Gourmet burgers are a wonderful concept — and are often executed beautifully, too — but we can never forget about the originals, the thin-patty, vegetable-heavy cheeseburgers that are emblems of Southern California.
Bill's Burgers in the San Fernando Valley has changed its name a couple of times, but it has never changed its style: a simple roadside stand with no pretensions, just a short menu of sandwiches and burgers. No fries.
Bill Elwell started the burger stand in the mid-1960s, in a windblown, industrial stretch of the Valley that Van Nuys and Sherman Oaks sometimes fight over. Then the stand sat on a patch of dirt, and burgers cost less than $1. It's still pretty grubby, with seats at the outside counter or behind the restaurant, at a long table in a shack.
Fans know this is part of the charm. And there are plenty of fans who show up on weekdays, cash in hand, to get a burger topped with iceberg lettuce, tomato, chopped onions, pickles and mayonnaise. It's best to add cheese and make it a double. This is one of those “sum greater than its parts” burgers, where the onion is tempered by the mayonnaise and the peppery meat doesn't get lost in the American cheese.
As mentioned, you can't get fries at Bill's, but you will end up getting a side of attitude. Elwell is a grouchy guy, though it's probably all for show. His ex-wife Hiroko Wilcox had her name on the sign for a few years, and since it's been removed, you'd think the split was acrimonious. But she's still working in the kitchen, and another of Elwell's exes is usually taking customer orders. He must secretly be a nice guy. Just don't ask for fries.
14742 Oxnard St., Van Nuys. (818) 785-4086, facebook.com/bills-burgers.