The Beef About L.A.

In Los Angeles, the beef is in the burger. Everywhere. And I’m sure every Angeleno has an opinion about which joint reigns supreme, answers ranging from original, landmark burger stands to popular chains to a trendy restaurant’s rendition of this classic American fare. For me, this represents the beginnings of a Los Angeles Burger Tour, a small slice out of the bigger burger picture. Here’s a sampling of the where and why:


Original Tommy’s: There’s nothing special about the bun. The patty is small, requiring complaining carnivores to order a double or triple. The fixings are simple and always the same: tomato slice, chopped onion, mustard, optional cheese. The fries are mediocre but serve one special purpose: to sop up excess chili. Without this generous slopping of gooey, original recipe chili on your burger, you don’t have a Tommy’s.

Since 1946, the original Tommy’s has remained put on the corner of Rampart and Beverly. It’s the only Tommy’s (out of 27 locations) that doesn’t provide fountain drinks; customers help themselves via the honor system to cans of soda out of several Pepsi coolers surrounding the stand.

Here’s what I’ve learned from the Tommy’s experience: don’t entirely remove the Tommy’s burger from the wrapper. If this mistake is made, all the chili will ooze out the bottom of the burger and meld into an even sloppier mess, creating chili-cheese paper which requires some serious fry-mopping.

Bobsstatueed Bobsburgered

Bob’s Big Boy: On a Saturday afternoon on the corner of Riverside and Rose in Burbank, the tables are turning as fast as a party of two can devour two Big Boy Combos and a vanilla shake. Hungry customers wait outside, sitting on benches surrounding the famous Big Boy statue which marks a true “state point of historical interest,” a designation given by the state of California in 1993. This location is the oldest standing Bob’s in America.

The menu is extensive (fried chicken, liver and onions...), but the Original Big Boy Combo is the way to go. A double-decker. Shredded iceberg. American cheese. Soft sesame seed bun. A signature ketchup-relish blend. You can’t get more classic. For me, it certainly brings back childhood memories. The accompanying dinner salad, though, has sadly been updated from simply a wedge of iceberg to what appears to be lettuce from a bag. But fortunately the bleu cheese dressing hasn’t changed.

Fatburgersigned Fatburgerburger1ed

Fatburger: Sure, it’s a chain, and a growing one at that (Arizona, Nevada, New Jersey…). But there’s something about ordering a cheeseburger deliciously complete with an egg over easy. The people at Fatburger market freshness, using slogans such as “Most onion rings come from freezers. We prefer onions.” I think it’s the fried egg that keeps people coming back. At least that’s what lures me in.

The original Fatburger, Fatburger #1, is located on Western Avenue at 31st Street in East L.A. But Fatburger offspring are everywhere in L.A. and surrounding areas. You can’t miss ‘em.

Innoutsigned Innoutburgered

In-N-Out: Nothing screams Southern California more than a 4 x 4, Animal Style. That’s four beef patties and four slices of American cheese with mustard seared onto the meat, pickles, grilled onions and extra “spread,” a tasty Thousand Island dressing-type condiment. I prefer a double-single (two beef, one cheese), without onions or sometimes with grilled onions. Oh, and fries, arguably the most debated In-N-Out menu item. Some people love them. Some people hate them. All opinions aside, there are no other fries like them. Peeled and cut on location and deep-fried to order in very clean oil, In-N-Out fries aren’t the crispiest ever served. But out of all the burger chains, their fries are the freshest and the most, well, potato-like.

The In-N-Out burger itself is a well-thought out food item. The cheese is melted onto the toasted top-bun before assembly, which assures adherence to the remaining burger components beneath. However, to insure a complete, intact burger throughout consumption, the best technique is removing the un-bitten burger from all wrapping, crumpling up the first tissue-like pre-wrap and stuffing it into the outer wrap, then replacing the burger. This technique exposes the majority of the burger, providing leverage for ease of ingestion while still keeping the burger intact and fingers relatively clean.

The original In-N-Out, in Baldwin Park, is claimed to be California’s first drive-thru.

Applepansigned Applepanburgered

The Apple Pan: The Westside’s best burger? Perhaps. Burger joint with the most character? Definitely. The Apple pan is one of those places that’s packed full of regulars. As a first-timer, I almost felt embarrassed asking for a menu, which are tucked away, out of site. I wasn’t fortunate enough to score a seat, all of which surround the “kitchen” in a u-shaped counter. I settled for a to go order of the Original Steakburger with fries. As I waited, I stood and watched the place work.

