8289 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood CA 90046 (map); 323-650-2456 irvsburgersla.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: This LA classic is still serving one of the best burgers in town
Want Fries with That? Yes; they are standard issue spuds but get the proper crisp from a proper frying
Prices: Cheeseburger, fries, and a drink, $8.15
Even though I've been reviewing burgers in Los Angeles for nearly four years, I'm usually not surprised when I come across a burger I have yet to review; a new burger spot pops up seeming every week in our fair city. But when AHT editor Robyn asked me about the legendary Irv's Burgers on Santa Monica Boulevard I was shocked to learn that not only had I not reviewed it, but it hadn't been given any attention since way back in 2005 when my predecessor, Hadley Tomicki, wrote up a nice piece honoring this classic in its time of need.
The Hong family that bought the place from Irv was facing eviction. A raft of community support and eventual historical landmark status saved Irv's from being replaced by a Peet's coffee. We couldn't be luckier for it.
I went back recently to give Irv's another look and have a chat with the matriarch of the Hong family, Sonia. She has kept the fires burning on the 66-year tradition behind this American classic that sits on the Western end of the iconic Route 66. You'll find her there every day with her indefatigable smile serving up some of the city's very best burgers.
Before I get into the burger itself, I want to direct you to some more background on Irv's and this amazing family that keeps it going. The burger guru George Motz profiled Irv's in his book Hamburger America and gave them a short segment on his show Burger Bites. The Hongs are a great American story of an immigrant family making their American dream come true by keeping a piece of Americana alive.
Ok, now for the burger. It's truly excellent. I know I usually break the burgers down piece by piece before proffering a final analysis, but this is one of those occasions that compels me to exaltation. I loved my Irv's burger lunch and I want the world to know it.
The cheeseburger combo is an exercise in burger stand classicism. A beautiful commercial bun is given a fresh ground patty of 80/20 chuck that weighs in around five ounces. "Everything on it" means the iceberg lettuce is shredded, the onion is sliced, and the tomato is fresh as can be for being far from farmers' market quality. The pickles aren't artisanal, but then again, this is a pure, American burger stand. Do you really want them any other way? How about the cheese? American, of course. Sonia also slathers on a sizable portion of mustard and mayo to finish off the burger.
The patty itself is exemplary. They each get a smash when they hit the griddle so the coarsely packed beef spreads apart even further, allowing for the creation of a fantastic crust. Sonia is also heavy handed with the salt shaker so there's little chance of missing out on the full flavor of the patty (nb: I prefer a salty burger). The cheese was so beautifully melted that it tasted as though it had woven its fatty, tangy goodness into every nook of the patty. The toppings balanced out the patty and cheese with a nice fresh crunch. Finally, the bun—a simple, seedless commercial—was toasted golden and held together this masterpiece with subtle a perfection.
The fries arrive with an ethereal golden hue. On their own, these aren't the best fries you'll have when burger hopping in LA, but they're damn good and, with their straightforward composition, a fantastic complement to the straightforward burger.
It's strange to think that in this age of seemingly endless cheffed-up burger specials and premium burger insta-chains a place like Irv's can still be so much better than the vast majority of the competition. If you live here in the City of Angels or are just coming through to check a few burger spots off your list, you'd be remiss to pass up on Irv's burgers and Sonia's smiling face
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