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Carlson's Drive-In

118 West Coolspring Avenue, Michigan City, IN - (219) 872-0331
Posted By Tony Badalamenti on 9/7/2009 2:41:00 PM
A throwback to another era, Carlson's is a genuine drive-in restaurant. I had only been to such a place as a child, so I had to ask about the routine, not wanting to violate any drive-in rules. The very friendly young lady patiently explained some of the menu choices and then took our order. When she returned I was advised the window had to be about four inches from fully down, so she had a place to hang our tray of treats. Since hot dogs appeared to be a specialty, we all opted for some variety of hot dog.

The dogs themselves are Eckrich, all-beef hot dogs, which are quite flavorful without being overly spiced. I had a chili cheese dog which was quite good. The chili was more of a meat sauce than a spicy chili, and the cheese was Cheez Whiz, but the combination was very good. The Chicago-style dog had all the basic ingredients of the genuine article except for the poppy seed bun. While some don't like the whole salad-on-a-hot-dog thing, the variety of tastes in each bite makes these a favorite of mine, and this was a worthy version of this classic.

My daughter enjoyed a corn dog, and advised me the cornbread coating was slightly sweet and not at all greasy. My wife didn't share her kraut dog with me, but said it may have been the best hot dog she ever ate. She does not usually even like hot dogs, so this was high praise.

For side dishes we went with fried cauliflower (gotta get the kids some veggies) and cheese cubes. Both were very lightly battered and not overly greasy. The cheese cubes were really good-tasting, with a cheddar taste in each bite. I could see myself developing a serious addiction to these.

While the hot dogs were outstanding, the real star for me was the root beer. It is made on-site and is very good. It comes served in a chilled glass mug, which I really like. I didn't try the homemade cream soda, but will do so if and when I return. My kids had orange drink and grape drink, which reminded me of the kind I used to get at Woolworth's when I was a kid, out of those glass coolers where the drink cascaded down the sides.

Carlson's is the kind of place that I was surprised to have never seen mentioned here before. I often assume all these types of places have already been discovered by one of our dedicated Roadfood hunters. The fact I found no mention of it on this site made the quality of the place an even bigger surprise for me. Carlson's is a genuine, old-style drive-in and this alone would make it worth a stop for me even if the food was just average, but I felt the food was fabulous, making it a must-stop if in the area.

Located just off Interstate 94 and Route 421, it would be a good lunch stop if you are passing through. It is a small yellow building with awnings on either side, easily spotted on your left as you turn off Route 421. They are open from mid-February until mid-October for lunch and dinner.

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Root Beer
Cheese Cubes
Chili Cheese Dog
Kraut Dog
Chicago-Style Dog
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Reviewers Photos [Upload Your Photos]

Just a hot dog with sauerkraut and mustard.
"Just a hot dog with sauerkraut and mustard."
Tony Badalamenti





Not spicy, but very good.
"Not spicy, but very good."
Tony Badalamenti


This may have been the best root beer I've ever had, served in a chilled glass mug.
"This may have been the best root beer I've ever had, served in a chilled glass mug."
Tony Badalamenti


Tasty little cubes of fried cheddar cheese.  These things could be quite addictive!
"Tasty little cubes of fried cheddar cheese. These things could be quite addictive!"
Tony Badalamenti


No poppy seed bun, but a worthy and tasty take on the Chicago tradition.
"No poppy seed bun, but a worthy and tasty take on the Chicago tradition."
Tony Badalamenti


Dashboard dining at its finest.
"Dashboard dining at its finest."
Tony Badalamenti


Many choices!  Click on the photo for a readable view.
"Many choices! Click on the photo for a readable view."
Tony Badalamenti


More choices.  Click on the photo for a readable view.
"More choices. Click on the photo for a readable view."
Tony Badalamenti


At first this didn't mean much to me, but after tasting these very good dogs, it is a sign worth looking for.
"At first this didn't mean much to me, but after tasting these very good dogs, it is a sign worth looking for."
Tony Badalamenti


If the parking lot were empty, it would be hard to tell what year this photo was taken.
"If the parking lot were empty, it would be hard to tell what year this photo was taken."
Tony Badalamenti



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