Two mustachioed men work the counter, taking orders, serving burgers, sandwiches and pie, fetching cans of Coke (no fountain drinks here). They are lightning quick, especially with ketchup refills (no, you don’t tap the 57’s yourself). These guys pull Heinz bottles from under the counter and masterfully, under 2.3 seconds, thrust blobs of ketchup onto small paper plates.  Amazing. The burgers are retrieved and planted straight onto the counter; no plates, no placemats to mess with.

My to go order didn’t merit any ketchup service, which disappointed me. The fries desperately needed something. Salt for sure. But I knew this place wasn’t known for its fries. The steakburger, never housing a tomato slice, gets Tillamook cheddar, not American. The top-bun (seedless) is slathered with a signature tangy-sweet relish sauce, reminiscent of Bob’s but tangier. A generous wedge of crisp iceberg gives the burger some girth. The steakburger stands on its own; it doesn’t even need the fries. But I would get them just for the ketchup service.

The Apple Pan (the original and only since April of 1947) is located at 10801 Pico, between Overland and Westwood.

Fathersofficeed Foburgeremed

The Father’s Office: I’m usually not a fan of the fancied-up burger, but at this beer, beer and more beer and wine bar on Montana in Santa Monica, the burger is pleasing to the eye and tastes like you’re paying for quality. Deeply caramelized onions and lively arugula lend a sweet and peppery compliment to the juicy, cooked-how-you-like-it, dry-aged beef patty. Maytag blue and Gruyere add a sharpness of flavor. The traditional bun is replaced by a French roll, which fits the patty's oval shape. Crisp, fresh, delicious piled-high “Frites” or “Sweet Potato Frites” can be ordered at additional cost, which I recommend for sharing. But don’t ask for ketchup; the place is devoid of Heinz bottles. Basic or blue cheese aioli, in ramekins, is served instead.

Fred62buildinged Fred62burger1ed

Fred 62:They call her the Juicy Lucy. She's held together by a what looks like a coffee stirrer with two potato chips fused together at the top with a parsley sprig in between. But that's beside the point. This burger shines for many reasons.  For one, the bun is actually flavorful. On most burgers the tasteless bun merely acts as holding device; a vehicle to get burger to mouth. Juicy Lucy's bun lends a flavor and texture balance (perfectly toasted, soft with slightly crisp edges) to the other burger components. Second, the red onion (which, to me, is the better onion choice for burgers) is thinly sliced, providing just the right amount of sweet onion "background noise." Thirdly, the shredded iceberg melds with the Thousand Island spread, which minimizes drips while providing an interesting salad-like component. Finally, the patty, an eight-ouncer, blanketed in melted cheddar, is seasoned well and cooked to the perfect medium-rare.  Yes, you can see a good amount of pink.

Fred 62 is a can't miss lime green and orange building on the corner of Vermont and Rodney in the trendy Los Feliz. The waitresses in all black mini-skirted Dickies outfits and waiters in black T-shirts reading a stark "FRED 62," serve up everything from Belly Bomb omelets to sandwiches called The Manhandler. And the Juicy Lucy has a little sister called the Wimpy Burger (just 6 ounces).

My Los Angeles Burger Tour has been fun and quite filling. I'm sure I've missed a contending place or two, or many. I greatly welcome any recommendations.

Photos: Father's Office burger image provided by The Father's Office. All other images by Kristin Franklin.



whoa great post, very extensive, thank you! cant wait to go back to la to try some of these (only got tommy's under my belt)


The Sunset Grill!


Great article. I'll definately have to try Fred 62 next time I'm in town. There's a place in LA (I believe it's on Melrose) where you can get a Big Kahuna Hawaiian burger. Did you consider that stand? I know Quintin Tarantino likes them as he's included them in most of his films.


Good read. In-N-Out has a few stores in Arizona, as well. Try the fries animal style next time you stock up on Mylanta. Sadly, none of these great burger joints can be found in Texas.


Astro Burger on Santa Monica has both buffalo burgers and -- not on the menu -- ostrich burgers, both quite good.


The reason I keep going back to Fatburger is the seasoning, the exceedingly thick patties cooked to perfection and the jukebox.

Fried eggs on burgers have always sort of scared me.


Pie 'n' Burger in Pasadena!


I like the seasoning of the Fatburger burger too. I'm glad you hit the Apple Pan, I love that place!


