Even as California remains largely locked down in the face of the coronavirus crisis, many stir-crazy Angelenos have been fortunate enough to escape the house in their cars — and apparently head directly to a drive-thru, where lines at fast-food restaurants have reached ridiculous proportions. Last week, with the help of an aerial drone, Eater LA surveyed multiple spots around LA County where queues could reach up to fifty cars long, stretching for a quarter mile or more.
One particular cluster of restaurants in Downey — In-N-Out, Chick-Fil-A, and Raising Cane’s — made for what could be the largest collection of cars waiting for fast food in Southern California, with one stretch along Firestone Boulevard bringing together nearly 140 cars waiting in line for food.
In-N-Out Burger, Hollywood
Hollywood’s lone In-n-Out is already known to field long lines, especially during prime meal hours, but ever since the Southern California-based burger chain closed its dining rooms, the drive-thru has been the only way to load up on double-doubles and animal-style fries. The building doesn’t accommodate more than one drive-thru lane, so the line snakes out into the neighborhood along Orange Drive. Employees walk the line, taking early orders are relayed inside via headset to speed up the process.
Raising Cane’s, Downey
Raising Cane’s is a Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based fast-food restaurant founded in 1996 with a very simple menu: fried chicken tenders, crinkle-cut fries, coleslaw, Texas toast, and a spicy mayo sauce. The chain has over 500 locations in the U.S. and is just entering the Southern California area with a few dozen restaurants, mostly in southeast LA county, Orange County, and Inland Empire.
The In-N-Out in Downey has a very small footprint and is surrounded by residential buildings, but the line stretched in two different directions on a recent Friday evening. There are nearly 40 cars, with traffic almost piling up on the busy intersection of Firestone and Lakewood Boulevards.
Chick-Fil-A, which has two locations in Downey, piled 50 cars in two lanes at its Firestone Boulevard location, just two blocks northwest of the In-N-Out.
Krispy Kreme, Gardena
The Krispy Kreme doughnuts in Gardena, just off the intersection of the 91 and 110 freeways, has a snaking line that had 37 cars on Friday evening, though it can get even longer on some Mondays, when the donut chain gives away up to five dozen donuts to healthcare workers.
Krispy Kreme doughnuts first opened in Southern California during the 2000s, with busy locations in Crenshaw District and Burbank. This location in Gardena received some fame on Reddit a few weeks ago for its long drive-thru line. It certainly helps that starting at 6 p.m., the shop makes warm fritters hot off the fryer.
In-N-Out in Gardena had an efficient two-lane system that could increase capacity depending on the number of cars lined up. A normal wait for someone joining the drive-thru hovers around fifteen minutes for their order, with about two-dozen cars in front of them.
Drive-thru culture has long been a tradition in Southern California, owing to the area’s commuter culture, freeway access, and insatiable appetite for burgers, doughnuts, and tacos — all easily eaten on the road. Now during the coronavirus pandemic, cars act as natural cocoons, creating physical distance between people while still allowing a modicum of outside-the-home interaction. Pandemic or not, dining in cars is a California tradition — and as these hour-long lines show, one not likely to go away any time soon.
Stan Lee is an LA-based photographer and occasional drone pilot.
Wonho Frank Lee is Eater LA’s staff photographer