It's always been between this big bad boy and In-n-Out here in Cali, but for some reason Fatburger lost the PR war after a glorious run in the long-gone '80s. Back then, even emerging national rap superstars the Beastie Boys recognized it as the best option out west in absence of their beloved White Castle.
Now, in its 50th year, Fatburger still has true blue fans who won't accept anything else. Still, the place rarely gets the love it deserves. Maybe it's been out word-of-mouthed by devotees of the competition. Maybe its rapid franchising into markets as far as Jersey City and Clearwater, Florida, has given customers the feeling that Fatburger's quality was a thing of the past.
That's a true shame given the quality and value found at this phat chain. Not to mention the copious quantities of love at Fatburger. The food is imbued with nostalgic good vibeslike a jar of Skippy run through with Mom's butter knife. Clean, service oriented, and chock-a-block with knickknacks, black-and-white photos of Ray and the Godfather of Soul, and rollicking '50s tunes from the glowing jukebox, Fatburger is a vision in neon. You almost picture Gidget and her friends sucking down thick milkshakes and engaging in wholesome good times before the next longboarding session. Although, we do have to admit we've seen some dodgy Fatburger locations where amped-up thugs were not having a good day.
No such dodginess was in evidence the other night when the AHT team, with fresh objective tastebuds at the ready, visited the Fatburger on Wilshire Boulevard in tony Brentwood to sink our teeth into the restaurant's famed sandwich. Despite the Fox News report blaring away on one of the numerous TV sets, we were not only able to hold our meal down, we came away aggressively in favor of a "back to Fatburger" movement. The meal was that good.
Unlike the misleading experience we had while attending the Neverending Story when we were 8, Fatburgers are indeed fat. There are options to have either the 1/3-lb. Fatburger or the bigger 1/2-lb. Kingburger and even double up on meat, cheese, or anything else.
One of Fatburger's best traits is its enormous ability to help you pimp your burger. With a range of normal toppings (The Works includes pickles, relish, mustard, mayo, tomatoes, onions, and lettuce) to more personally preferred add-ons (egg, chili, bacon, thousand island), as well as a choice of skinny or fat fries, Fatburger allows mixin' 'n' matchin' to your twisted heart's content.
Slipping a worn dollar into the jukebox, I located Legend and descended into irieness with Robert Nesta Marley in my ears and a Kingburger with the works, cheese, and an egg in my hands. My companion, a mellow Tibetan ex-junkie punk-rocker and little person who goes by the name of Han Solo, went for the Kingburger with cheese, but sans ovum.
In a quick five minutes, our burgers arrived. Han's Kingburger was almost the size of his head. Given the size of the burger here, each bite yields a different taste. Like setting out on a motorcycle trip through South America, the wide plains of the Fatburger deliver a new surprise around each turn. Sometimes the relish overpowered one bite or the mayo and mustard flooded the beef, while another bite might yield pure beef patty. The toppings have a certain freshness that leaps crisply to the palate.
Fatburger claims to use the leanest beef of any burger, but tearing a chunk out of the patty, it was still very juicy and pleasantly greasy. The egg added a peppery flavor and mixed with the cheese, making the whole burger gooier, which I liked. The overall taste of the burger is excellent, not quite In-n-Out level, but a true contender for second place, packed with zesty freshness and flavors that intermingle and sometimes stand alone. The fries don't necessarily impress, as they are a little too hard, but the onion rings are light and crispy. The Fatburger tastes moist and fresh; its infinite flavors a fun place to explore for an evening. It is a burger you can really tear into and indulge in, knowing it won't be gone in a hot second.
Looking back at the counter with its cool old-school stools, Han and I had to laugh at Fatburger's new ad campaign featuring attempted edgy attitude with phrases like, "Hello?!" "No lame music. No generic burgers," and "You're hungry. We're open." Han, who lived on the street for 18 grueling months, thought it was especially hilarious that this burger joint was acting so damn hard.
We left fully satisfied, Han unable to eat his entire burger due to the munching of too many onion rings and a wee little stomach that carries about half of what mine currently can. I almost could not finish mine either, as the photographic evidence shows, but I rallied after a pause in the action. Looking back on the experience and the fact that neither of us had to use our AK, we agreed our Fatburger visit had made for a good day.
Location Reviewed: 12005 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90025
Cost: 1/3-lb., $3.69; 1/2-lb., $4.69; special add-ons, $0.50
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