Thursday, October 18, 2007

While I Get The Attraction -- Cassell's Burgers

Cassell's Hamburgers
(or, if you read the small sign in the window, "Hambugers")
3266 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 480-8668
Google Maps, Reviews, Info

In case you haven't been paying attention, Cassell's Burgers has consistently rated among the best burger joints in Los Angeles for many, many years; right up there with Apple Pan, Tommy's, the recently departed Mo' Bettah Meaty Meat Burger, and everybody's favorite In 'N' Out. L.A. Food Crazy loves him a good burger, yet I'd never made the pilgrimage to Cassell's, until yesterday.

I have probably made more hamburgers in my life than anyone you know. Not only did I work at Carl's Jr. as a teenager, but I still cook a couple hundred a year, most of them in one day -- I insist on personally grilling the burgers at our annual summer party. So I have opinions about 'em. And my opinions and prejudices very much color my take on Cassell's.

Cassell's has been making burgers since the thirties, and the room, tucked inconspicuously on an entirely nondescript corner in the Koreatown stretch of the Wilshire corridor, has a cool wartime vibe. The burgers are slung cafeteria-style. You grab a tray and order your burger, 1/3 or 2/3 pound, cheese or no. Your burger is cooked to order and the bun toasted in a single proprietary double broiler-device while you stand and read the articles on the wall extolling the virtues of the burger to come.

One lengthy L.A. Times feature posits three varieties of burger-stand burgers: "primo patties," which use high quality beef and usually fried and served with a plain bun to highlight the quality of the patty; mid-level "char-burgers," which are more likely to use flame grilled patties and sesame seed buns; and "grease bombs," where condiments are dominant, the patty merely a protein layer to act as a platter for the other ingredients. Who knew?

Once your burger is plated and delivered, you sidle down the condiment bar. This a truly impressive smorgasbord of burger bits: homemade mayonnaise, ketchupy relish, another spicier relish, hand-leafed lettuce, and most delightfully, beefsteak tomatoes and slices of onion that are uniformly huge and ,in fact, sized exactly to cover the entire beef patty. The resulting burger is an aesthetic delight, a stack that rivals the Capitol Records buildiing for rounded symmetry.

Then why did I find the Cassell's burger, while good, not great?

Part of it is personal taste. Cassell's claims to be a "primo patty" joint. You can even buy their grade A patties by the dozen to take home and cook yourself. But personally I prefer the flavor of a burger with grill marks and a hint of charcoaly char, and a sesame seed bun. And I frankly didn't find Cassell's patty to be that interesting... to my palate, ground beef patties rarely are.

That said, if you believe that a good burger is essentially about the condiments -- a greasebomb fan -- this is the place, because the condiments and your ability to adjust their quantities to taste is fantastic.

Oh, and those fries are terrific!


  1. Vintage is great and everything, but my fave L.A. burger is the Kobe burger at Lucky Devil on Hollywood blvd- get it with blue cheese. Add some fries and one of their many microbrew beers on tap - deee-lish! The best meat snack in town!

  2. Anonymous5:49 PM


    I have not been to Cassell's in 20 years but recall liking it very much. I really like the "build your own" approach. I used to love Flakey Jakes for this reason (I think it was on Pico near the 405).

    What struck me about your post was the photograph of your buger (I assume it was your burger) and the placement/order of the condiments.

    As a fellow alum of Carl's Jr. I strongly believe that the order in which the condiments are placed on the burger, and, especially whether they are mostly above, or below, the patty, is critical.

    For example, a Famous Star started with pickles, then lettuce, tomatoes, onion,THEN the patty. Both buns get mayo; special sauce on the top.

    Back in the Carl's days we tested ordering the condiments differently and the taste was different.

    As I recall, your burger is constructed more like an "Old Time Star" with the addition of lettuce and tomatoe (tip of the hat to Dan Q.)

    Keep up the good work.


  3. I love the Sonic Burger #3. Whattaburger (not in L.A.) kicks serious ass too. Kind of a Texas version of in n' out. Try it sometime when you're down there.

  4. Anonymous4:50 PM

    How did you order your burger? I find that Cassell's burgers are nicely juicy at medium rare or less. For me, the charcoal/grill quality you were missing becomes more of a factor as the burger gets closer to well done and is consequently less juicy.

    I do agree that their bun is unremarkable (lately I've been enjoying the brioche buns at 25 Degrees). I recall that the fries were pretty good, though.

    - SR

  5. Some excellent points here. It's true, Jeremy, that I stacked my burger "Old Time Star" star style... because as you can see from the photos, that's the way the burger is presented to you, open to the top. I could have moved the patty to the topside, but laziness will out.

    And I also did not specify a doneness level on my burger order. I read afterward that by default they serve well done. This is of course absurd, but I will go back and try again with a medium rare patty.

    And I've added Lucky Devil to my list!

  6. Anonymous3:36 PM

    I found Cassell's burgers the best in LA since fat face fenners Falloon in Hermosa Beach in the 70s. I not only loved the condiment bar, and their yummy complimentary potato salad, I loved the tastiness of the meat and the fact that they will still make it rare without an expressed permision slip from your Lawyer

  7. Anonymous9:54 AM

    For accuracy's sake, Al Cassell started the place when he got out of the Navy after WW2. (It was originally across Wilshire from Bullock's Wilshire.) I've writen about it 3 times (LA Times Magazine, West, Rolling Stone, and Oui, a reprint of which is still posted on the wall). The current owners may have expanded the menu beyond Alvin's basics, but the burgers are still great./Larry Dietz

  8. Anonymous12:10 PM

    Lettuce should never go below the patty in a good hamburger. It prevents the bun from absorbing the juices, which then run out onto your lap. Carl's Jr. could put lettuce under the patty, because those pieces of shoe leather have no juices to worry about.

  9. I went there once. I wasn't impressed. I've never been back. I had better hamburger patties at the Gardena High School cafeteria. But I get the vintage factor.