A Diner Burger with a Riverside View {Day 13 – the River Rock Restaurant in Salem}

I’ve long been a believer that the best burgers are often served in places you’ve never heard of:  tiny diners tucked into back alleys.  Truckstops.  Trailers.

So when I first began my Search for the Holy Grail of Hamburgers in Roanoke, my burger-sensing antennae pricked up at the word of a tiny riverside cafe in Salem that served a best-kept-secret burger.  I’d never heard of the place, but enough of my favorite foodies had that I had to take notice.

Here’s the thing:  I must have passed the River Rock Restaurant literally hundreds of times without realizing it even existed.  Back when I used to commute down Riverside Drive to get to church in Salem, I’d flash by the little wood-clad building with its dark windows and gravel parking lot, and I’d assume the place was a spot for purchasing climbing gear or fishing equipment.

Nope.  It’s a tiny eatery and bar, open for lunch during loose hours.  And it happens to have a hamburger with a cult following.

When I stopped by yesterday, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  A crowd of happy-go-lucky day drinkers had congregated outside the front door, laughing and back-slapping on their way out.  Inside, the place was dark and mostly empty.  I perched myself near the pine bar and waited.

In a few moments, though, a friendly gentleman with a winning smile was at my elbow, sweet-voiced and utterly accommodating.  I’d come “at just the right time,” he said, since “the gang had all just left.”  He ushered me to a table by the back window, where I had a view of the river slipping brown and silky over the rocks.

The dining room here is profoundly spare:  a smattering of formica-topped tables and chairs of the variety you see in church fellowship halls.  Two big TVs drone quietly in each corner of the back room.  But, oh — that view, though.  And then there’s the menu:


Of course, you already know what I ordered:  a classic cheeseburger — for just $4.45 (!).  It arrived in no time, piping hot and topped with  ultra-melty American cheese, LTM and an onion — grilled, at my request — on a simple sesame-seed bun.


This is your typical diner-burger:  no frills and no fuss; fast, flavorful and affordable.  I polished it off in what felt like seconds, and I’d happily give this one another go, especially topped with bacon ($5.65).  You can order it as a double, too, if you’re feeling famished.  That said, this is a substantially sized sandwich for the price — and fresh-tasting, too:


While there are certainly more elegant burgers in the Roanoke Valley, there are few places where you can eat one with a riverside view and such unfailingly friendly service, all for under $5.

All that to say:  I’ll be back, River Rock, whether the gang is in attendance or not. 😉

Thirteen burgers down, one to go … See you tomorrow for the last one, kids!