There are more than 3,500 Sonic Drive-In burger stands across America, but up until about a week ago, the only franchise the Oklahoma City-based outfit had ever opened in New York City was located out in Tottenville, Staten Island. (And despite the commercials airing here for many many years, even that one only opened in 2015.)
Sonic is one of those things that I've heard about my entire life and never actually tried, so when I learned that the city's second-ever location was opening in Queens, and it was near enough to public transportation for me to actually get to, I was curious enough to jump on a Citi Bike and pedal on over for a mid-afternoon meal.
Turns out, I should have done almost literally anything else with my day. First of all, there are no funky roller-skating carhops at the Long Island City Sonic, nor is it housed in one of those cool retro-looking roadside-type deals like the great Roll n Roaster in Sheepshead Bay. Despite the image on the website, this one is actually just a generic storefront at the base of an office building on a highway-like stretch of Queens Boulevard.
Aesthetics aside, it's all about the food... and the food at this Sonic was awful. The Tots were probably the best item I ate, though they needed ketchup, a crucial hamburger joint condiment that somehow wasn't available here. But everything else I ate was just bad and sad.
The Garlic Butter Bacon Burger ("It's back!" warned the sign) was mysteriously bitter and sweet. The 99¢ Fritos Chili Cheese Jr. Wrap ate like damp cardboard, hammering home the adage that just because something is inexpensive doesn't make it a bargain. And the spongy Jumbo Popcorn Chicken, which I ordered sauced with "Buffalo," tasted like a salt lick.
I entered the menu's Frozen Zone® about midway through my meal, hoping that sucking down a Sonic Blast would salvage the adventure. Nope. Too solid to drink, and somehow both too bland and too sugary, not even the miserly sprinkling of crushed-up Snickers could bring any joy to this mess. Maybe the Grape Slush littered with Nerds would have been the better move?
Not that the long line of patrons here seemed to care about any of this. True, most were teenagers just released from the nearby high school, but still, come on kids, there's a Popeye's right down the block! At least wolf down something that's cheap and good.
Sonic is located at 37-02 Queens Boulevard, at the corner of 37th Street in Long Island City, and is currently open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily (sonicdrivein.com)