Location: 2900 Wilkinson Blvd 28208
I loved comic books growing up and I was always fascinated by how there were certain superheroes who are mirror images of each other. These heroes would have the same powers and abilities, but are published by different companies. For example, DC has a superhero who is a skilled archer named Green Arrow. Marvel has a skilled archer called Hawkeye. DC has man who can run at super speeds called the Flash. Marvel has a speedster named Quicksilver. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also Namor and Aquaman, Ant-Man and the Atom, & Swamp Thing and the Man-Thing. I could keep going. 1
I would always argue with my friends over which of these heroes were better, or who could win in a fight, even though they were essentially the same. 2 All that may seem like a non sequitur in a post about burgers, but it came to mind when my friend Matt 3 and I stopped by Bar-B-King one afternoon.
Bar-B-Q King is a drive-in on Wilkinson Blvd between uptown and the airport. It opened in 1960 4, when Wilkinson Blvd was one of the fastest growing areas of the city. The automobile had become the dominant mode of transportation, and many businesses on the highway between Gastonia and Charlotte catered to their needs. (It wasn’t just drive-ins; that’s why there are so many creepy motor-inns still on Wilkinson).
Of course, Bar-B-Q King wasn’t (and isn’t) the only drive-in in town. There’s also South 21. That was the first place I fell in love with when I moved to Charlotte, and my favorite burger is the Superboy from South 21. Just by happenstance, I had never stopped at Bar-B-Q King before. I honestly wasn’t even sure that they served burgers.
The left intercom is Bar-B-Q King and the right is South 21.
So I was completely unprepared for the déjà vu that was in store for me when I stopped by. The islands and the intercom machinery were the exact same at Bar-B-Q King as they are at South 21. The boxes and cups were the exact same style. I know, I should expect those to be the same, since they’re both drive-ins from the same period. And maybe that explains why they both have so many stray cats in the parking lot.
But would the burgers be the same? Here’s the tale of the tape:
EXHIBIT A: PO’ BOY
(With cheese, mustard, onions, lettuce, and tomatoes)
Official Diameter: 4 inches
Official Height: 2.25 inches
Cost: $4.90 (Includes fries)
Cooked to order: No
So, yeah, they’re the same. The Super Boy and the Po’ Boy, are identical, right down to the description: “A Meal in Itself.” They basically have the same ingredients (although, the Superboy technically doesn’t come with cheese, that’s the Jumbo Cheeseburger), and they taste the same. That, naturally, means that the Po’ Boy is fantastic. It’s greasy and cheesy—just like a drive-in burger should be.
The only distinguishable difference between the Superboy and the Po’ Boy were the pickles. South 21 features a pickle spear; Bar-B-Q King features pickle chips. I guess I prefer pickle chips, so maybe I actually like Bar-B-Q King a little better. But not by much. Nonetheless, I have no interest in changing the About Us page.
One thing I don’t understand is why this is called a Po’ Boy. This burger has nothing in common with a traditional Po’ Boy from Louisiana.
Burger Rating: 4.75
Bar-B-Q King has an extremely deep menu. In addition to their burgers (and, obviously, Bar-B-Q 5), they have Buffalo wings, seafood platters, baked ham, roast pork, chuck wagon steak, chicken livers, and rib-eye steak. Most of things I wouldn’t want to eat in a car. I don’t need Buffalo sauce all over my steering wheel.
Beer Rating: N/A
They don’t serve beer. That’s a pretty good idea; they serve you in your car.
I’ve noticed that some people want everything to be clean and perfect and new. Those people would probably wouldn’t enjoy Bar-B-King. It’s fairly clean, but it shows its age. But, I love the history here. I think that’s what makes it special.
What was your favorite (non-food) thing about Bar-B-Q King?
Besides the classic neon sign, I got some type of inexplicable joy from this Positively No Trucks warning.
The moment of panic I had when the guy dropped the tray off. I started to hand him my card and he said, “cash only.” I only had about three bucks on me. Luckily, Matt saved the day with a stray sawbuck from his wallet, but it’s becoming hard to fathom businesses that continue to deny the use of credit cards.
Since they’re so similar, who do you think copied who—South 21 or Bar-B-Q King?
Who knows. If I had to guess it would be that Bar-B-Q King copied South 21. South21 was first, after all. But I really have no idea. It could be either. Or maybe there’s some part of the story I’m missing entirely. If I was a real writer for a real publication and not self-publishing a food blog, I would do some investigative research instead of just posting conjecture. As it stands, though….
Would you eat here again?
Next time you come by, what will you order?
I almost certainly would get another Po’ Boy. Possibly two. If I wasn’t allowed to get that, I might try the barbecue. It’s in their name, after all.
Does Bar-B-Q King earn the Charlotte Burger Blog Seal of Approval?
Yes. Their burgers are fantastic and you can’t beat the genuine history of ordering from an authentic drive-in. I love it every time I go somewhere like this.
The copyright and art for all pictures hosted on this site of superheroes belong to their respective owners. We could have drawn them. Really, we could. We just didn’t feel like it.
- Okay, I’ll prove it. Plastic Man and Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man and Steel, and Jimmy Olsen and Peter Parker. ↩
- If you’re curious, It’s Hawkeye, Flash, Namor, Ant-Man, Swamp Thing, Mr. Fantastic, and Iron Man. And Jimmy Olsen. ↩
- True fact about Matt: he’s never in his life eaten a Big Mac. He’s eaten at McDonald’s, but he’s never tried a Big Mac. ↩
- The cups at Bar-B-Q King say 1960, but Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historical Landmarks Commission says the structure was erected in ‘61. I don’t know if they moved locations in that first year. ↩
- A note about me. You probably don’t want to be around me when the subject of barbecue comes up. I come from Eastern NC, and nothing around here is quite good enough for me. Still, it’s better than talking about barbecue with Angus. He’s from California. He and his dad don’t even know what real barbecue is. They don’t even know that it has to come from a pig. ↩