The sleepy town of Darlington wakes up and hits the ground running during race week, which traditionally occurs over Labor Day Weekend. Though drivers tend to dine in their motor coaches these days, they occasionally venture away from the Darlington Raceway to eat where the locals eat. Here are five Darlington restaurants where you’ll find the parking lots full and perhaps sneak a peek at a NASCAR celebrity.
This historic eatery is a must for NASCAR fans. You’ll spot it across the street from the speedway, adjacent to turn two. Don’t look for a sign – you won’t find one. Back in the day, this was the hotspot for drivers craving the grill’s iconic hamburger steaks washed down with frosty glasses of ice-cold beer. It continues to be a tradition for the NASCAR crowd, with some drivers showing up at the back door to pick up carry-out orders and others taking a seat to eat their food fresh from the kitchen. If you want to nosh like NASCAR royalty, order a hamburger steak covered with cheese and grilled onions. The skin-on, fresh-cut fries are lip-smacking good, too.
Raceway Grill, located at 1207 Harry Byrd Highway in Darlington, is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Dine in or order pick-up at 843.393.9212. Note that they accept cash and local checks only – no cards.
Joe’s Grill has been feeding Darlington folks since 1952, despite a serious fire back in 2004 and a change of ownership. Good food and friendly, down-home service have remained a constant, and that’s what keeps the tables full. When NASCAR comes to town, there’s usually a run on cheeseburgers. A specialty of the house, they are made with hand-pattied beef and served fresh off the grill with thick planks of fried potatoes.
Whether you come for lunch or dinner, arrive early to snag a seat; grab a menu from the counter on the way in.
You can find Joe’s Grill at 306 Russell St., a couple of blocks off the square in Darlington. Hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 843.393.9140 for more info.
Drivers have been known to jumpstart race day with a bacon-and-eggs breakfast at Takis. The lunch and dinner menu is a comprehensive listing of sandwiches, salads, steaks, pork chops and chicken, with some dishes featuring the hallmark Grecian touch of owners George and Marilyn Nikolakakos. The Greek salad is a favorite with locals as is the cheeseburger club sandwich, a two-fisted tower of meat and cheese that handles well and hits the spot. The dining room has a ’50s theme, with visages of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, as well as a juke box brimming with oldies but goodies.
Located at 609 Pearl St., Takis is open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call them at 843.968.9285 for daily specials.
New York-style pizza in Darlington – who knew? Locals and NASCAR nobility, that’s who. This is the real deal and one of Darlington’s best-kept secrets. Owner Vince Monterosso hails from Sicily and lived for many years in the New York area, perfecting his pies. This is a place where the pizza dough is made fresh daily and tossed high for an authentic touch.
On race weekend, NASCAR folks routinely zoom up to the pick-up window for pizzas and calzones, but occasionally eat in. While you can get pizza with trendy toppings, such as chicken Alfredo or taco meat, a classic pepperoni should more than please the pizza purist.
Mamma Mia is located right behind the Darlington square at 114 Ward St. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday. Call 843.968.9285 for carryout orders.
Carolina Lunch/Dairy Bar
This local hangout has roots that date all the way back to the 1930s. The fact that it’s still serving hungry customers is a testament to the strength of tradition in Darlington. So it’s no surprise that the NASCAR dining circuit includes a pit stop here on race weekend.
The food here is unpretentious, served fast and gobbled up just as quickly. Chili dogs and chili cheese fries are the stars of the menu, and that’s largely due to the chili -- a recipe of the original owner that’s been passed down through generations.
Carolina Lunch/Dairy Bar, located at 318 Pearl St. in Darlington, opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 2:15 (its original operating hours) Monday through Saturday. The clocks inside also run 10 minutes fast – another Dairy Bar tradition. Call 843.393.4531 for more information.