If there is one food that Los Angeles is known for, it’s hamburgers. French dips may have been invented here, but hamburgers are our cheesesteak, our po’boy, our place on the culinary map. There are a lot of famous burgers in the valley, from Bob’s Big Boy to The Smokehouse. Here I present the shacks and strip mall joints that top my list. The restaurants are listed in alphabetical order. I did not include chains, so In-n-Out, Shake Shack and Tommy’s did not make the cut.
Better Fresh Burger 101 N Victory Blvd Burbank, CA 91506 747-477-1860
A newcomer to the neighborhood, this strip mall joint doesn’t try to do everything, but focuses on perfecting two things — breakfast burritos and hamburgers. They do both extremely well. In a new twist, the burger is dressed with fresh cucumbers and a special sauce made from mayonnaise, sour cream and thyme. It makes the burger feel like it should be in a pita bread. The cucumbers are a lively topic amongst the regulars, with opinions split yay or nay. Another controversial choice is that they only play Christian rock. The employees are extremely friendly, as is the owner.
Bill’s Hamburgers 14742 Oxnard St. Van Nuys, CA 818-785-4086
Bill’s little hamburger stand is nestled on a side street in Van Nuys populated with auto repair shops. As the cliche goes, you blink and you miss it. Bill Elwell has owned the burger joint since 1965 and he still mans the grill. His 2nd and possibly 4th and 5th ex-wives help out. It gets kind of confusing. The patties he flips are thin by comparison to the monsters we have gotten used to, so I always order a double. The meat is tender in spite of its 2-ounce size. The burger is embellished with any toppings you desire, including grilled onions, but the only thing to do here is get a chili burger. The chili makes it special, flavorful but not spicy, generous but not sloppy. There is a patio in back, but I prefer the comaraderie of the little stools permanently installed at the counter, where you can sit elbow to elbow with your fellow diners and watch the action on the grill. Bill can be cranky but it is kind of a ruse. If you are smart-assed back he will laugh. Cash only. Closed Saturdays and Sundays.
El Paso Barbecue Company 18938 Ventura Blvd Tarzana, CA 91356 818-996-5607
One of the best places to find a good burger is at steakhouses. They don’t use the steak trimmings as some people think, but they are knowledgable about good meat and have a good supplier. El Paso BBQ Company uses the freshest meat to form its huge, juicy patties. One may be enough to share. This steakhouse is as old-school as they come, and the clientele is very friendly. The decor is hard to describe. It is a little like steakhouse meets Texan BBQ in 1979. There is also a record store next door.
The Great White Hut 121 W California Ave, Glendale, CA 91203 818-243-5619
This little art deco hamburger stand has stood on the corner of California and Orange in Glendale since 1927. The burgers are classic, with a thick beef patty that is slightly pink in the center. The raw red onion may be too intense for some people, but the homemade style is the draw for others. Their “secret sauce” is just the usual variation on Thousand Island Dressing. You can also customize your fries, which they refer to by the Spanish name of “fritas,” with a variety of toppings, including bacon, grilled onions, carne asada, and jalapenos. They are closed on Thursdays and Mondays, and stay open until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays.
Larry’s Chili Dog 3122 W Burbank Blvd Burbank, CA 91505 818-842-02
Larry’s Chili Dog has the coolest sign of any of the burger shacks–a neon wiener dog nestled cozily in a bun. Although they are known for their breakfast burritos and hot dogs, Larry’s consistently wins the “Best Burger in Burbank” in the local paper. The patties are thin, so I recommend a double. But in this case, it’s really all about the chili. It all comes together in each gloriously messy bite.
The Munch Box 21532 Devonshire St Chatsworth, CA 91311
The Munch Box is a Chatsworth landmark. Seriously, They have a plaque and everything. Longtime valley residents get a misty look in their eye at the very mention of the place. The family that runs it are friendly, and you often see their kids play on the benches outside. As for the burger, it is unlike anything I have ever had. The soft bread, tender patty, chili and melted cheese kind of meld together into a warm and comforting sandwich. It may seem strange to call a hamburger comfort food, but that’s exactly what I thought with my very first bite. The hickory burger just has a drop of hickory liquid smoke added, so it’s no big deal. But the burger and the root beer float are irresistible. Closed Sundays.
Old Fashioned Chili Burgers & Sandwiches 233 N Maclay Ave Unit A
San Fernando, CA 91340 818-898-2227
The Old Fashioned Chili Burgers & Sandwiches is hidden away in the courtyard of the San Fernando Public Library. Nonetheless, all 8 of the seats in the tiny restaurant are always filled. There are also shaded tables in the courtyard. Since 1994 owner George Burka has been running this clean and shiny diner like the perfectionist he is. Although they don’t make their own patties, the meat is ground and formed into patties daily at Ideal Foods in Northridge. I might not even have noticed the pre-formed patties had I not been watching the cook. It is thicker than your standard patty, and cooked until juicy with a lovely char. The slightly toasted bun manages to contain the profusion of fresh toppings. Their chili is also spectacular and traditional. In addition to burgers, Old Fashioned smokes their own brisket, pastrami and pulled pork and serves a nostalgic Dodger dog, steamed like in the old days.
Top Bar Burger 17238 West Saticoy Street Lake Balboa 91406 818-757-0039
The Top Bar is located in a strange Southwestern-style building on an island in a shopping center. The family-owned business has been there for 6 years and doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere. The whole family is really friendly and they remember customers by name. Inspired by the Southwest, there is an entire menu of themed burgers. The Top Bar Burger contains a 1/4-pound patty. The specialty burgers start with a 1/3-pound charbroiled patty and then they go wild. I am a fan of the Utah Burger, which is topped with pastrami, onions, pickles and both American and Pepper Jack cheese. It is also topped with “fry sauce” a house-made Thousand Island/Ranch-style french fry dip. Another winner is the Vegas Burger topped with ortega chiles, a Bloody Mary/Tabasco sauce and sharp cheddar cheese. I have yet to try the Cowboy Burger which is made with a rib-eye steak and baked beans. The fries arrive hot and crispy and they are satisfactory, but nothing to write home about. The shakes, however are worth the stop. House made with real ice cream, they only come in vanilla and chocolate, but a delicious and flavorful vanilla shake is a rare treat. You can also pick up a Sonoran Bacon Dog. Closed Sundays.