[Missed an installment? Catch up with 30 Burgers in 30 Days in our meaty archive.]
84-year-old burgerman Bill Elwell hasn't had a vacation in years, but he's threatening to retire as soon as he turns 90 — and take a cruise around the world with a bottle of Viagra. He may not be joking.
Inside what is literally a shack plunked down on a grimy stretch of Oxnard Street in Van Nuys, Elwell has spent decades frying the quintessential American fast-food burger, tossing thick slices of orange cheese onto sizzling patties. He hits his targets about 90% of the time.
These days, the shack is officially Bill and Hiroko's, thanks to Elwell's wife, who works alongside him. (His ex-wife, Sharon, also works the counter.) Old-timers, however, know the shack as Bill's — and they know the best seats at the tiny counter are the two stools closest to the grill. That's where the magic happens.
Meat & Bun: Ask anyone who's a regular at Bill's — and there are tons of them, people who travel miles out of their way to eat here, people who eat here on a thrice-weekly basis — and they'll tell you the secret to the burgers is the grill. It's been around since the 1930s, accruing decades of seasoning and, in turn, seasoning the meat that lands on it. One regular told me, “You can throw anything on that grill, and it would taste amazing.” He may be right, but we can only vouch for the patties.
Delivered fresh every day, these are small, thin, peppery patties, cooked all the way through and served on a classic white bread bun, its flat side properly grilled. They're well seasoned and juicy, with enough fat to keep the meat moist. This is the classic American fast food burger, elevated and epitomized.
The $3.15 burger is on the smaller side, satisfying without making you logey. Bigger appetites will definitely crave a double ($4.25).
Toppings: The burger comes with iceberg lettuce, a thin slice of tomato, a couple of pickle rounds, chopped onions and mayo. If you get a cheeseburger ($3.35), it's topped with a slice of thick-cut American cheese. In case you're wondering about other options, a sign reminds you: “This is not Burger King.” Thankfully.
Sides: A bag of Lay's potato chips costs $.35.
Dessert: A Ding-Dong costs $.45.
The Upshot: Make a beeline for Bill's when you're near Van Nuys on a weekday. It's only open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. Get a cheeseburger or, if you're very hungry, a double. One of Los Angeles' best cheap eats. CASH ONLY. (The vintage cash register won't tally more than $5.)
- Day 18: Pacific Dining Car in Koreatown
- Day 17: Pie 'n Burger in Pasadena
- Day 16: Blue Dog Beer Tavern in Sherman Oaks
- Day 15: Exotic Meats at Billy's Burgers
- Day 14: Ground & Pound at The Bucket
- Day 13: Bacon Heaven at The Oaks Gourmet Market
- Day 12: Lazy Ox Canteen
- Day 11: Cassell's in Koreatown
- Day 10: Burgers & Beer at The Bottle Room
- Day 9: Pretzel Buns at Hole In The Wall Burger Joint
- Day 8: Late Night Burgers at Eveleigh
- Day 7: Apple Pan Keeps on Truckin'
- Day 6: Perfection at Comme Ça
- Day 5: The Fix Is In
- Day 4: Fun with Buns at Rounds Premium Burgers
- Day 3: Whipped Cream & Other Delights at The Counter
- Day 2: Kimchi & Cultural Fusion at Kalbi Burger
- Day 1: Alcohol & Excess at GO Burger