The Apple Pan
When I occasionally watch silly programs on the Food Network with titles like The Top 10 Places to Get Your Shoes Shined While Eating Soft Serve Ice Cream, it makes me wonder if those places are really worth the hype. They make all of them look fantastic, but when you have personal experience, sometimes the hype falls flat. I saw a glowing review (might have been on the Travel Channel, to be fair) of The Stinking Rose in Los Angeles. This is not a bad restaurant. This is a terrible restaurant. If you love garlic, which I do, it seems like a slam dunk. To give them credit, they manage to do very difficult things - like making garlic taste and smell unappetizing.
Anyways, the Top 10 Burger lists often include a small shack in Los Angeles called The Apple Pan. I used to go there when I was at UCLA. It was run (and I believe owned) by a big, somewhat ruddy man who would interrupt you halfway through your order. "Hi, I'd like a Hicko-" and he'd cut you off with a brusque, "Ok, what else?" I believe he sold it, but now it is run by a smaller, somewhat darker complected man who is slightly less brusque. Besides that, I don't think it's changed in 60 years.
And that's a good thing. The Apple Pan is a benchmark. It's heavy and the taste is rich, and they practically throw the burger at you (although I feel like the old owner had perfected the art of throwing the burger - now it just feels like it's slapped down quickly as opposed to being an actual projectile). The Hickory Burger - great. It's one mass of taste. The Steakburger - great. The fries - well, I'll stick with very good. I'll leave the pie to others - suffice to say I like the pie. Pie is the answer - not sure what the question was. But the burger is the star. The taste, texture and sauce are all perfect and distinctive.
My one criticism is that somehow the whole things pulls together with a bit of a heaviness that I don't like. Hard to describe, but Umami Burger has a similar feeling; it sits in your stomach and takes about two months to digest. Meanwhile, I feel like In-N-Out is light and fluffy like a cloud. Well, maybe not exactly like a cloud - maybe like a rainbow. Ahem. Anyways.
After coming back from Japan recently, I went to The Apple Pan for my first meal. The burger is great; it easily matches anything in Tokyo. However, it's jarring to compare the perfect plating of Tokyo establishments to the workman-like atmosphere in an American joint. The Tokyo restaurants attempt to carefully replicate the "perfectly" sloppy plating of American burger joints; you'll learn more about Japanese culture comparing burgers than majoring in college (I've tried both).
The interior is the same. It works. You sit at a diner style counter with people standing behind you waiting for their turn. They probably throw a new coat of paint on the walls every 20 years. Yet it has the raw authenticity that the Japanese try to copy (and often succeed). Which is better? Try both and let me know. I'm on the fence. I like authenticity, but I don't mind "new and improved" authenticity.
Ambience 8/10, Burger 8.5/10, Fries 7.5/10