Every city has its share of iconic places to eat. In Atlanta, one of those places goes by the name of The Varsity and has been around since 1928. They still do the paper hat thing and the people taking orders are famous for asking “What’ll Ya Have?” As far as the food goes, it’s basically what you would expect from 1928: hot dogs, burgers, fries and onion rings.
Throughout the LA area are places called Tom’s, Tommy’s and any other variety of that name. They all specialize in chili-covered food and while Tommy’s is supposedly the original, Tom’s has done pretty well for itself. Tom’s just opened up a Pasadena outpost that is pretty much a diner, but also claims to have Greek roots. Thus, I was hoping this could be like the Coney Islands of Detroit in my youth.
Some cities have restaurants that have been around since the beginning of forever. In Washington, D.C., that place is Ben’s Chili Bowl, which I believe has been serving up chili since the Lincoln presidency. No? Well Eisenhower is close enough. Our current POTUS has paid the place a visit at least once and according to a sign is one of only two people (aside from his family) that eats free. The other, obviously, is Bill Cosby.
My trip to Ben’s Chili Bowl started out ominously. After waiting in line for more than 30 minutes and marveling at the inefficiency (perhaps some spillover from congress?), I had to run to a show down the street before ordering. Upon my return, however, I snagged a spot at the counter and was (at least in Ben’s Chili Bowl time) quickly waited upon.
I am a man of strong principles and one of these is that beans have no place in chili. Sorry, that’s not how we did it where I’m from and I intend to keep it that way. To see how this would fly, I recently put together a chili recipe to participate in a chili cookoff and took home the grand prize. So here it is, the Award Winning Unvegan Original No Beans About It Chili Recipe.
Shortly after moving to Pittsburgh, my friend and site designer alerted me to the existence of a hot dog place called The Original Hot Dog Shop in Oakland that had been around since 1960, which may not be old for Pittsburgh, but is damn old having come from LA. I like hot dogs and originals, but unbeknownst to me until showing up for lunch was that The Original Hot Dog Shop (also known as the Dirty O) is more of a late-night haunt than a lunch stop. Nonetheless, I wanted a good hot dog and was happy to eat it in a dingy spot with great late-night character in the middle of the day.
Back in January, some family friends were in town and encountered a burger truck called Rounds Burgers. To say they wouldn’t shut up about it would be an understatement, as when I saw them again in June those burgers were still the only thing they wanted to talk about. So, being the good unvegan burger connoisseur I am, I knew I had to check out Rounds before writing up my (almost) definitive list of LA’s top burgers.
Once upon a time, a sketchy-ass hot dog and sandwich hole in the wall sat upon an uncomfortable and small lot on Venice in Culver City. I meant to make it there, because sketchy-ass usually means delicious, but I didn’t make it before it was replaced by Mad Dogz, a shiny hot dog and burger hole in the wall that seems to invite in customers rather than scare them away. Although it took me a little bit to make it there, I made sure to check it out before it went the way of its predecessor.
In Sherman Oaks and a few other places in LA, there is a breakfasty-dinery type of restaurant called Jinky’s. But it is no ordinary breakfasty-dinery joint. I mean, sure, it has pancakes, eggs, burgers and sandwiches, but it also has something you don’t really see on too many menus – chili. Twenty different kinds of chili, in fact. Not every variety is available every day, but there is always some sort of chili and Jinky’s finds all sorts of ways to mix it into its extensive menu.
Like its cousin in Farmington Hills, The Hunter House in Birmingham is home to a true slider. It sits in a building reminiscent of White Castle with simple black lettering proclaiming its specialty: Hamburgers. But not just any hamburgers, these sliders are the stuff of legend. Skinny, greasy patties with buns steamed on top while cooking at The Hunter House were enough to get them named the best hamburgers in Michigan in 2009 by the Food Network Magazine. But for a place that’s been around since 1952, the accolades were hardly necessary.
On the way to basketball one night, I stumbled upon what appeared to be a food truck festival in a high school parking lot. I am nothing if not a man who takes advantage of such opportunities, so I pulled up and saw what they had to offer. A few of the trucks I had seen and eaten before, but some were new to me. One of these, freakishly painted as a Brisk iced tea ad, had just what I was looking for. Called The Greasy Wiener, this trucked dished out…well…hot dogs, with a side of sexual innuendo.