If you lived near a good diner when you were a kid, one with great sloppy hamburgers wrapped in waxed paper, one with milk shakes made from real ice cream, and a long counter overlooking the kitchen, that diner was probably a lot like Pie ’N Burger. In fact, if you grew up in Pasadena, that diner probably was Pie ’N Burger.
Pie ’N Burger is a restaurant frozen in time. Its first owner purchased the 1930s recipes of a Long Beach couple who ran a diner he admired. Eventually he handed the place over to the recipe originators who in turn passed it on to Michael Osborn, the present owner, who still sticks to the original ways of doing things right down to the brand names. “I buy Kraft mayonnaise because that’s what we’ve always used,” he says. “And Gold Medal flour and C&H sugar.”
Osborn began eating at P ’N B as a 9-year-old kid soon after it opened in 1963. His family lived in Arizona, but his grandmother, whom he visited each summer, lived in Arcadia and worked at the old Bullocks Pasadena around the corner from the diner. He loved the burgers. He loved the strawberry pie. As a USC student, he started working at Pie ’N Burger in 1972 and has been there ever since.
Under Osborn’s stewardship, the restaurant has added a few items to keep up with the times — a vegetarian burger, fresh fruit and cereal at breakfast. But mostly he’s kept things as they were. The Formica counter, the swivel stools, the longtime waitresses all remain. (It was just last year, a decade after the paper’s demise, that the Herald Examiner newsrack was removed from the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.) And the food is as it ever was.
Burgers are immense dripping affairs with toasted buns, lettuce, tomato, onion (grilled, raw or both) and Thousand Island dressing. The meat is prime, ground fresh by a local butcher every other day. Milk shakes and malts come with a metal sidecar holding what wouldn’t fit in the glass. Soft drinks are still mixed from syrup and soda water. In the unlikely event you have room for pie after your burger — or if you want to take it home for later — try the Dutch apple or peach. Or you could wait until next time for the pie, because one thing’s certain: It’ll taste pretty much the same. 913 E. California Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 795-1123.