shaking my head in amazement.
The food was delicious. The buns were soft and fresh, the dogs nicely cooked. I found the liquid cheese in nice proportion to the tangy chili, which consisted of meat in a thin sauce. The loose meat sandwich I shared with my husband was yummy. The ground meat sans sauce was salty, flavorful, and went well with cheese and onions.
The homemade root beer was also a hit, tasting unique and sweet. “Outstanding,” proclaimed my husband. “The best root beer I ever tasted,” announced my 8-year-old. “I’m medium,” said my 5-year-old who, to be fair, is not a fan of root beer.
After inhaling our food and drink, my clan was ready for more. My 5-year-old wanted some chips, the only side available at Bill’s, plus another hot dog with ketchup. My husband and son ordered a couple more dogs and more root beer. The grand total for the second course was $7.53. The second course tasted as good as the first.
Obviously, eating at Bill’s means you have to be in the mood for hot dogs and dining in your car. But what kid, big or little, wouldn’t like that? “It’s fun to eat in the car,” summed up my 8-year-old, “and you get all this cheap food!”
Katy M. Clark is a freelance writer from Saline.