Anytime someone learns I hail from the southern region of the state, I receive the invariable questions of “Have you ever been to Zip’s?” followed by, “Are the Zip burgers really that good?” And my requisite answer? “Yes and yes.” I’ve eaten at Zip’s Cafe in Magee several times and yes, the burgers are pretty amazing. Served with a side of “secret recipe” Zip’s sauce, it’s a meal worthy of a detour off U.S. 49. You’ll encounter a large group of locals, but this fact makes stopping in at this 57-year-old family-owned restaurant even more fun as you eavesdrop on conversations centered on local families, politics, and everything in between.
There aren’t many family-owned restaurants left, but this one has not only been around since 1963 but has continued to thrive along the highway’s edge just blocks from downtown Magee. On any given day, you’re likely to see the mayor, members of the business community, farmers, young moms with children in tow, and retirees enjoying coffee at their favorite corner table.
The restaurant was opened in 1963 by Zip Windham, whose portrait looms large over the small restaurant he created during a simpler time when diners reigned supreme and fast food places were not clouding the landscape. The restaurant has since passed on to third generation family members. However, the elements present in Zip’s day – friendly service, cozy but definitely not fancy dining areas and tables, and the famous Zip burgers and sauce – are still in evidence today.
Zip's burger has been named Best Burger in Mississippi and to several of the Mississippi Beef Council's top five burgers lists.
First, I’ll give a description of the made-from-scratch, juicy burgers topped with a secret sauce that attract the most visitors in to Zip’s. The main attraction is a Zip burger (by my rough estimate, they’re 1/4 to 1/2-pound beef patties, but you really need to gauge for yourself) topped with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, cheese (if desired), and served with a side of zippy (which in my terms means it has a kick but is not actually spicy) Zip sauce. They’re so good, the Mississippi Beef Council has dubbed them “Best Burger in Mississippi” or at least in the top five of the state’s best burgers for several years running.
Here’s my take on those “best of” lists – it’s hard-to-nearly-impossible to prove any one food item is the “best,” especially when there are so many restaurants in Mississippi that serve delicious homemade burgers. However, a Zip burger lives up to the hype, especially when doused with a hearty splash of Zip sauce. However, just know that once the sauce is added, it’s a chore, albeit an enjoyable one, to keep everything together inside the large bun.
The award-winning burger ($5.39 – how’s that for an economical meal?) starts with a thick, juicy beef patty, the mark of any memorable burger. The ingredients of Zip sauce are not shared with its legions of fans. It’s not exactly spicy, as I noted, but creamy and rich with a slight tang. Just trust me when I say it elevates a good burger to a great one.
Despite the Zip burger’s popularity, there are plenty of others on the menu from which to choose.
The Little Zip ($4.39) is a smaller version of the original for children or adults desiring a down-sized burger, while the firehouse ($6.59) is a spicier version for those looking for a kick of heat. Other options are the regular cheese and hamburger ($4.39 and $4.29), which come dressed with a side of the secret sauce, and the chili and chili cheese burgers ($5.39 and $5.49).
Club, roast beef, fish, pork chop, steak, and BLT sandwiches ($4-$5 range) are also on the menu, along with meat and seafood po’boys ($5-$6 range), corn dogs, and hot dogs ($2.29 and $2.59).
Just as no visit to Zip’s is complete without sampling its namesake burger and sauce, regulars know that a side of thick, extra crunchy fries or onion rings ($2.89-$3.89) is part of the Zip’s experience. I can honestly say I’ve never experienced anything like Zip’s gigantic onion rings. They’re dipped in batter (obviously more than once) and deep-fried to create the crunchiest coating I’ve ever seen. Dipped in extra Zip sauce (don’t be shy about asking for extras), it’s almost a meal unto itself.
If you like fried pickles, you’ll want to try Zip’s version. They’re as crunchy and oversized as the fries and onion rings and are well worth $4.59. If you can’t choose just one side, select a half order of fries and pickles ($5.79) or fries and onion rings ($3.89).
I have to confess…I’ve never deviated from the “burgers and sides” section of the menu, but plenty of my friends have. They’ve given rave reviews to entrees like fried or grilled pork chops ($9.19), hamburger steak ($9.79), fried chicken ($7.29-$9.29), and chicken strips ($8.29). Entrees are served with fries and a salad.
Or, select a fried catfish dinner ($9.19) complete with crispy fish, fries, hushpuppies, and cole slaw or salad.
Speaking of salad, you can order a chef salad with chicken strips ($7-$9 range), combination ($3.69), regular chef ($5.59), or choose a bowl of soup or chili ($4.49).
If you’re passing through Magee in the early morning, don’t hesitate to stop by Zip’s to experience carb and protein loading at its finest. Breakfast begins at 6 a.m. and includes a plethora of homemade items, ranging from eggs and bacon, omelets, hot cakes, breakfast sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, sausage and biscuits, and even healthy oatmeal. Everything is reasonably priced, cooked fresh, and served with a pot of Zip’s strong coffee.
For example, a hearty breakfast of an egg with ham, bacon, or sausage is served with biscuits or toast, grits and jelly for $6.39. Or, order a stack of hot cakes with choice of meat for $6.99. Even better than the food is the spirited conversation emanating from the local coffee club’s table. Breakfast is served until 10:30 a.m., but interesting talk and colorful atmosphere extends until Zip’s 8 p.m. closing time.
Zip’s Café is located at 401 Pinola Dr. SE in Magee, just off U.S. 49 (across the street from Sears). Hours are 6 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday – Saturday, and closed on Sunday.