Fast, Cheap and Nearly Perfect

The calendar may say that summer is coming to an end, but the thermometer — and more importantly, the menu — say, it’s just getting warmed up. The handheld favorites that have been feasted upon since Memorial Day are still in good taste. 

Los Angeles is a lot of things, but will always be a burger town. We do them special here whether it’s with beef, chicken, fish, mushroom, soy, whatever — we’ll take what you got and stick it in a brioche bun, slap on some slaw and call it lunch. Sometimes, it’s a work of art, sometimes, it’s just a flash in the pan. 

But here are a trio of bona fide masterpieces worthy of your consideration. I’ve chosen them as examples of what fast food is capable of in its simplest form — no fancy trimmings, no wait list, no hefty price tag — the embodiment of less is more. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have seconds, of course… or thirds. 

Dave’s Hot Chicken

Who doesn’t love hot spicy chicken? Dave’s offers a sliding scale of heat, from none to reaper. And if you like to breathe fire, reaper is the way to go. As much as I like a good hot chicken sandwich, with the counterbalance of a refreshing slaw and a thick bun, I’m a purist when it comes to superhot chicken. And Dave’s does oblige, serving it breaded in tender form on a bed of white bread, with housemade kale slaw and tangy pickle chips on the side. 

Dave’s Hot Chicken (courtesy phohto)

OK, it’s not a burger, it’s not even a chicken sandwich at this point, but it’s a masterpiece in the same vein. 

And there’s no better way to put out the fire of reaper-level heat than with a frosty milkshake made with real ice cream. A Fanta orange soda is also a personal favorite. The menu is simple and direct. This is a fast-casual that knows exactly what it is and what its patrons want, and doesn’t try to be all things to all people. 

Dave’s feels like a hole-in-the-wall joint you might luckily discover after a night of drinking. In fact, it began as a parking lot pop-up just four years ago. It’s first brick-and-mortar, on the east side of Hollywood, made Dave’s a cult classic. Since then, it’s exploded and has begun franchising across the U.S. and beyond. The rights to nearly 300 franchise locations have been sold nationwide and in Canada. Thirty new locations will open this year. 

Chris ‘N Eddy’s 

Another pop-up hits the bigtime, Chris ‘N Eddy’s is all about the sliders. Again, no encyclopedic menu and no uncertainties about their specialty. The only question is how big a slider do you want? They do single- and double-deckers. This is the burger at its purest: never-frozen beef, cheese, grilled onions and Chris ‘N Eddy’s secret sauce on the side. You take your slider and just dip it right into that sauce and you’ve got something incredibly simple, yet near-perfect in its execution. 

Chris ‘N’ Eddy’s sliders and waffle fries (courtesy photo)

Sides are simple and delicious — waffle fries and tots. You’ve got to love a place that does crispy tots. They’re good with ketchup, obviously, but they’re pretty great with that Chris ‘N Eddy’s sauce, too. 

Born in a Los Feliz parking lot, it now has a home on Sunset Boulevard (near Western Avenue), having recently launched what is hopefully the first of many locations. 

Black Sheep Burgers

Located in the heart of Sawtelle, one of the absolute best dining districts in all of Southern California, Black Sheep seems a little out of place at first among the noodles, ramens, hot pots and other East and Southeast Asian fare. And if you want a traditional American-style burger and old-timey crinkle fries served with a cane sugar root beer, you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking so. And that would be enough right there, as they knock it out of the park. 

Black Sheep Signature Burger

But the distinctively Asian culinary influences of this restaurant-heavy stretch of boulevard is seemingly everywhere, whether you expect it or not: Hermanito is much more than mere Mexican food, Plan Check is a corkscrew twist on burgers and beers… Millet Crepe, B Sweet, Chitchat Coffee, the list goes on. And Black Sheep is no exception, from the Katsu California Roll burger to the Yuki Spicy Tuna burger. 

But this list is about simplicity and affordability, and the top-of-the-menu Black Sheep is a Platonic burger: beef patty, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, mayo, 1,000 Island. That iconic combination of flavors and textures is one of the great synergies in all of history. Each of those ingredients is perfectly fine on its own, but bring them all together in one bite, and you’ve got bliss. 

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