by Diane Sussman
Let's revisit the classic American date circa a while ago. One diner. Loads of tile. One jukebox playing the Shirelles. Two sweethearts. One shake (made with two scoops of 18 percent butterfat ice cream). Two straws. Two all-beef burgers. One order of fries. Two thousand calories. One free ride to the cardiologist's office. Now let's tweak the scene for the '90s. One diner. Loads of tile. One jukebox playing the Shirelles. Two sweethearts. One shake (with two scoops of 98 percent fat-free ice cream). Two straws. Two burgers; one turkey, one veggie. One baked potato. One thousand calories.
Put them together and you get Taxi's, the new hamburger joint/diner on the corner of University Avenue and Waverley Street in Palo Alto. The clean, well-lighted place for calories opened Dec. 11 and already a steady stream of teen-agers, families and nostalgia buffs is lining up to put away baskets of onion rings, chili dogs, tuna melts and other foods of times gone by.
What to call it? Diner Moderne? Nouveau diner? Either way, Taxi's has thrown together all the classic kitschy elements of a diner: a counter with stools that spin, gleaming black and white tile, fluorescent lights, a jukebox and plenty of chrome. It's an especially good place for kids, who will find buckets of crayons to draw with, plenty of booths to climb under and a menu sized just for them.
The menu is basic Americana with a twist. Besides the hallowed trio of burgers, shakes and fries, Taxi's offers several low-fat, low-cholesterol alternatives: the garden burger, the grilled fish sandwich, chicken breasts and baked potatoes. The menu boasts that Taxi's fries all its food in canola oil.
"We try to cover it all," said manager Brian Bradley. "Like if dad wants a hot pastrami sandwich and mom's on a diet." When it was noted that men diet too, he quickly added: "Or if mom wants a burger and dad's on a diet. Or if mom put dad on a diet."
Although a nutritionist would argue that this hardly constitutes diet food, it's possible to get in and out of Taxi's without having to loosen a notch on your belt.
But if you want to do burgers and fries the all-American way--full of fat plus cheese--you can do that too.
Basically, what you remember is what you get. (The burgers of my childhood came with a piece of watery iceberg lettuce and a slice of undistinguished tomato. Guess what? Taxi's burgers come with a piece of watery iceberg lettuce and an undistinguished slice of tomato.)
In other words, there are no surprises--unless you order them. If your taste runs that way, you can get a burger with avocado, bacon, Ortega chili peppers, mushrooms or pastrami. You can go double or light (the baby hamburger is four ounces instead of six.)
Unless you are lactose-intolerant, order the milkshake or malt. The banana shake had so many generous pieces of banana they clogged the straw. Taxi's does serve other, lesser drinks: beer, wine, juices, soft drinks and tea.
Prices are on the high side, but you can eat on the cheap. A baby burger costs $1.80 (compared with a regular-sized burger at $3.95) and is big enough to do the job. Add a baked potato or shake at $2.95 and you have your gargantuan $5 meal.
Taxi's, 403 University Ave., Palo Alto, 322-TAXI
Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. until midnight
Atmosphere: Nouveau diner all the way: tile, counter with stools, booths, jukebox
Highlights: Banana milkshakes, malts, mushroom burger
About the place: Taxi's is a Walnut Creek-based chain. The first Taxi's opened in San Mateo in 1991, followed by Walnut Creek and Palo Alto.
credit cards: no
wine and beer only: yes
wheelchair access: yes
outdoor seating: yes
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