The city of Spartanburg, South Carolina came to prominence through the textile mills and railroad that used its location as an important hub. Located in the northwestern part of the state, it grew as additional employees were needed, which led to an increase in restaurants.
Despite the economic changes over the years, especially during the pandemic, many of these places from this heyday still exist and are quite literally diners, drive-ins and dives.
Beacon Drive-In — Photo courtesy of Caroline Eubanks
First opened on Thanksgiving Day in 1946, the Beacon Drive-In welcomes hungry diners with its lighthouse-inspired sign acting as a “beacon” at a busy intersection. It’s one of the few remaining restaurants in America to offer curb service, long before the pandemic made it necessary, and is the second-largest drive-in in the country.
Founder John White filled the menu with his personal favorites, many of which are still available for diners to enjoy. The Chili-Cheese A-Plenty is a popular choice, which is a chili cheeseburger topped with onion rings and French fries. Pulled pork sandwiches are Carolina-style, made with a mustard-based sauce. The Pig’s Dinner is a decadent banana split.
The restaurant also claims to sell more tea than any other restaurant in the United States, at 62,500 gallons per year. The “world famous” tea is Southern style, served iced and sweet with a squeeze of lemon on shaved ice. In its decades of operation, The Beacon has been featured on The Cooking Channel, The Travel Channel and Food Network.
Boots and Sonny’s Drive-In
Known as the “home of the Hot Dog Man,” Boots and Sonny’s Drive-In dates back to 1962. It was originally opened as a Tastee Freeze, an ice cream stand, but the menu expanded to include the Famous Mama E’s Chili, a family recipe. Since then, Boots and Sonny’s, named for the owners’ nicknames, has become known for this chili, which tops the hot dogs it serves.
The restaurant serves thousands of people every day, cooking up 2,000 hot dogs. It’s still family-owned, led by the third generation. The menu also includes bologna sandwiches, burgers, sandwiches and dessert, which can be taken to go or enjoyed in the vintage sign-covered dining room.
Burger at Nu-Way — Photo courtesy of Visit Spartanburg
Little has changed at NuWay Lounge & Restaurant since it opened in 1937, making it the oldest bar in Spartanburg. Located underneath a Pabst Blue Ribbon sign, this dive bar keeps it simple with the American beer classics and pinball machines inside. The games and drinks are welcoming, but it’s also one of the best places in town for a good meal.
The “World Famous Redneck Cheeseburger” has been praised by Food Network Magazine as the best in the state of South Carolina. It comes topped with the standard lettuce, tomato and onion, along with homemade chili and pimento cheese, a cheddar and pepper concoction. The menu also includes dry- and wet-rub wings, a French dip and even a vegetarian burger.
Peach Blossom Diner
Peach Blossom Diner — Photo courtesy of Visit Spartanburg
When it first opened in 1958, Peach Blossom Diner was set inside a metal trailer on old I-85, like one you might see along Route 66. A more permanent structure was built in the 1980s and continues to serve hungry diners including tourists, politicians and athletes.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Peach Blossom has changing daily specials, as well as hearty Southern fare. The menu has everything from hotcakes and biscuits to burgers and fried chicken. What strikes your fancy?
Sugar-n-Spice Drive In
Sugar-n-Spice Family Drive In — Photo courtesy of Caroline Eubanks
The Copses and Stathakis families immigrated to the United States from Greece in the 1950s and together opened Sugar-n-Spice in 1961. Over the last 60 years, the diner has served up beloved Greek and American dishes including burgers, roast beef, baklava and souvlaki.
The original neon sign still beckons travelers to detour and the wavy awning where carhops once worked is now covered parking. The restaurant hosts “cruise ins” for classic car lovers, held on Friday nights throughout the year.
Turkey & dressing with sides at Wade’s — Photo courtesy of Visit Spartanburg
No matter what time of day you go, you’re likely to find a crowd at Wade’s, Spartanburg’s quintessential meat-and-three restaurant. Opened in 1947 by Wade and Betty Lindsey, it started as a grocery store that added a lunch counter for local employees. The menu expanded from simple hot dogs and sandwiches to Betty’s Southern-style home cooking.
The Lindsey family is still involved with Wade’s and the restaurant has been praised by readers of Southern Living, along with many other publications. The menu still has beloved dishes like hamburger steak and “world famous” fried chicken. The yeast rolls also have their own following, with 3,500 made by hand every day.