Apparently December is to go down as the month of unmet burger expectations, which is not necessarily a bad thing, just the reality regarding a recent short string of meals that were not exactly what we hoodburgerers thought they would be. My review this week was intended to be an homage to old faithful, as I do from time to time for you traditionalists (see Pie and Burger, and T.K.’s), despite the fact that I had not yet been to this particular pillar of the L.A. burger pantheon. I have however heard this name spouted time and time again from people offering their opinions (solicited or otherwise) on the best burger around, and they’ve been around for about 70 years. If that wasn’t enough, National Geographic listed this place as the best burger in the country (which now that I have eaten there, confirms my suspicion that Nat Geo should stick to knowing about beautiful photos of glaciers and leave the burgers to the fat boys [me]).
The neon-lit exterior of the Apple Pan looks like it borrowed its inspiration from a seedy hotel in any rural area in the country, which for the record I am not mad at. I walked inside at 9:45 p.m. on a Tuesday and there were 2 empty seats in the whole place. Multiple couples were waiting for others to finish so that they could be seated. To be fair, the restaurant probably couldn’t fit more than 20 diners at a time. I didn’t count the stools, but all of the seating is around a 3-sided horseshoe shaped bar that encircled the cold parts of the kitchen. Clean-cut young men dressed identically to those who serve a similar function and in a similarly cheery fashion to those at In & Out whizzed about dropping off mounds of French fries on small paper plates and taking orders to memory. Everything is served in or on disposable ware: paper plates, Styrofoam cups, and if you order a soft drink they give you a paper cone and an adorably vintage looking holder for it. I’m not too keen on the disposable stuff, but it’s fair to say, so far so good.
First came my fries, far enough in advance of the rest of the meal they could easily be considered an appetizer. This worked out fine, because it was late and I was starving, though typically I would have not been impressed. They were nothing to write home about but were hot, crisp and just what I would expect from a frill-free venue such as this. Upon them hitting the counter my server slung another tiny paper plate down and poured me a sea of ketchup with zero provocation. I didn’t need it, but the showmanship drew my appreciation. Then came my burger.
More showmanship, which, much like the sketch-ball motel exterior design; is not lost on me. The guy set the thing (wrapped in a paper sleeve) on its side and slid it upright down the bar to me with no plate. I have never felt more like a young John Cusack in my life (and I’m not even making reference to an actual movie moment, I just felt that cool). I was so excited! I snatched that burger up, took a huge bite, and tasted nothing but pickle relish. Like, nothing. Their “special” sauce is ketchup and either 2 kinds of relish or sweet relish with a splash of vinegar, but either way, you get a LOT. Mine also had Tillamook sharp cheddar cheese (an additional $.50 well spent), dill pickles, mayo, and a fat wad of fresh iceberg lettuce, also a la In & Out, all on a plain white bun. Now it wasn’t bad mind you, all the parts described were just as good as could be expected, but I think Apple Pan fell victim to its hype outshining its product. Based on its reputation, I expected magic and the burger itself did not really deliver.
Being that hoodburger is about burgers this review probably appears critical, but it needs addressing that the burger was the only disappointing part of the entire experience. I made friends with nearly everyone in the whole place due to the close proximity/communal seating, and had what would probably have gone down as the best apple pie of my life had I not been too full of mediocre burger to fully appreciate it. So for you traditionalists (and definitely pie lovers) I still would recommend trying Apple Pan if you never have, because it seems that 70 years and multiple national recognitions later I am pretty much the only one on earth not impressed by their burger. And for those of you more like myself who prefer that the list of their burger’s toppings be bursting with hyphens and accent marks, stay tuned, because there are still undiscussed bougie burgers a-plenty.