Monday, November 2, 2009

The Great California Burger Battle

Virtually every non-vegetarian American loves a good hamburger and I'm certainly one of those. Most food critics would love to point to a higher end entree as the great American contribution to international food but the humble burger arguably holds the high honor. Now comes the age-old argument over who makes the better hamburger. In California the debate is squarely and hoty debated between two home-grown grease joints, at least from where I sit and I've sat in and enjoyed both.

In-n-Out Burger opened in Baldwin Park, California in 1948, a mom-and-pop shop if ever there was one. The menu started simple and remains close to the original concept to this day: hamburger with or without cheese, a special sauce, fries and a drink or shake. It was ground-breaking for this outfit to open its first stores outside of California which has still only "expanded" as far as Utah.

Californians swear by this statewide favorite, identifying with it on a personal level unlike virtually any customer relationship in existence. The simple concept, the fast service and consistent product bring expatriate Californians home from across the country in droves or online to have their fond memories frozen and shipped all over the world.

Then there's Fatburger. It is the smaller of the two chains although it has stretched farther afield, boasting outlets across the country, in Canada and, most strikingly, one each in Hong Kong and Macau!
Coming on to the scene four years after In-n-Out, Fatburger opened in Los Angeles and developed an equally fierce following of its own. I first heard of the chain as a child watching "Sanford & Son" and hearing Lamont regularly tell his father he was going out to get a Fatburger. I thought it was just a particularly greasy hamburger and not associated with any company in particular. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1994 and stumbled across the Redondo Beach store, however, the "Sanford & Son" theme song popped in to my head as I popped indoors for my first Fatburger.

With a nod to Fred G. Sanford, and the "G" stands for Greasy, Fatburger is my favorite. Their menu is simple enough, offering a variety of burgers, including a monster called the "Triple King" which can include chili, bacon and a fried egg of all things - defibrillator optional - but the key for me is that the burgers are larger and the fries are far superior.

The choice was admittedly difficult to go with Fatburger but be assured that In-n-Out gets its share of my business thanks to one store and that one store only. The Westchester store on Sepulveda just at the eastern corner of the two north runways at Los Angeles International Airport. Good, old fashioned hamburgers, airplanes landing from all over the world almost literally within arm's reach and, weather permitting, sweet California sunshine?

Only thing missing are The Beach Boys.

Gotta go!

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