Bell’s Hamburgers, Toccoa GA

One Friday last summer, I drove through Toccoa on a food-packed road trip through northeast Georgia to Clemson and back, and spotted a terrific old sign for a place called Bell’s. I photographed the sign for posterity and readers let me know, through comments and e-mails, what a mistake I made in not stopping for their fried chicken. Then I uncovered the existence of those two Maryland Fried stores in town and knew that I had to get back one day. As it turned out, we got to compare the two.

As mentioned in the previous chapter, Maryland Fried Chicken is a good deal better than any of its fast food competitors. Well, maybe Bojangle’s is pretty close. Seriously, there’s not a national chain that’s anywhere close to as tasty as what we sampled. I don’t want to be too disrespectful to them, as they’re really good at what they do. But what they do is not a patch on Bell’s. This is some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life. How in the world is this place such a secret?

Bell’s Hamburgers has a very long and interesting history. It was started as a side project to a grocery store that was owned by “Red” Bell and his son in the 1940s. I asked whether their grocery store, remembered via black-and-white photos on the wall, was the Bell’s Food Store that can be seen here and there in north Georgia, and the lady at the register said that she did not believe that was the case. I’m aware of a Bell’s in Athens on Hawthorne – coincidentally, we started this day trip literally next door to the strip mall in Athens that is home to Bell’s when we had breakfast at Em’s Kitchen – and thought that there might be more, but the Bell’s in this story was apparently independent of the others, and had been on Big A Road just next door, where an Advance Auto Parts is today.

The restaurant opened in 1961 as Bell’s Drive-In, and was, then, a proper canopied drive-in with carhops. One of those carhops, incidentally, was Sam Camp, a saxophonist who was employed there in 1963 when he met Lamar Collins, who recruited him for his band, The Avalons. (You can read more about them over at Garage Hangover.) Even though the canopy and the carhops and indeed the name have long been abandoned, the business is still known locally as Bell’s Drive-In, and this is evident if you try Googling the place. Most online notices – 90% of them those utterly useless aggregator things – still call it “Drive-In” even though it’s been Bell’s Hamburgers for more than thirty years.

We arrived a little after 3:30 and the place was still super-busy. It’s a pretty small room, with seating for maybe forty, and they have a big diner menu full of your classic American eats like meat loaf, hamburger steak, and lots of veggie options as sides. The service was really good and the chicken, as promised, was phenomenal. Even the white meat was moist and juicy. Marie was not very taken with the butter peas, but the creamed corn was pretty fantastic, and we left very pleased, and, to be blunt, extraordinarily stuffed.

I’m going to have a hard time coming up with a place in the state that makes better fried chicken. Honestly, between the Bar-B-Q Shack down the road a mile and a bit and this place, Toccoa really is a good destination for people looking for great local food. Have an early lunch at one, go spend the day climbing Curahee Mountain, and come back for supper at the other. That sounds like an awesome day out.

Bell's Hamburgers on Urbanspoon

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19 thoughts on “Bell’s Hamburgers, Toccoa GA

  1. we used to eat there several times a week but stopped about a year ago. they switched to all generic steak sauces and condiments. also prices went up as much as $3 on some meals and portions got smaller. nothing taste the same anymore

    • Oh, that is unfortunate. Sadly, I can’t make a comparison, but I’ll stand by the quality of that chicken. If that used to be even better, then we certainly did miss out. But thank you for the comment all the same – we seem to have a spike in visitors from the Toccoa area since yesterday, and, whether good memories or bad, we’re happy to hear everybody’s opinions and stories about Bell’s!

    • I wondered last year, after people started raving about the chicken at a place with “hamburgers” in the name, whether those were any good. Glad to hear that they are. Thanks for your comment!

  2. I want to thank you for the great recommendation for Toccoa . Your positive advertising is great for this town where there seems to be such a down & out attitude in so many people where any positive feedback is great for it. Toccoa is great for it’s parades & downtown events that give it a really nice down-to-earth easy going place to be. So thanks to all for the terrific response to keep Toccoa on the map.

    • We’re happy to keep it positive wherever we can. We noted, in the previous chapter about Maryland Fried Chicken, that there’s a rundown side of the town that raised our eyebrows, but overall, we met friendly and nice people and ate good food. I hope lots of people head y’all’s direction for the fall colors. Thanks for reading us!

      • The “rundown” side of town was once a location of many jobs for Toccoa residents. The old Casket Company was probably the worst building you saw. I have good news though! The rundown buildings are being torn down and cleaned up. Maryland’s also has a second location now. Be sure to drive back through the “rundown” part after we get it cleaned up and you’ll be impressed. We’re getting our town back to what it once was. Toccoa is a great town! :)

  3. Thank you for your “plugs” to two of our best local eateries Bell’s & Bar B Q Shack! And in today’s economy prices at both are very reasonable. We love them both!! When you have a hankering for some good Mexican food try out Los Amigos just down the street from Bell’s. Very good too!!

    • Good grief. All you good readers are making us hungry for another run through town before the road gets too long and it gets too cold to enjoy a hike somewhere! Keep the suggestions coming and thanks for reading us.

  4. You should visit Toccoa during the Fall Festival, November 2-3rd. Lots of children’s activities, delicious fried apple pies, crafts, jewelry, and wonderful art.

  5. Personally, I LOVE the fried chicken livers! My husband knows when I ask to go to Bell’s it’s because I want livers….it’s the only thing I have just about ever gotten there in 40 years! Please try these the next time you come through…

    I want to share a story with you…we were at a concert in town one night. I stated it smelled like they were cooking french fries in the lobby. Our friends with us started laughing. They said they had eaten at Bell’s before they came! What all us locals know is, if you go to Bell’s, you don’t just take the food with you, but you wear the smell of the grease with you!

    Thanks for the wonderful posts and come back often!

  6. This place sounds terrific, and I have wanted to see Toccoa Falls for a long time. It has a lot of people bragging about it here!

      • Come visit us during our Currahee Military Weekend October 3-5, 2014. The Currahee Military Museum is awesome too! I’m so glad to find something so positive being said about our town on the internet. Thank you!

      • Our October is already booked with weddings, believe it or not, but we’ll try to get back to northeast Georgia in late September to see the fall colors that are so perfect here. Thanks for writing!

  7. Honestly, Bell’s tastes exactly the same as I always remember it. Nothing has changed. Yes, they went the generic route with the sauces, but the food quality has NEVER changed and it’s the same wonderful food as they’ve always served!! The Hamburger Steak smothered in onions is unreal! BBQ plate and Burgers In A Basket are staples!!

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