Who would think basic and cheap could be cool and fun?
Anyone who’s been to Rapid Ray’s in Saco, that’s who.
The landmark burger joint on Main Street is nostalgic, a bustling gathering spot and a place where you can get good fast food very fast and very cheap.
Plus, while Mainers have a reputation for early bedtimes, Rapid Ray’s is the rare place that caters to night owls — it’s open until 12:30 a.m. on weekdays and 1:30 a.m. on weekends.
Rapid Ray’s began in 1953 when Renald “Ray” Camire started selling hamburgers out of an old bread truck. His family still mans the grill in a quirky little building on Main Street near Pepperell Square, just across the bridge from Biddeford.
Although the building is fairly new, it embodies a fanciful take on an old diner: Sort of box-shaped, with wall-to-wall windows and an eye-catching sign.
But among the things that make Rapid Ray’s stand out are some of the things the place doesn’t have. It doesn’t have seats, for instance.
There is a fairly large waiting and eating area inside, but to eat there, you have to stand at a little ledge counter looking out at Saco’s quaint Main Street and the passers-by. I ate my lunch at one of the ledge counters on a recent sunny day and found it perfectly pleasant. I think it might have aided my digestion.
The other thing it doesn’t have is a lot of menu items. There are definitely no nods to modern culinary trends, like a chicken chipotle Southwest salad wrap burger or some such thing.
The menu is mostly burgers, hot dogs, french fries, onion rings and stuff to drink. The most exotic additions are the lobster roll ($7.75), the clam cake burger ($1.95) and the whoopie pies ($2.25) made by Windsor Bakery in Biddeford.
There are variations on the burgers and dogs, including the “Big One,” a double cheeseburger ($4), or the chili cheese dog ($2.45), a hot dog with, you guessed it, chili and cheese.
I sampled a chili dog ($2.20), a cheeseburger ($2.45) and some onion rings ($2.30 for a small). The chili on the hot dog was plentiful and very good, with lots of beef and beans, and it wasn’t too spicy. The hot dog had a nice snap to it, and of course, it came in a New England-style bun, with very little crust on the outside.
The cheeseburger came on a butter-grilled bun, and the counter man asked me what I wanted on it as soon as it came off the grill. I opted for chopped onions, ketchup and tomato. It was basic, but good, sort of the way the early pioneers of fast food (the McDonald brothers of Manchester, N.H., to be specific) intended burgers to be — simple and fast, but still fresh and flavorful.
In fact, all the food was hot and had that freshly made taste. The onion rings were golden with a nice light batter, and didn’t taste even a little soggy or greasy.
Some places can seem relatively inexpensive when you go by yourself, but if you buy three or four meals, it adds up. One of the other nice things at Rapid Ray’s is that you can feed a family of four for less than $20.
The staff of GO anonymously samples meals for about $7.