What happens when the creator of Fremont Street’s infamous Heart Attack Grill decides to realize his childhood dreams of monster movie magic? A fast-food drive-thru/drive-in theater mashup, open for lunch and dinner.
The retro-styled Burger 51, at Decatur Boulevard and I-95, opened on July 23. It’s so new that some “gimmicks” have yet to be installed: a space cadet Zoltar will take your order, and a vending machine will sell tinfoil hats and $1 comic books.
“I’ve always been into burgers, but sci-fi is my real fetish,” says bombastic founder Jon Basso, known as Dr. Jon at Heart Attack Grill and Supreme Commander Jon at Burger 51. Basso grew up watching classic horror—Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolfman flicks—and always wanted to be a horror film producer.
Burger 51 wasn’t built for the era of social distancing. But the self-proclaimed “world’s first experiential fast food place” offers full-on fun with a low risk of infection. Basso says he hopes the drive-thru will feel like a Disneyland ride. The buildings are made out of shipping containers, which he says provide the feeling of a “dystopian, sci-fi future.” They’re decorated with cult movie posters.
The burgers are reasonably priced—$3 for a single, $4 for a double. Burger 51 features fresh Angus beef with real cheese, an egg-washed bun, Thousand Island dressing and lettuce.
Bosso is particularly excited about the lettuce. “I can’t do it at Heart Attack grill, because lettuce is supposed to be healthy,” he says. “I love getting away from the unhealthy gimmick.”
The sides are on theme for a movie theater. Instead of french fries, there’s popcorn ($4) and candy. Rather than booze or a soda fountain, there are glass soda bottles and strawberry frozen shaved ice with condensed milk ($4).
Diners eat in their cars while watching a series of short films on a 20-by-30-foot screen. Basso estimates that about 20% of the films are locally made, and he’s always seeking new submissions. At night, the entertainment graduates from PG- to R-rated slasher flicks: “I don’t want any 7-year-old seeing a chain-saw decapitation,” he says.
Burger 51 101 N. Decatur Blvd., burger51.com. Daily, 11:30-2 a.m.