The Glorious Greasy Foods of Los Angeles
Frito pie at Bar Ama
Mmmmm, grease. Whether it's late-night booze padding you're after, next-day hangover help, or simply the fat-kid glory of a meal that requires a stack of napkins, L.A. has you covered. We do grease very, very well.
We've got full-on British breakfasts that include multiple greasy meats. Hot dogs with a multitude of toppings. Fries with the word "gooey" in the name of the dish. And, of course, burgers. Lots and lots of wondrous, gut-bomb burgers. There's enough amazing greasy food in Los Angeles to fill a couple of books, but we've chosen 10 of our favorite examples.
Carne asada fries at Carnitas Michoacan
10. Carne Asada Fries at Carnitas Michoacan:
The carne asada fries at this Lincoln Heights local practically defy description. Everything inside the Styrofoam has been reverse-engineered for maximum flavor, even if that means doing away with the typical notion of what should sit on top of the fries. First those potatoes: wavy crinkles that have been perfectly fried so as to shatter at the edges and leave a soft, fluffy, starchy interior completely intact. Then the asada, a straightforward production of the protein that's seen a good bit of time on the grill and wears the flames well, but won't independently blow you away. Then the cheese, an almost soupy nacho variety -- but without all that oily, processed flavor -- that's laced with a crawling jalapeño heat. One or two bites and you might not notice, but after five or six you'll be reaching for a napkin, then diving back in for more. These are barely classifiable as carne asada fries, but with flavor like this, your mouth will be too full to speak up. 1901 N. Broadway, Lincoln Heights; 323-224-9044.
9. Potato Gold pizza at Mr. Pizza
The Potato Gold pizza is legendary, with ground beef, corn, potato wedges, bacon, sour cream and nacho chip flakes covering every available surface, and all on a sweet potato crust. This weighty, doughy construction, swirled like a creamy hypnodisc, so completely warps perceptions of what a pizza might be that it threatens to dent the space-time continuum itself. 3881 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; 213-738-0077.
See also: Tacos in L.A.: Your Ultimate Guide
Sooo Cali Dog at Dog Haus
Guzzle & Nosh
8. Hot dogs at Dog Haus
Pasadena's Dog Haus is one of the few places in town that distinguishes the fine line between creative hot dogs and condiment overloads. The quarter-pound hot dogs are substantial things, seared to the point of yielding an audible snap on the first bite, tucked into a couple grilled sweet Hawaiian rolls. The "Little Leaguer" covered in chili, cheese and crushed Fritos, or the "Grand Slam," topped with a breakfast platter of tater tots, bacon and a fried egg, are as good as they are formidable. The drawlingly titled "Sooo Cali" finds the best balance: a handful of green roughage, a few slices of avocado, tomato, shards of tempura-fried onion and a thorough dousing of zesty basil aioli. Pizza elitists were known to cluck their tongues when Wolfgang Puck first put BBQ chicken onto a crust. We imagine the hot dog bourgeois might share the same sentiment. Us? We'd prefer seconds. 105 N. Hill Ave., Ste. 104, Pasadena; 626-577-4287.
7. Colosso burger from Mom's Burgers
Everything on Mom's menu comes in a junior version; if it didn't, heart attacks would be imminent. Combos like The Chronic and The Colosso, with their audacious more-is-more aesthetic, have made Mom's Burgers semi-famous. Unwrap The Colosso ($8.03/$5.27), and it disgorges a mass of tender, salty pastrami masking the burger that lurks somewhere beneath the curling pink tongues of meat. William Blake said, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." Blake should have eaten here. 336 W. Alondra Blvd., Compton. (310) 632-6622.
English breakfast at Lucky Baldwins
6. Lucky Baldwins' Traditional Full English Breakfast
Breakfast can mean many things to many people. A perfectly constructed pastry from Joan's on Third. Brunch at Salt's Cure or Canele. A bowl of natto somewhere in Gardena. But for some people it means the sort of meal best served with a pint of lager and a Birmingham City match. The kind of meal that can last for many hours -- and many pints. At Lucky Baldwins, the British pub in Old Town Pasadena, this is accomplished with eggs (any style) and bangers (English) and bacon (Irish) -- all that protein nestled in amongst fried potatoes, a pool of baked beans (Heinz), a small pile of mushrooms and a lovely halved tomato fried up on the grill. 17 S. Raymond Ave. Pasadena; 626-795-0652.
Tater tots at Fab Hot Dogs
5. Tater tots at Fab Hot Dogs.
Fab Hot Dogs is known for its ripper dogs, a New Jersey specialty that puts a deep-fried beef and pork hot dog in a bun. Both the dog and the tots arrive in classic diner-style paper trays. The tots, jumbled together like unorganized spools of thread in your mother's sewing case, are piping hot and crispy. A good touch of salt and just a bit greasy, it's exactly everything your cafeteria tot was not. 19417 Victory Blvd., Reseda; 818-344-4336.
Downlow burger at Mar'Sel
4. Downlow burger at Mar'Sel
This burger is not only memorable, it may also be the best in Los Angeles. Done up as a high-end In-N-Out Double Double, the dual Wagyu patties are ground in-house and laid on with aged white cheddar and the sweetest pile of caramelized onions you'll find. Crunchy house pickles and a creamy aioli finish off the burger, with a pillowy bun to enclose all that goodness. This burger requires two napkins: one to clean up all the burger juice, and another to wipe off the smile on your face. 100 Terranea Way, Rancho Palos Verdes; (310) 265-2836.
Ooey gooey fries at Chego
On the menu since Chego's original inception, Roy Choi's Ooey Gooey Fries are a perfect expression of the multicultural stoner-food aesthetic: an Asianesque variation on Cal-Mex carne asada fries sluiced with sour cream, sambal, chiles and gobs of melted cheese. And if that doesn't float your grease boat, not to fear: You can always order one of the rice bowls, with names like "chubby" and "beefy" and additions like egg and various fried bits. 727 N. Broadway, Unit 117, Los Angeles; 323-380-8680.
2. Frito pie at Bar Ama
In some respects, Bar Ama is two restaurants in one. The one we're concerned with for the purpose of this list serves giant mounds of guacamole, oozy bowls of queso dip and gut-bomb enchiladas smothered in cheese. It's slutty Mexican-American food made with better ingredients than is typical of the genre but with the same emotional underpinnings: salt, fat and a touch of delicious sleaze. Nana's Frito pie is the crowning glory of Bar Ama's particular brand of greasy brilliance: a dense stack of Fritos, chile con carne made from tongue, crema and, of course, lots of melty cheese. 118 W. 4th St., Los Angeles; 213-687-8002.
1. The Whipper at Hawkins House of Burgers
Forget what Jimmy Buffett says, the best cheeseburgers aren't found in paradise; they're found on the mean streets. Across the street from Watts' oldest and largest housing project and a few blocks away from the iconic Watts Towers is Hawkins House of Burgers, a small grocery store that has developed a reputation for behemoth burgers over its half-decade of business.
The Whipper is an impressive construction of double-stacked beef patties melted together with American cheese and topped off with shaved pastrami and a butterflied hot link. The pastrami is peppery and tender, the sausage link snaps and bursts with spicy juice, and the hand-shaped beef patty is griddled to a fine char. Topped with mustard, onions, dill pickle chips and sweet relish, the Whipper tastes like a greatest-hits compilation of all things you could desire from the neighborhood burger shack. There probably aren't enough napkins in the world to keep this from dripping down your elbows -- this is a burger with strength. 11603½ S. Slater St., Watts; (323) 563-1129.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Los Angeles dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.