I remember a phone conversation with the new owner of Little Holland/Mikie Burgers, just over a year ago. “No, we won’t change a thing,” said Chi Baek. She said it multiple times during that phone interview. I asked why she was being so repetitive. Baek sighed and confessed. Simply put: Fans of the well-known burger drive-in restaurant were insistent that the new owner stay true to the 50-year-old burger drive-in's honest approach to burgers, fries and shakes. Putting it more bluntly: Baek received backlash in verbal form and in not-so-nice comments posted on News Tribune online stories about the change in ownership. Her takeaway: Longtime regulars didn't like the thought of change and they were suspicious of Baek. Baek remained adament that she was not going to add teriyaki to the menu (a suspicion/accusation more than one fan tossed at her). She said she wouldn't raise prices much, if at all. She said she would mostly stick with the same vendors.
And now? After more than a year operating in the new location, Baek asserts that she hasn't changed much at all. Anyone who works in the restaurant industry knows that saying things won't change "at all" is near impossible with rising food costs, demanding customers and market shifts, so I'll cut Baek slack on the finite details of a price change (5 cent increases hardly can be criticized) and adding a few new burgers to the menu. And I'd agree from a few recent visits that very little seems different about the nuts and bolts of the restaurant: the burgers and fries still taste the same. The Mighty Mike, the Mikie Burger, the pork sandwich, the plain cheeseburgers, the Mikie D – they’re all still listed on the menu.
Baek and her husband Soungwon “Tony” Hong bought the equipment and recipes of Little Holland from previous owners Dave and Dorothy Viskup. The drive-in burger restaurant had operated in a little walk-up stand near where Center and Orchard Streets meet. But development pushed out the burger restaurant in July 2009. That’s when Baek entered. She and her husband relocated Mikie Burgers (with a tagline of Little Holland) and opened up shop in a strip-mall across the street in January 2010.
Despite the ‘80s feel of the strip-mall space - not much can be done about that, short of moving - the burger components don't taste tangibly different. The Mikie Burger ($3.75) tasted as I remembered it when I reviewed the burger in 2009 and 2010: a crunchy, grilled sesame seed bun, thin but juicy patty, a smear of tangy Mikie burger sauce, a chewy slice of Canadian bacon, a layer of melted Swiss, shredded iceberg lettuce, a thick tomato slice and large diced onions. The cheeseburger ($2.99) also was exactly the same – all the way down to the griddled bun. Even the grease tasted the same.
And for you fans of their desserts, they still serve the same custard. And there has been one improvement – fresh-cut fries. You can still order the freezer fries, but the crunchy, thicker-cut hand-cut fries tasted of pure potato and are far better than anything that ever could come out of a freezer bag and only cost a 40-cent surcharge (freezer fries are $1.39/fresh fries are $1.79). Whichever fries you get, order them with a side of Mikie sauce.
The seven new burgers on the menu are nothing unusual – a bacon cheddar ranch, a bacon Swiss, a hickory burger and Chicago burger are priced $3.95-$4.95.
A tip for bargain seekers: The restaurant features a daily dollar deal -- fries and a small soda for $1; and happy hour/burger deals are ongoing every day. Look for signs in the lobby for the day's special.
Mikie Burgers/The Little Holland Drive-InAddress: 4915 Center St. Space C, TacomaPhone: 253-564-8661