By DERRIK J. LANG
LOS ANGELES — There’s this weirdly unfounded reputation that just about everyone in Los Angeles is vegan and therefore sun-baked Angelenos only feast on the likes of kale and quinoa. Such a stereotype is antithetical to the City of Angels’ unhealthy obsession with the hamburger, an ongoing between-two-buns preoccupation that’s birthed hundreds of Southern California burger joints.
La La Land is now home to every imaginable make and model of burger, including the slick hipstery one at Father’s Office in Culver City and Santa Monica, a tongue-in-cheek Asian-inspired burger at Spice Table downtown, the over-the-top Hollywood rendition at 25 Degrees inside the historic Roosevelt Hotel, and the kitschy Umami Burger at the chain’s multiple locations.
While those are all great burgers — excellent, in some cases — they each seem unnecessarily complicated when compared to the must-eat classic served up at Capitol Burgers, an old-school hamburger stand in a not-so-glitzy part of town that’s been dishing out unadulterated yummy burgers and fries since 1965. For less than $5, visitors can drive away totally satisfied.
Before gourmet chefs slathered burgers with truffle aioli and In-N-Out Burger opened a gazillion outposts, Capitol owner George Stamos was crafting burgers for folks their way, right away. Stamos died earlier this year, but his family has kept the griddle fired up in honor of their patriarch, who originally immigrated to the United States from Greece.
Capitol’s standard double is pure: a pair of thin, perfectly charred quarter-pound patties topped with melted American cheese, an abundance of pickles and onions, thick slices of juicy tomatoes and a layer of crunchy iceberg lettuce. It comes on a spongy white toasted bun, wrapped in waxy paper and served on a makeshift tray crafted from an old cardboard beer box.
Capitol Burgers also serves other eats, too. The humongous servings of salty fries retain some of their skin and are equally delicious with or without a heaping helping of fresh chili. There’s milkshakes (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or pineapple), as well as some out-of-this-world pastrami and tamales. However, the burger is clearly the president of this Capitol.
Don’t expect an equally delicious setting though. With jail-like bars covering the windows and only a few outdoor picnic tables underneath Capitol’s now-vintage sign, it’s not really worth lingering. For that, the itty-bitty 66-year-old Apple Pan on the other side of town offers more atmosphere with its burgers — and indoor places to sit — in the form of a U-shaped counter.
When it comes to taste, Capitol’s squishy burgers and flawlessly seasoned fries can’t be matched, and the line outside is usually shorter than the nearest In-N-Out. The eatery’s unrefined approach definitely makes for a refreshing escape in a town where phoniness reigns supreme, but it’s probably best not to overthink the experience. It’s just a really, really good burger.