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Fatburger: The Best Burger Joint You’ve Never Tried

By • Jun 18th, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog

Fatburger is one of those chains I’d heard of (probably because of that overtly-obnoxious name) but never been to.  Then, at a red light a few miles from home, I suddenly saw one I’d never noticed before, sandwiched between a Starbucks and some place wanting to buy my gold.  I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t have a trunk full of gold to sell.  But a new cheeseburger joint?  Now you’re talking.

Turns out Fatburger has some serious history.  In 1947, a young woman named Lovie Yancey, along with a business partner, opened a hamburger stand in L.A. called Mr. Fatburger.  In 1952, the partner split, but Miss Yancey stayed on and dropped the “Mr.” from the name, calling her new place Fatburger.  She quickly made a name for herself with never-frozen, cooked-to-order burgers, real onion rings, and thick-cut fries.  In what was a trailblazing endeavor for an African-American woman at the time, Yancey set out to not just run a successful burger stand, but expand as a chain.

Now, over a half-century later, there are 96 locations in 14 states and 5 foreign countries.  And just as Lovie always had a jukebox blasting to show off her love of music, the entertainment community has always embraced Fatburger in turn.  Magic Johnson was co-owner of the parent company for a time.  Kanye West, Queen Latifah, TV host Montel Williams, and former NFLer Orlando Brown all own a few stores.  Fatburger has been immortalized in song, appearing in Notorious B.I.G.’s “Going Back to Cali” and “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube.  Rapper Pharrell opened locations in China.  Last year, over 40,000 voters named Fatburger the Best Burger in L.A.  (And remember, this is the town that made In-N-Out a sacred institution.)

So I felt like an honorary member of the Cool Club as I hit my local Fatburger (just 1 of 2 in the whole state).  The neon sign proclaims it to be “The Last Great Hamburger Stand,” but it seemed an empty boast.  It was prime lunch hour within walking distance of a sprawling medical complex and business office park, but while the neighboring Chick-fil-A and Panda Express were booming with customers, I had Fatburger almost to myself.   Just me and the jukebox (which wasn’t even on, in favor of SportsCenter).

I ordered a half-pound Kingburger.  Other sizes include the 2.5-oz. Baby Fat, the third-pound Fatburger, or a Double or Triple King.  They come with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, mustard, mayo, and relish… unless you specify otherwise.  (I 86′d all but the cheese, onions, and mayo.)

The burger is wrapped in wax paper, just the way Miss Yancey did it way back when, I’m sure.  Interestingly enough, the wrapper lists several unadvertised ordering options, including bacon, chili, an egg, green onions and something I’ve not seen officially offered anywhere else, char.

First off, they employ a unique cheese placement, putting it under the patty.  The burger itself was well-flattened, in contrast to what I think when I hear “Fatburger.”  Although I didn’t order it, there were welcome bits of char dotting the meat.  The bun felt squishy and soft.  Things were looking up.

Fatburger did not disappoint.  Honest to God, the first thing that came to mind was Samuel L. Jackson’s line from Pulp Fiction: “Mmm, this is a tasty burger!” Fatburger obviously uses a pretty lean meat blend, because this was not in the least bit greasy and had a lot of chew, the kind of burger you could put away more than one of.  Loved the onions and mayo, crazy about the bun (just squishy enough on top, just griddled enough on the flat sides).  And I’d need another 600 words to gush over the Maui-Banana milkshake I used to wash it all down.

Sadly, the world lost Miss Lovie Yancey in 2008.  But thankfully, her spirit lives on at Fatburger.  There may not be many of them, but they’re worth seeking out.

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