The best part of Whiz Burgers’ menu is not the Fresh Banana Shake

March 7th, 2014, 9pm

Whiz Burgers is a classic fast food joint in San Francisco’s Mission District. It was founded in 1955 and there is a pretty good neon sign out front that proves it. The food is just ok, as far as old-school greasy spoons go. I eat there sometimes because it’s only a block from my studio, in an odd 4-block quadrant where restaurants are scarce. They serve up a decent low-end burger which you can kick up a notch with bacon and avocado. That item, among their many other offerings, is called “the Whiz”.

But I don’t go for the menu as much as the menu … the one on the wall.

My best guess is that the signmakers were attempting to mimic the beautifully ugly 1980s Letraset typeface Crillee, designed by Dick Jones and extended by Peter O’Donnell. Crillee is what I call a “fast font”. It connotes speed. Also, toughness. And sometimes outer space. You might see it on the window of a 1-hour photo developer, or a NASCAR sticker, or the credits for “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. In this case, Crillee indicates that the food is fast. And it is.

Crillee Bold Italic

But the lettering on the Whiz Burgers wall is, of course, even better than a font, because every letter was painted by hand. Many of these letters (e.g. the ‘t’) are strangely out of proportion with their neighbors. The caps are noticeably heavier than the lowercase. All these delightful inconsistencies are commonplace among the vernacular lettering of the Mission — particularly that of the Mexican immigrant shops — but Whiz Burgers’ pseudo-Crillee is in a strange class of its own. I don’t know anything else quite like it. The color scheme is great, too: deep green, red, and blue lettering inside a blue frame, hung on a wall that is daringly painted in manic sun yellow.

Let’s take a closer look at the Whiz Burgers menu!

Meanwhile, the prices are in vinyl Helvetica. But even this is not boring. There is no tedious baseline. The numbers hop and tilt, cheerfully announcing the reasonably low charges. You spot the upside-down ‘3’ and smile.

Then you order a Whiz Burger and banana shake and silently thank the anonymous signpainter for improving your day.

In foreground: Chris Hamamoto, who enjoys weird letters and a decent burger just as much as me. Unfortunately, on this occasion he chose the grilled cheese sandwich. He does not recommend it.

Craig, abn, Chris, Amal and 12 others said thanks.

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Stephen Coles

Stephen Coles is editor of Typographica, Fonts In Use, and The Mid-Century Modernist, and author of the book The Anatomy of Type. He works from his girlfriend’s flat in Berlin and his cat’s home in Oakland. More at

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