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.
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 camaraderie 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.
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.
H J 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.
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.