HiBoy’s namesake burger costs $5.20 and comes with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, cheese and special sauce. Sarah Gish | sgish@kcstar.com

Holy onion rings: Eight things I learned on my first trip to HiBoy Drive-In

The HiBoy Drive-In on Gudgell Road isn’t really a drive-in — it’s a classic drive-thru with seating inside. Sarah Gish | sgish@kcstar.com
HiBoy serves shakes, malts, sundaes, limeades and floats made with a variety of sodas, including Peach Nehi. Sarah Gish | sgish@kcstar.com
HiBoy Drive-In is famous for its onion rings. The thick, golden rings cost $3.79 for a bag big enough to share, if you’re willing. Sarah Gish | sgish@kcstar.com

I have a confession to make: Until Tuesday, I’d never been to HiBoy Drive-In.

Since 1957, the family-owned Independence institution has been famous for hamburgers, onion rings and its super-cute mascot, a smiling boy in red-striped overalls hoisting a burger up high.

On Tuesday afternoon, after finishing up an interview, I stopped by the location at 16721 E. Gudgell Road for lunch. Here are eight things I found out on my trip to HiBoy.

1. It’s not really a drive-in. Despite the name, the Gudgell Road location is actually a traditional drive-thru with lots of booths and tables inside.

2. The onion rings are amazing. The thick rings are crunchy and crisp on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside. The batter is lightly sweet and holds on tight, so you aren’t left with many bare-naked onions. Definitely worth $3.79. HiBoy scores extra points with me for serving up ketchup from a pump, because who wants to mess with packets?

3. The burgers are legit, too. I ordered the classic HiBoy Burger ($5.20) and was not disappointed. The patty was griddled so flat that it was almost lacy around the edges, then stacked on a soft, squishy bun with shredded lettuce, a thick slice of tomato, cheese, onions, crinkle-cut pickles and “sauce” that I couldn’t quite figure out. Was it mayo and ketchup? Ketchup and mustard? I have no idea, but it complemented the burger nicely without calling too much attention to itself.

4. The owners must really love baseball. This place is decked out with baseball wallpaper, photos and trophies.

5. The soundtrack is pure ’80s. Every day must be Throwback Thursday at this place, and I’m OK with that. Tuesday afternoon’s tunes were straight from the early ’80s and included “You Might Think” by The Cars, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats, which will always remind me of this scene in the 1996 Pauly Shore movie “Bio-Dome.”

6. The dessert menu features a Peach Nehi float. I’ve been wanting to try one of these since 2013, when I read this Star story about why Peach Nehi floats are a cult favorite among Missouri Boy Scouts. HiBoy’s version costs $3.25 and is huge — like, 20 ounces huge. Picture a tall foam cup filled with vanilla soft serve and pink soda. I was able to finish only half the float, which turned into a delicious peaches and cream-flavored slush with a few stirs.

7. Almost everyone who eats at HiBoy Drive-In is a regular. Well, at least it seems like it. On Tuesday, I was the only person in line who didn’t know my order right away. Other customers rapid-fired their orders for half doubles, tenderloins, root beer and rings like they’d been doing it for years. Which they probably have been.

8. HiBoy celebrates its 60th birthday this year. And that cute mascot hasn’t aged a single day.

HiBoy Drive-In also has locations at 924 W. U.S. 24 and 3424 Blue Ridge Cutoff.