An assortment of south-of-the-border specialties made the Big Al's menu more than a decade ago. But they had to give way to the drive-in's original burgers, shakes and deep-fried snacks.
"I thought there were already too many Mexican restaurants," says Glorea Pascual, whose husband, Arturo Pascual, argued for converting the fixture on Ashland's main drag to a Mexican eatery when the couple purchased it in 2000.
"Glorea told me, 'No, everybody knows Big Al's,' " says Arturo Pascual.
So the original walk-up window, hand-painted, wooden sign and orange mustache logo remain — all circa 1977, when the restaurant was last remodeled under the namesake ownership of "Big Al" Carver, who operated it with wife, Donna, for 27 years.
"Our menu stayed the same, and the quality of the food has always been good," says Al Carver.
Rechristening the former Heilman's Dairy Bar as Big Al's, Carver also lent his name to Ashland's byword in tennis. The Big Al's Tennis Tournament is slated for its 38th consecutive year this July. Carver, at age 81, still hands out trophies.
Big Al's is known to longtime Ashlanders for serving the best burgers in town. The holidays are a time when native Ashlanders who moved away revisit Big Al's, says Pascual.
"They come back so happy to see Big Al's still here."
Before the Pascuals stepped in, the restaurant changed hands a few times. The Carvers' first attempt at retirement in 1995 resulted in the restaurant's reincarnation as a short-lived sports bar.
"When we had the grand reopening, the community poured in," says Donna Carver, 75. "Everyone was so happy Big Al's was back."
Friendly service is Big Al's calling card, which continued under the Pascuals, who say interacting with customers is their favorite part of running the restaurant. They know most regulars by name.
"People love it here," says Arturo Pascual on the commemoration of Big Al's 40th anniversary. "I hope we're here for a long time."
Recommended: Thick, signature burgers come in 20 variations and are served to the tune of 200 per day; secret "pink sauce" resists replication by customers but was passed along to new owners.
Alternative diets: Chicken and fish burger-patty options; veggie burger and sandwich available.
Beverages: Traditional milkshakes and malts; fountain sodas, milk, hot chocolate, coffee and tea.
Price range: Hamburgers, $4.25 to $8.95; sandwiches, $2.99 to $9.95; salads, $3.49 to $9.49; deep-fried snacks, $2.99 to $9.75; Mexican specialties, $7.95 to $9.95; add-ons and sides, 99 cents to $3.50; desserts, $3.25 to $4.75.
Extras: Parking in dedicated lot; phone orders welcome.
Serving: From 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Info: 474 N. Main St., Ashland; call 541-482-6481.