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Sid’s: Famous for Onion Burgers

Comments from the Kitchen Office

This is one of a full series of articles about interesting food locations along Route 66. See "related articles" or search "Route 66" for the full series.

We intended to make it a drive-by. Check out the restaurant quickly, sample a menu item, and be on our way.

Blame it on the strawberry shake.

One sip, and we were back inside to sample more. Not just the shakes, although they came with real strawberries in the strawberry, plus vanilla, chocolate, peanut butter, coffee and orange—trendy flavors for a place known for decades of consistency.  It was also the smell of the burgers and the overall come-in-and-sit-down atmosphere of the place.

We knew there had to be a story.

It takes you back to the 1920s, as Sid’s owner Marty Hall tells it, “When onions were cheap, and meat was expensive.” He settles in for the story. “So, an enterprising cook added shredded onion to the top of a five cent meet patty and smashed it. Voila! Bigger, better flavor. It’s now El Reno’s world famous local delicacy.”

You gotta love a town that is known for a hamburger. In fact, the Oklahoma town is now host to Burger Day, an event that draws 25,000 people in a town of just  16,000 and has added a car show and lots of family activities to the festival atmosphere. Burger Day started in 1989 . . . well, let’s let Sid tell the story:

About 23 years ago the town hired a Main Street director to come and promote downtown El Reno. She asked, “What is El Reno known for,” and they said, “Onion burgers.” They came up with a plan to do the world’s largest hamburger.

Well, my dad was a highway foreman, and I had a little restaurant. Dad and I put a grill on the downtown sidewalk for Burger Day, and people kept saying, “Marty, cook me some burgers!” So I cooked four or five, and the next thing I knew I had a line of 50 behind me. We made 1700 burgers the first year, and opened Sid’s the next.

Sadly, Hall’s father passed away in that year, so Marty and his brother, Bob, chose to name the new restaurant in his memory. It’s been locally owned and operated since 1970, serving homemade burgers with a toasted bun. 

And those shakes? They are still made in a 1965 Taylor machine left over from what Hall calls “a little dairy—an old, old, old style ice cream place.” He sees no reason to replace the machine, adding, “She’s still a goin’!”

The restaurant has had its share of attention over the years, showing up in Gourmet Magazine and Southern Living, as well as on the Man vs. Food TV show. Hall loves to tell, though, about showing up in Men’s Health Magazine. “They called and said, ‘Congratulations. Men’s Health has named your burger best burger.’ I said, ‘My hamburger is in a health magazine??’”

He’s philosophical about the attention. “The way I figure it, we are all going to be known for something. It’s good to be known for good burgers.”