Turned up to eleven: Fair and Balanced

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

The Great LA Fast Food Debate

Over at Kevin Drum's new digs there is a debate raging over the L.A. fast food burger scene, sparked by Kevin's dumbfoundedness over In-N-Out mania. As a denizen of the Southland, and a former denizen of the Minnesota frozen tundra, I can honestly say that it is a great tragedy that the high quality of LA fast food is not present in other places. Maybe it is the fast paced, car-centric lifestyle of Angelenos, or maybe its something else, but there is a huge variety of wonderful, greasy fast food here in the LA basin (and that doesn't even begin to touch on the great Mexican, Chinese, Thai ... I'm sure there is lots more, but lets stick to greasy burgers, for now). This whole argument, which, in the comments, brought up my three favorites (in no particular order, In-N-Out, Tommy's, and The Hat), also brings up two stories from my now considerably bygone, misspent college days.

Story the first

As a young, impressionable drunkard at Harvey Mudd College, I was prone to, shall we say, unpleasant gastrointestinal disorders on Sunday mornings. As a rule, we slept through the cafeteria brunch (not usually by choice, but a fortunate happenstance), and were forced to forage for lunch off-campus. Fortunately, a very short drive from campus (walk? yeah, right!) was a great restaurant, The Hat, famed for its pastrami sandwiches and chili fries. Now, the chili fries were famed in HMC lore as the best cure for a hangover. I am, in fact, a staunch believer in the healing properties of these chili fries. First, in order to understand their appeal, and their power, you must close your eyes, and envision a cardboard carryout tray, with a little plastic fry boat in the middle of it, with french fries piled high all over it. On top of that, slow cooked beef chili that cannot be described, only cherished, was ladled in massive quantities. Now, some would stop there, but the only true hangover cure was chili cheese fries, where a single slice of American cheese was stuck in the middle of the fries, to melt into the chili (now they use grated cheddar, which is a culinary improvement, but somehow diminishes the overall presentation, IMHO). Now, any normal, health conscious Angeleno would run screaming from this, but we were hungry, hungover, and twisted in a very wonderful way, and we devoured these things like we hadn't eaten in months. Of course, our stomachs were completely empty, and we hadn't kept down a meal in at least 18 hours, so that probably helped. Unfortunately for my waistline, when I came back to sunny SoCal, I moved into a house only a few miles from HMC, so I was compelled to partake further of The Hat's chili cheese fries. To make matters worse, there is another Hat about 1/2 mile from Caltech, where I work. I have verified (repeatedly!) that there chili cheese fries are as good as the Upland restaurant.

Story the second

If you thought that was bad, you have stopped at Tommy's burgers in Eagle Rock after playing a football game at Occidental! A traditional stop for the CMS Stags after their game at Occidental was the Tommy's in Eagle Rock, where the star of the show is a chili burger that will eat halfway through your esophagus on the way down. Suffice to say, 35 sweaty, large, hungry 18-22 year olds, riding on an airtight bus about 30 miles after each of them has eaten at least one Tommy's chili cheese burger, well, it isn't something you forget. It should also be obvious that the plumbing system at the Claremont Colleges got a severe test not long after that bus arrived. It's a tough call, but I have to give Tommy's "ultimate gut bomb" status, in a very close race with The Hat. Both teams should be very proud.