(Image by Something Good in PE)
The roadhouse is a popular American tradition that spread to South Africa around the 40s. The concept was made popular also in pop culture in stories like On The Road and Easy Rider. Traditionally the purpose of the roadhouse was to provide food and lodging for travelers, and they’d usually be situated on a main road. As things got more developed, roadhouses started serving food to people right in their car, offering a quick stopover for human fuel.
Although South Africa’s roadhouses don’t all stick to this traditional formulae today, many still serve food on those grid trays attached to your car window, which offer diners a great sense of nostalgia and novelty.
Here’s our guide to authentic roadhouses across the country:
The Doll House Roadhouse, Johannesburg
This roadhouse gets it name because of its physical appearance. From the outside it resembles a doll house offering a slightly eerie, mystical quality to the facade which has made The Doll House iconic, dating back to 1940. Perhaps no longer in its peak condition, the Doll House does however still serve the same food from way back when, like burgers and double thick milkshakes. Although it is slightly dilapidated, it still holds its old charm and is worth stopping by for the old school drive-in service.
Casbah Roadhouse, Pretoria
Like most roadhouses, Casbah has been around for quite a few decades, witnessing the changing landscape of its Pretorian surroundings. It’s own features haven’t changed much besides consistent maintenance that has kept the roadhouse in ship shape. Enjoy fast food like hotdogs, schwarmas, fish and chips, burgers and more!
Wembley Roadhouse – Athlone, Cape Town
Wembley is a Cape Town institution with a huge following of loyal customers from in and around Athlone. It’s a destination roadhouse where customers visit not because they’re passing by but because the food and Wembley experience is that good. They offer the real roadhouse service with food ordered from your car. The food is what makes them special. They haven’t Americanised their menu, rather offering local cuisines like toasted steak sarmies, a selection of salomis, traditional Cape Malay dishes and also an extensive seafood selection.
Uncle Harry’s Roadhouse, Randfontein
Lit up like a Christmas tree, Uncle Harry’s is your quintessential roadhouse that is unmissable with its multi-coloured signage. Just off the R28, Uncle Harry’s has been open since 1974 and is still serving up its classic grub from burgers to steaks to pizzas and also a Sunday roast. So if you’re heading past Randfontein, pullover and enjoy the liveliness of Uncle Harry’s.
Burger Box – Krugersdorp, Benoni, Birch Acres and Rustenberg
Burger Box embraces the traditional Roadhouse concept where customers can choose to sit inside, eat in their cars or take away their food. The first branch started in Krugerdorp just after roadhouses had taken off in a big way in the US. The Krugersdrop branch is now over 60 years old and still going strong with customers flocking for a taste of their great burgers, pregos, hotdogs and breakfasts.
The Fireplace Roadhouse, Boksburg
The Fireplace opened in 1958, and is another roadhouse that keeps things classic. Order your food from your car and eat off a steel grid tray placesd on your window. It’s a time warp of note, with the restaurant sitting in an arched mid-century building, offering the ultimate drive-in movie scene. They are well-known for their pizzas, steak options, burgers and mammoth milkshakes.
The Apple Bite Roadhouse, Edenvale
The Apple bite is an Edenvale gem with retro signage and a retro experience. They are highly regarded for their incredible wood-fired pizzas as well as their English breakfast, pregos and soft serve ice cream. On Sundays they also offer a roast for lunch.
Something Good Roadhouse, PE
Something Good was featured on our guide to great outdoor restaurants since they sit on a large patch of green that overlooks the sea. It’s not your typical roadhouse, in that it doesn’t offer the full drive in service but you can get take aways, however once you see the location, you’ll more than likely want to spend some time. The menu features classic and gourmet fast food like pizzas, stacked burgers and toasted sarmies. Also don’t miss their killer milkshakes and soda floats.
Windmill Roadhouse, East London
The Windmill Roadhouse is a landmark in the area, with a giant windmill perched on its roof, kind of like Moulin Rouge but with significantly less lingerie. Windmill has been open since 1946 making it one of the oldest roadhouses on the list. They still keep to the original formula, serving great combo meals that offer good value for money like the burger, chips and a coke deal for R49.90. They’re also known for their ‘brekkie on the go’ which is super budget friendly.
Kota Joe Roadhouse, Boksburg and Edenvale and Wonderboom
Kota Joe is a modernised version of the old roadhouse, focusing on fast food and over-the-top shakes. You can enjoy the authentic roadhouse experience where service meets you right at your car door. Kota Joe has brought the roadhouse into the 21st century offering customers a vibrant and fun-filled experience from the seat of your car.