A good dive ought to scare you a little.
It ought to make you sit in your car for just a moment, wondering if you’re really going to go inside and eat something.
When it comes to Charlotte’s burger scene, though, some of you people really like a dive burger. That’s one of the things I learned when I did a recent roundup of six places to get a good burger. The places that most people thought I had missed tended to be small, a little rundown and definitely a bit off the wall.
All right, people. I’m always ready for a food adventure. So I took your suggestions and went to check three that have passionate fans.
Dixie Grill & Grocery
9115 Dixie River Road, Charlotte, 704-392-8828; 7 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday. Double cheeseburger $4.25, $7.95 with tea and a side.
A good dive has attitude, and the Dixie Grill definitely has that. Even the wipe-off board with the menu has words we can’t run in a polite publication.
Just finding the place is a feat. Saying it’s “near the airport” is a little misleading. It’s actually near I-485, Wallace Neal Road and West Boulevard near the airport runways. You’ll see a lot of big jets alarmingly close overhead, but you’re a long way from baggage claim.
Owned by Peggy Smith with a crew that really hustles on the grill, the place gets a long line of construction workers at lunch, always a good sign for burgers. When I was there, one man in a fluorescent vest was telling a newbie, “You want a good ol’ greasy burger, you won’t find much better than here.”
And he’s right: The double cheeseburger with chili and slaw has melted cheese on the bottom, in the middle and on top. But the real star is the house chips: Potatoes sliced so thin, they actually are crispy, served warm with a good sprinkle of black pepper.
Bright Star Drive-In Grill
205 Madora St., Mount Holly, 704-827-0212; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday (open until 10 p.m. on weekends April-September). Double cheeseburger $6.29.
The Bright Star isn’t a dive, really. It’s just well-used, a real throwback to the good ol’ days of drive-ins. The green-and-white tile floors have definitely seen better days. But it has its own radio station (www.brightstarradio.com) and a ’50s-nostalgia vibe with old records decorating the walls.
The burgers certainly bring in fans at lunch. While they’re known for the LottaBurger (a sub roll with double hamburger patties), the cheeseburger is well-seasoned, loosely packed and griddled with dark, crusty edges. Top it with the slightly sweet and very juicy slaw and it’s a five-napkin experience.
12420 E. Independence Blvd., Matthews, 704-847-9506; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, noon-7 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday. Hinson Burger with cheese $3.75, 75 cents extra for chili.
How have I missed Hinson’s all these years? Maybe because it’s so hard to find: Plug the address into GPS and it will lead you east on Independence Boulevard to CPCC Lane, the turn for Central Piedmont Community College’s Levine Campus. Then it will announce you’ve arrived. Except there’s nothing there.
Actually, if you look closely, there is something there: A small paved driveway on the right. Go up that driveway and you’ll find two buildings fenced off from Independence. One is a topless club. You don’t want that one. (Or maybe you do. Your private life is your business.) The other, the mustard-yellow one, is Hinson’s.
And yes, you might do what I did: Sit there for a minute and question your life choices. But it’s OK, Hinson’s is a friendly place. If you go for lunch, you’ll probably find several regulars parked at the bar, beers in hand. In fact, if you don’t have a beer in front of you, you’ll definitely stick out.
What you’ll also find is a darn good cheeseburger: Hand-shaped and very juicy, it’s served with thin layers of tomatoey chili and cole slaw, all made by owner Phil Hinson. He’s had plenty of time to practice: His father and uncle – twins Ronald and Donald Hinson – opened it in 1954, and Phil took over when he was 19, more than 30 years ago.