Jack's Classic Hamburgers
11375 Riverside Drive, Los Angeles, CA 91602 (map); 818-761-4599; jacksclassichamburgers.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: An old-fashioned drive-in serving solid Southern California-style burgers.
Want Fries with That? Yes. These fast food style fries kept me interested to the point of over-indulgence.
Prices: Double Cheeseburger, $4.25
Notes: If you're going to head over at lunch time, those in the know call ahead and skip the long line.
It could be said that Jack's Classic Hamburgers tells you all you need to know about the place just with its name. This drive-in located in North Hollywood (or West Toluca Lake depending on which real estate agent you ask) has been serving its "old-fashioned" burgers for decades. That definitely qualifies as "old," but what, exactly, qualifies as "classic" is less certain.
As Adam has documented so well in his hamburger styles post, old-fashioned can mean any number of things depending on where you're from. In this part of America, old-fashioned means a paper-wrapped burger served with toppings galore, and I couldn't be happier about it. This is the burger that I crave more than any other. Lucky for me, it's what Jack is serving.
Jack's burger would probably fall under Adam's "fast food-style" classification, but when you get a double cheeseburger as I did, this healthy helping could fall under the "stacked burger" category (think In-N-Out) as well. It's for this reason and the consistent and distinct presentation that I call burgers like Jack's "Southern California-style." It was, in fact, the drive-ins like Jack's that proliferated in Southern California after WWII that gave rise to the fast food burger.
At Jack's, as tradition dictates, the two quarter-pound patties and two slices of American cheese are given the full treatment of lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayo, and onions (I opted for grilled). Unlike most actual fast food burgers, Jack's gets their meat delivered fresh. Because of this, the patties, rather than recede into the background amid the competing condiment flavors, step forward with a strong, griddled crust. The grind is standard, which by my measure means it's a bit too fine, but I wouldn't say they are mealy. It's not a patty that deserves a showcase of its own, but plays its role well. The lettuce and tomato were fresh and flavorful and the mayo added some nice extra fat. The bun, a seeded commercial, was spongy and struck a good ratio, though the double demands a quick eat or it will quickly fall apart .
The generous portion of grilled onions was nearly perfect. The sweet caramelization made for that extra hit of umami that takes a burger into Southern California-style bliss. I often think that grilled onions get short shrift when talking about what makes a burger like this (e.g., an In-N-Out Double Double) so good. Though perhaps this week's poll will prove me wrong. For me, a tender, toothsome grilled onion can forgive many other sins on a burger.
Jack's Classic is just that: a classic in the sense that it summons an era of dining that gave rise to the idea and reality of delicious, fresh, affordable food. Perhaps the burger isn't among the elite here in Los Angeles, but considering its solid and satisfying preparation along with a remarkably fair price ($4.25 for a double cheeseburger!), I'm hard-pressed to understand why anyone looking for a quick lunch in the area would ever opt for the fast food chains that places like Jack's gave rise to. Maybe Jack's and I are both old-fashioned.