Come for the burgers. Stay for the old-time charm.
On a recent trip up north, I stopped by downtown Clare in pursuit of what some have called Michigan’s best burger. Its home? A hidden-in-plain-sight gem that I’d heard rave reviews of—which was perfect because I came ravenous.
The Whitehouse Restaurant is that rare type of restaurant that isn’t just “family-owned”—hell, Meijer is technically family-owned—but family-run, where the owners and line cooks work side by side, hands on the product. This institution, which has stood in the middle of Clare for 88 years, is a place where regulars still read newspapers with a mug that’s never less than half full, thanks to diligent service, and where you can see the food made before your eyes.
The restaurant is small but not cramped. Come early enough and squeeze into one of six booths; otherwise, be prepared for a wait, or grab a picnic table outside during the summer months.
The decor is eclectic—in mid-May, St. Patrick’s Day is still in full effect, green glitter smattered against the wall. (I have a feeling that the Irish saint’s celebration is somewhat permanent here, though I don’t know why.)
The Whitehouse Restaurant in Clare opened in 1935. And the diner has been flipping burgers and serving breakfast around the clock ever since. In this diner stuck in time, you can still get a burger for $4 even. And just check the reviews – it’s considered one of the best in Michigan. michigan michiganlife michiganfood michiganfoodie claremichigan
But you come for the food—the all-day breakfast (omelets recommended), the 80-20 burgers, and a slice of pie to top it off.
I won’t bore you with more of my trivial observations. Here are three things to know for your visit.
1. It’s the American diner prototype, with the history to back it up.
Whitehouse Restaurant was built in 1935. For most of its history, a residential house was also part of the property—before it burned down in 2013.
Still, the original structure containing the restaurant maintains its charm, for better or worse, evidenced by the outdoor entrance to the bathroom.
At the time of its founding, Whitehouse served all-day, all-night fare. It still serves that same food—but no longer all night. It ceased 24/7 operations about a decade ago.
Still, no craving will be left wanting under the current hours: reliably 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Much remains the same over time here. The stainless steel grill at Whitehouse has been there and maintained since 1976. If you’re one of those they-don’t-make-things-like-they-used-to people, I’ve got news for you: This place does.
I mentioned earlier how Whitehouse is family-owned and operated too. The current owner, Paul Weissend, worked as a dishwasher before purchasing the establishment from his mother.
2. The prices will welcome all, but the taste isn’t cheap.
In this small-town diner, pretension stays at the door. You can eat cheaply, and no one will bat an eye.
A quarter-pound cheeseburger is $4.50. Yes, you read that right. Add a dollar to make it a deluxe—the lettuce, tomato, and onions—and three bucks more for fries or onion rings. I dare you to find a better deal in 2023.
The quarter-pounder and its price should tell you all you need to know about Whitehouse Restaurant. But if you need more evidence, look no further than the omelets, which come highly recommended—though I did not have the pleasure of trying one.
An omelet will cost you $9 or $10, and you’ll get a side of potatoes and toast with jam.
Expert Tip: Try the off-menu sticky burger. The owner recommended it to us, and the unconventional peanut butter-barbeque sauce combo made my taste buds jump for joy.
3. Expect a wait, but it’s worth it.
The Whitehouse Restaurant is a local legend thanks to its history, location, and unbelievable flavor. Over the years, it’s received its share of media coverage, and demand never dwindles for cheap and good food.
I mentioned prior—there are six booths in this restaurant. And they’re not big booths. With a seating capacity of 24, this place fills up quickly during mealtime.
During summer, the outdoor space doubles as a patio, which helps relieve rush hour. But getting an indoor booth is the best way to enjoy Whitehouse.
So with that, I’ve got two recommendations: Go during off-hours or expect a wait.
I was able to snag the last booth at around 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon—it figures that weekdays a little outside of peak hours work well.
Otherwise, come early, put your name on the list, and enjoy downtown Clare. It’s a cool place! Surrounding Whitehouse Restaurant are the historic town movie theater, multiple cafes and gift shops, and a brewery.
So worry not if you need to kill 30 minutes—just walk around the corner.
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