A couple of months ago, I wrote about places in and around L.A. to keep your fitness game high even while raising toddlers. I meant every bit of those 800 words, and readers responded with “You-go-Dad!” encouragement.
This month, dear readers, I must admit that recently I’ve been engaging in an L.A. roundup of something that swings the pendulum in the opposite direction: the all-American cheeseburger and fries. This burger fixation can be blamed on my gullet-shoving sons, Hank and Leo. I decided to turn their cravings into an adventure.
I realize that L.A. is regarded as one of the best burger towns in the country, and I recognize that each and every burger- loving Angeleno is passionate about their favorite piece of heaven between two buns, but some burgers undoubtedly are more famous than others. The boys and I ventured across the region to try many of these famous burger eateries, much to the irritation of my wife, Kate. This was all in the name of research, so that you can be absolutely clear on what the cheeseburger of choice is for a 4-year-old. Summer is on the horizon and a little inspiration is required before we fire up our grills.
Our journey started on the Westside at the old-school burger stand The Apple Pan. We thought we’d begin our tour with the highest level of difficulty with children. Hank is not the most patient of 4-year-olds. He nearly pushed an old Westsider off his bar stool to grab a seat. “I’ve been coming here since I was your age,” I told Hank.
“Oh, did you have to wait this long then, too?” he asked, squirming.
Hank was confused by the stand due to its lack of adequate seating and the other niceties that accompany family restaurants. Still, the promise of French fries and banana cream pie kept both boys engaged. Hank ordered a Hickoryburger with cheese and fries, then proceeded to remove all ingredients between the buns except for the meat and cheese before diving in. After a few bites, he gave a thumbs-up.
Next, we ventured south to Westchester (this was not all on the same day – don’t worry) to In-N-Out Burger. When Hank yelled, “Oh, In-N-Out Burger,” and Leo followed with, “I want cheeseburger,” what was a (hungry) dad to do? Once we pulled into the LAX-adjacent lot, the boys enjoyed watching the big airplanes land at one of the country’s busiest airports.
Many people consider In-N-Out their favorite L.A. burger, and the fact that all ages tend to feel genuine love for the California staple tilts the contest in its favor. Plus, Mom and Dad can still pay their mortgage after indulging in a family meal there. From LAX, we traveled east to Koreatown and Cassell’s Hamburgers. My theory going into Cassell’s with Hank and Leo was that dads like Cassell’s more than kids do. It’s in a congested part of town, but just as crowded with good food as people. Over the years, I’ve become increasingly fond of Cassell’s patty melt, so I got one, while the boys had the usual.
Hank looked at my patty melt: “Um, Dad, that’s not a burger,” he said.
“Look inside,” I said. “It’s hamburger and cheese.”
“But mine has a bun,” he retorted.
“Do you want to try it and see?” I asked.
“No,” he said passionately. (Note to self: To kids, patty melts look like gross sandwiches.) While we were debating, Leo ate all of our fries.
The boys don’t much care for toppings on cheeseburgers – nothing spicy or difficult to eat. There are burger joints that just love to stack ’em tall, but as you go on your own burger hunts, I wouldn’t recommend those places with children. Half of the ingredients end up on their faces, clothes and the floor. Even so, one of my favorite burger spots is The Oinkster in Eagle Rock. Although known for some outrageous burger creations, it also has one of my other favorite burger-stand commodities: milkshakes. And the promise of these shakes meant I was able to venture to the far northeast side of town. Once we finally arrived, the boys had just woken from naps and you’d have thought they were in heaven. They each got a burger basket and chocolate shake.
“Do you like this place, Hank and Leo?” I asked.
I was rewarded with a couple of thumbs-up.
Isaac Parfrey is a writer, composer and L.A. native who enjoys roaming Southern California with his wife, Kate, and sons, Hank and Leo. Follow him on Twitter @IsaacParfrey