I’d hiked in the Ochocos Mountains a few times, always spending a bit longer than I’d planned on a peak staring northeast to the shimmering dust and rock of the desert beyond. I’ve always been drawn to deserts, and this weekend I’d finally made it through the Ochocos to explore the land beyond.
It’s generally understood that the Cascade Range divides Oregon between west and east, but I’d argue that line has been pushed slowly further east as the popularity and population has advanced down the eastern Cascade slopes. Now passing through the Ochocos out to Mitchell or through the flat desolation to Burns is required to feel that sharp departure to a lifestyle so detached it goes beyond even being being classified as rural. Simply existence. Somehow.
For a town of only 150 souls, Mitchell still offers two places to grab burgers: the Sidewalk Cafe and the Mitchell Stage Stop (formerly the Little Pine Cafe). The Stage Stop promises the “Best Burgers East of the Ochocos!” Naturally I headed there.
It aims for a cute 50’s mountain diner, with old movie posters and Marilyn Monroe calendars and the satellite radio tuned to Classic Texas Honky Tonk. Inside some hefty local hunters order burgers. Outside tourists stop their cars just long enough to take pictures of the old Pine building.
The cuteness fades with attention to detail. Sitting next to an old decorative spice rack is a small framed print with crude skull and crossbones surrounded by the lettering “This establishment is ROAD MAGGOT approved.” Cases of Busch beer line the back wall, next to an old glass front cooler with a tub of questionable raw shrimp floating in a tub of water. I have to wonder the journey those shrimp must have endured even before their current resting place. Flies hover about unmenacingly. The freshly made coffee tastes like stale truck stop black.
The burger was good though and I certainly can’t argue the claim of being the best burger east of the Ochocos. For all I know there’s only a couple more between here and Idaho.
Score: 3 of 5
Price: $13. 95 with fries