Fries don't come animal style--get well-done for better fries. Animal style is with grilled onions and mustard. Frankly, burger overviews are a huge LA eating cliche, and this wasn't the most fabulous posting I've ever read on the subject.


Actually Leilani, fries do come animal style. It's fries smothered in cheese, grilled onions, and thousand islandish dressing.


I'm sorry people, but the burger joints in LA cannot compare to the luscious, juicy burgers from Dottie's Dumpling Dowry in Madison, WI or Lurk's in Afton, MN.

One bite of a luscious, juicy Dottie's burger puts all of the above burgers to shame. To shame. They're so bursting with burger goodness that the juice drips down your arm while you try to eat them. Pair one with a local Wisconsin microbrew, and you've got a complete meal.

After eating a Dottie burger, you'll never pine for the Apple Pan, Pie-n-Burger, or any of the others listed above again.

But the rub is that they're in the midwest.


That's what I loved when I'm was the US : The original and true hamburgers that you find here and there , sometimes in nondescript places , coffee shops or diners . But the ones you write about are in Los Angeles ! I am going to print that for the next time I come to southern California ( no plans right now ) . Thanks for the article .


Please. Any piece about burgers in L.A. that doesn't start at the idiosyncratic reference standard, Cassell's (6th Street 1 block west of Vermont) means the writer hasn't done her homework. Al Cassell, who started after WW2, has retired, and the place is now owned by a Korean, but it's still 1/3 or 2/3 lb. prime Colorado beef, ground fresh daily. Plus home-made mayo (!) and lemonade. And then there's the newly-arrived and far more chic The Counter in Santa Monica (Ocean Park Blvd., near the airport). A credible challenger to Cassell's. Plus an import from SF, Barney's in the Brentwood Country Mart.


I have to put a vote in for "Fat Jacks" - 11402 Ventura Blvd in Studio City.

Also, "Cassell's" - 3266 W Sixth Street in L.A.


Try Ikeda's at the Auburn Ravine exit just east of Auburn, CA on the way to Tahoe on Hiway 80. Absolutely the best and the home made pies just top it off.

Good work Kristin...we love you.



You included The Apple Pan but not Pie 'N Burger? That's absurd!


For the record, it's just "Father's Office." There's no "The" in the name.


well done (!). if i may, a hidden burger delight can be found at the incredible yuca's taco stand on hillhurst in los feliz. get a double cheeseburger and don't look back.


You forgot to mention that Fred 62 has the shittiest service in Los Angeles. I love their food, but stopped going because I got tired of the sour attitude by every waitperson I've ever had there. There are enough great restaurants in the area that it's not worth being treated like a pest for wanting to order a meal.


I second the counter in Santa Monica

Fathers Office has a great burger but is it worth the hassle?


I go to the Apple Pan every time I'm in LA. Great burgers, great atmosphere, feels real and authentic, pretty rare for LA.

Apparantly it was used as inspiration for the Peach Bit in the TV series Beverly Hills 90210.


I haven't been to LA in a few years, but the best burger I ever had was at Eat a Meat a Burger over near Pico and Olympic (is that possible) Does anyone no if it still exists? I've been dreaming of that burger and I must have one soon.

Original Tommy's World Famous Hamburgers
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I'm telling everyone. I am a burger fanatic. I have been to all those places and they are great. They best burger, and some of the best fries I've ever had....AMER'S FALAFEL in Encino. Trust me on this.


Great reviews. Check out our weekly tour, in the quest to find LA's greatest burger!!


I found your burger pix in tastespotting so attractive and after coming to your blog post, it made me so hungry!
I'm goin' yo LA in May and this will be a handy tip for me. BTW, I'm able to get In-n-out in NorCal, and am loving it :D


Oh man, you've missed so many incredible burgers on your tour:
The Shack
The Bucket
Original Texas BBQ King
Ford's Filling Station
Chaya Brasserie
Carl's (Western Bacon Cheeseburger)
Sirloin Burger
and many more I could tell you all about.


I finally, finally, had my burger fix at Morton's today. Ordered their cheddar/sauteed mushrooms burger... med-rare, and my dining companion had the swiss/sauteed onions... medium. We split the burgers to try both.... they were awesome. And the fries weren't too shabby either.


I enjoyed perusing your website. Come visit my hamburger review blog at and tell me what you think.




I have no problem with people picking Booches, but I’ve gotta say … at this point, if I could only choose one burger to have for the rest of my life, it would be the Flat Branch burger (the one with chokes & cheese on top). It is ridiculous.


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