Zesto's should be dead by now. For one, it's a 62-year-old retro-doo-wop burger joint that, from the inside (and especially the men's bathroom), looks as though it might crumble to the ground at any minute. That could be because, for a dozen of those years, it had a '57 Chevy parked on its roof.
But that's hardly been Zesto's only brush with death. In 2001, its then-owner, Charlie Pattok, sold the business and the lot on which it sits, promptly declared the restaurant a "white elephant," and provided assurances that the new owner intended to tear Zesto's down and erect a three-story office tower.
That never happened. But in 2007, Zesto's was effectively declared King County's scummiest restaurant, as the Health Department flagged it for 15 "red critical" violations, including "poor worker hygiene, failure to properly sanitize the food-preparation area and cold food stored at more than 45 degrees," wrote the Seattle P-I. If that's not the sort of malady that gets the final nail hammered in, then Lord knows what is.
Yet Zesto's is still here, and while it may not be hopping like it when American Graffiti was in theaters, at least it's got a squeaky clean bill of health, displayed prominently near the cash register. The floor plan is surprisingly cavernous, with a deck for outdoor dining, a coffee shop, and two other rooms filled with tableside jukeboxes, vinyl-backed booths, framed black and white photographs, and two large television screens airing Johnny Cash Show reruns.
Known for its shakes, Zesto's also serves $2 microbrews during happy hour, an odd yet wonderful wrinkle for a place of this ilk. The fries are Jack-In-the-Box bad, but the burgers are serviceable; order bacon and you'll get stacks, not strips.
Zesto's is a Ballard establishment, to be sure, but it's really a Ballard High School establishment; the school is right across the street. It's Beaver alum who hold the place nearest and dearest, and The Ballard High School Talisman is Zesto's paper of record. The March 22 issue features an exploration of teen gambling and a profile of the basketball team's "scoreboarding crew," a group of students that operates the clock and scoreboard at games. They get paid handsomely for it too: "We stack G's, getting' that scoreboarding paper," senior Matthew Law-Phipps told The Talisman.
But the highlight of the issue is a "Seattle Slang" glossary, co-written by Cadence Hendrickson and Jennifer Warren. Here, a "sluey" is a promiscuous female, Greenwood is "Greenhood," and "dug" is "a term used to refer to a friend, much like 'dog'."
This term, reports The Talisman, was "coined by 2009 BHS graduate Lee Richardson." And who are we to doubt its accuracy?
Zesto's, 6416 15th Ave NW, 783-3350, zestosseattle.com, BALLARD