Fast food restaurants conveniently sit at nearly every exit on major highways, and on every other city block. So why would someone put a burger joint in the middle of nowhere? If you've been to The Skyline, you know that's a rhetorical question.
Tucked at the end of a winding, hilly Northwest Portland road, Skyline appears like a lighthouse on rough seas. Going more by the "build it and they will come" philosophy and less by the realtor mantra of "location, location, location," the owners of the '50s-style diner must've gambled that quality, not convenience, would bring customers in the door.
And they were right.
Skyline has successfully operated for a few decades without hype, clown pitchmen, or toys with your child's food. Gastronomic saint, the late James Beard, even found the place on one of his "best burger" hunts.
Today, you'll rarely see Skyline empty. Snag one of the bar stools or a Cadillac-sized booth and you're part of the cross-section of high school kids and families, travelers, and even leather-clad couples roadtripping on Harleys. Be warned, if you're coming during a lunch break, the 12-2 crowd is dense. There's extra hustle from the polite wait staff, but there's usually only two of them, so expect a wait.
Once you sit down though, your wait might continue as you debate over the multitude of floats, malts, and milkshakes in a mind-numbing list of flavors, including caramel apple, banana, pineapple, gingerbread, peppermint, butterscotch, peanut butter, and marionberry. Suggested are the hazelnut or mocha.
The burgers, of course, are the whole reason Skyline exists. The patties are fried on a grill, probably the way the McDonald Brothers did it way back when. But one bite and you'll realize this is the antithesis of a present-day McBurger. It's amazing what you can do with good ground chuck, a buttered sesame seed bun, and a skilled short-order cook. Skyline's seasoned grill makes it all come together. Get a cheesburger ($3.35), and some of that cheese will melt down the sides of the patty onto the grill while it's cooking, toasting its corners just enough to make eating a religious experience.
For a bigger appetite, there's only one choice: the chili cheeseburger with a side of fries. The burger comes swimming in a lake of hot, smoke-flavored homemade chili (ground beef, kidney beans, no green peppers), with two buttered sesame seed bun tops on the side, if you decide to make a sandwich out of it. So simple, yet so right.
The only blooper on the entire menu is the fish and chips ($6.50). Maybe I'm spoiled by the Horse Brass' version, but the only thing saving Skyline's fish and chips is the mound of tangy snow white coleslaw that comes with it. If you're not into red meat, a much better choice is the juicy fried chicken.
While it may be a blueprint for neo-nostalgia places like Johnny Rockets and Ruby's, Skyline is not a kitschy museum of '50s pop culture. Its interior is humble. No records on the walls, no tacky homage to Elvis, The Beatles, or Buddy Holly. Just great diner food--the way it was intended.