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LA Dive Dining
PAGE TWO
September 2003

Pink’s
Pink’s is another LA Legend; in fact, rumor has it that Sean Penn proposed to Madonna here. We hit Pink’s late on a weeknight, which is important if you want to avoid long, long, LONG-ass lines. Pretty good smells were coming from the stand, and the menu was full of items that would be a stoner’s wet dream… the hot dog burrito, dogs with pastrami and bacon and guacamole, Ozzy dogs, Lord of the Rings dogs…. I opted for the classic chili-cheese dog, no onions. After a 15-minute wait, despite the fact that there were only 5 people in front of us, we gave our orders at the front counter, and then went inside to collect our wax-paper wrapped dogs and cold drinks. Pink’s chili-dogs are served with squirts of yellow mustard before chili and whatnot is piled on, and mine looked pretty tasty… despite the fact that they were out of American cheese and had to use Swiss instead. No biggie. We bore our trays to a table in the brightly lit seating area, surrounded by autographed pictures from Erik Estrada, Aaron Spelling, the cast of Enterprise, Courtney Cox, Barry White and Steve Martin all proclaiming Pink’s the “best, best, best!!!” in little-varying superlative language.

Well. It was a good chili dog, but I wouldn’t call it the “best, best, best!!!” The dogs themselves had a good, fresh snap to them, but weren’t as flavorful as Gray’s Papaya or Nathan’s in New York. The buns were perfect. But the chili…. Hmmm. You know how chili has meat and beans… each with its own unique flavor and texture? This chili looked normal, but had a uniformly thick, mooshy consistency. It was pretty bland, too. Even the mustard didn’t add much flavor. Good, but not great… certainly not the best ever. We didn’t try the fries or onion rings yet, though, so I’ll get back to y’all on that.

 

Apple Pan
We found ourselves at Apple Pan one Sunday ‘round lunchtime, after a local restaurant guide’s tip claiming this place had the best burgers ever. Okay. I’m game. We pushed our way through the front screen door, which thwacked shut a la Gramma’s House behind us, and found ourselves in a dingy old place with a U-shaped counter surrounding the grill. That’s all. Blank walls, worn linoleum, two ancient cash registers. Around the perimeter of the place, people stood waiting for free stools; whenever someone left, someone else, in rough order of who’d come in first, would swoop down on the seat. It took about a half-hour… and believe me, waiting was HARD what with the smells of burgers frying and the sight of everyone chowing down on fries and pie.

The menu was short and succinct: about 3 hamburger choices, egg salad and tuna salad sandwiches, fries, pie and ice cream. I opted for a steakburger and THTM got the hickory burger. The ordering experience was, we discovered, Quintessential Apple Pan. A bland-faced waiter dressed in a white shirt/white paper hat combo last seen in American Graffiti asked us what we wanted. “I’d like a steakbur-” “Cheese?” “No th-” “Fries?” “Yes, pl-” “Drink?” “Orange sod-” But he was already done with me, and was now reaching down in the freezer behind the front counter to slap a couple fresh burger patties on the grill behind him. Within minutes of our order, our waiter, though taciturn, was promptly clattering down plastic cup-holders with paper cone-cups full of ice and cracking open soda cans. And less than five minutes after that, two grease-paper-wrapped burgers were plunked upright in front of us. Next came a small paper plate of fresh fries, and another small plate onto which our waiter quickly poured half a bottle of ketchup into a neat pool. The burgers, fresh and hot, were amazing. Toasted buns, thick wedges of crisp, fresh lettuce, pickles, special relish…. Mmmmm! The fries – crisp, thick, short and greasy – were perfect as well. The apple pie a la mode was nondescript and not as sweet as could be, but satisfying in an old-fashioned down-home way. Heck, skip the pie and just get another burger! Yowza! (Friends have said that the egg salad and tuna salad sandwiches are also to die for, but I can’t get past the burgers yet!)

 

The Original Pantry Café
The Pantry, on a downtown corner, has a sign in the window informing all and sundry that they’re “Never Without a Customer!” Indeed, there’s usually a line… or two, actually, because you can either eat in the original part of The Original Pantry, or in the added-on part next door. The times we’ve been there, we’re usually too hungry to care about how original the room is, and opt for the shorter line next door. The Pantry is also always open (rumor has it even during, like, earthquakes and other such disasters, The Pantry still has customers), although I’ve only been there for breakfast. THTM, since he works downtown, has been there for lunch a few times, and reports that they have “basic meat and potatoes stuff”… steak, chops, chicken…. The best thing, he claims, is the steak sauce; they make their own and he’s raved about it.

But about that breakfast. The place is always crowded, and when you get a whiff of slabs of ham and bacon and chopped potatoes frying on that decades-old grill, you understand why. The menus are posted on the wall, and again, it’s basic combos of eggs, breakfast meats, potatoes, pancakes….

The up side is the toast… if it could be qualified by such a colorless word; better make that huge hunks of soft grilled sourdough bread.

It’s worth mentioning that last time we were at The Pantry for breakfast, Johnnie Cochran was there. I was tempted to flick my fried egg at him, but it was too good to waste.

 

Mo’ Better Meatty Meat Burgers
The first time I drove by Mo’ Better Meatty [sic] Meat Burgers, nothing could convince me I’d actually eat there. On the corner of Pico and Fairfax, MBMMB is in a garish, run-down old burger stand building with a gaudy purple neon sign proclaiming the misspelled moniker and a parking lot cratered with potholes. The huge menu tacked to the front wall next to the order window was also rife with misspellings and awkward placement; at first it looked like they offered “7-Up Cake” but we finally realized it was supposed to be “7-Up” “Coke”…. Needless, it was with great trepidation that we placed our orders, not even assuaged by the fact that the shakes were made with Haagen-Dazs ice cream.

Unlike Apple Pan, we had a long wait for our burgers (especially considering that it was a burger stand, and there was only one other person ordering at the time), but after fifteen minutes or so, our number was called. Well! It was actually worth waiting for; the buns weren’t toasted, but the meat was good and flavorful, especially piled with mayo, mustard, ketchup, pickles, onions, tomatoes- And the fries were scrummy too, all long, thick and slightly greasy, but covered with season salt and pepper. The chocolate shake, extra thick, was perfection. MBMMB is only a infinitesimal step below Apple Pan; I guess it depends on whether you want to sit in a stuffy room or on a stuffy patio next to a major LA street….

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