Fourth in my “Roadhouses of Gauteng” series. Browse all of my roadhouse posts or view a map of the roadhouses I’ve visited.

Thorsten and I did another roadhouse mission last weekend. This time we headed west, journeying up Ondekkers Road to Uncle Harry’s Roadhouse in the West Rand mining town of Randfontein.

Uncle Harry's Roadhouse
Uncle Harry’s Roadhouse.

Uncle Harry’s, like all the roadhouses we’ve visited for this series so far, has a great story. It was opened in 1974 by 60-year-old Harry Pappas, a first-generation South African of Greek descent who started Uncle Harry’s as a second career. Harry bought the land from a mining company and developed an entire compound, which now includes the huge roadhouse, a petrol station, a car stereo/security system store, and residential space.

Roadhouse neon sign
One of many fantastic neon signs that welcomed us to Uncle Harry’s.

Harry worked at the roadhouse until age 87, when he died of cancer. His son and daughter-in-law, Jimmy and Jean Pappas, took over the business after Harry’s death. The Pappases still run Uncle Harry’s today and live in a flat behind the restaurant.

According to Jean, who I happened to meet while she was taking her dog for a walk, Jimmy is obsessed with neon signs. “I can see that,” I said, gazing up at the building behind her. Dusk had fallen and the signs had just been switched on. I was mesmerized.

Uncle Harry's Roadhouse, lit up
Lit.
Jean Pappas and her dog Max at Uncle Harry's
Jean Pappas and her dog, Max.
Over-the-top neon, shot a bit later.
Onion rings neon sign

Neon Signs and More at Uncle Harry’s Roadhouse

I would have gone to Uncle Harry’s just for the signs, but there are so many other things that make this roadhouse awesome. Allow me to sing its praises for a few minutes.

There is an interesting military memorial next door, with tanks and a full-sized jet. The land where the memorial sits is still owned by the mining company, but Jimmy maintains it himself and successfully fought the Air Force when they tried to take the plane away.

Military memorial next to Uncle Harry's in Randfontein
The Atlas Impala/Aermacchi MB-326 jet on display at the Caprivi Bomgat memorial next to Uncle Harry’s.

There’s a lovely garden next to the parking lot, with outdoor tables and towering trees that explode with birdsong at dusk. (I was so dazzled by the neon signs that I forgot to take photos of the garden — it was a bit too dark by the time we arrived anyway.) There’s an interestingly designed “diner”, separate from the main roadhouse, for people who don’t want to eat inside their cars.

Uncle Harry's Diner
The diner across from the main roadhouse.

There’s the Uncle Harry’s staff, who are all so friendly.

Johnson, a waiter at Uncle Harry's
Johnson Bede, an Uncle Harry’s waiter who started working at the roadhouse at age 14. He’s 33 now.
Ladies working at Uncle Harry's
Nice ladies behind the counter.

There’s the architecture of the roadhouse itself, which is wild.

Uncle Harry's from the side
Uncle Harry’s in profile. Shout-out to this lady, whose name I didn’t get. I wish I knew how to get this photo to her.

Thorsten was so taken with Uncle Harry’s that he made two annotated architectural drawings of the property. The captions below are his — note “Blogitect 1” is me and “Blogitect 2” is Thorsten. (Blogger + Architect = Blogitect.)

You can find more of Thorsten’s sketches on his Instagram: @thethinking_hand.

Thorsten's drawing of Uncle Harry's and surrounds
This sketch shows how we approached Uncle Harry’s on the R28, where we parked to eat, and all the different attractions.
 
1.       Our approach through the winter highveld mining landscape
2.       The enclosed dining space taking in the sunset
3.       Miami style palm trees
4.       a small picnic ‘forest’ with noisy birds
5.       The original Uncle Harry’s building
6.       The war memorial with a plane and cannons! For Blogitect 2 this would be an ideal setting for a drag queen fashion show a la ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ (recently re-watched)
.
Thorsten drawing of Uncle Harry's
The original Uncle Harry’s building does a lot of things. It is very functional and whoever designed it managed to make it sculptural by expressing the zig zag roof line. The canopy at the serving window seems like a later addition as it has a less dynamic form.
 
1.       Serving window
2.       Blogitect 1 (very excited as neon lights come on)
3.       Toilets (note the butterfly roof, a common feature of midcentury popular architecture)
4.       What looks like a roof terrace for owner’s apartment on first flo
or
5.       Staggered facade to bring sun into apartment

I haven’t even mentioned the food yet.

As expected, Uncle Harry’s has a huge menu with every fast-food dish under the sun. We had read in advance that Uncle Harry’s milkshakes are legendary, so Thorsten and I each started with one of those: Thorsten had guava flavor and I had Bar One flavor. (Bar One is a popular South African candy bar.) Both were delicious.

Bar One milkshake from Uncle Harry's
My Bar One milkshake: Perfectly chocolaty and malty, and also just the right thickness to make it easy to sip through a straw.

While perusing the menu, my eye went straight to the “Uncle Harry’s Mad Burger”. I didn’t read the description super carefully; I just liked the name so I ordered it. The burger arrived quickly, on a tray clipped to the car window, and I knew right away that I might be in over my head.

Uncle Harry's Mad Burger
The Uncle Harry’s Mad Burger: A beef burger patty, fried egg, cheese, bacon, grilled chicken breast, creamy sauce, barbecue sauce, lettuce and tomato, plus chips (fries) and a pile of fried onions.

I was sitting in the driver’s seat when the food arrived. But Thorsten (who ordered a much more manageable pizza) and I had to switch places because the Mad Burger would not fit behind my steering wheel.

Heather and the Uncle Harry's Mad Burger
Trying not to look intimated by the Mad Burger. (Photo by Blogitect 2)

I managed to down about half the burger and chips. It was definitely overwhelming but also really good: The chicken was juicy, the burger patty was tasty, and I liked the sauces. (I used to get annoyed by overly sauced South African burgers, as I’m really just a plain ketchup person usually, but I’ve finally given in to South African burger sauces. I was fighting a losing battle and, truth be told, South African burger sauces are pretty good.) I also really enjoyed the fried onions.

We took the second half home in a take-away box. Blogitect 2 ate it for lunch the next day and pronounced it delicious.

This sums up our big night out at Uncle Harry’s Roadhouse. We give the experience two thumbs up.

Neon sign at Uncle Harry's Roadhouse

Uncle Harry’s Roadhouse is at the corner of Main and Battery Reef Roads in Randfontein. Open every day of the week from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Call 011-693-5203 or 011-412-3432.

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