Irv's Burgers

I Heart Irv's
A Love Letter to One of the Last Greasy Spoons in West Hollywood

By Dave White
Frontiers Magazine

West Hollywood residents are often painted with a single monochromatic brush. Ask about the eating habits of its gay population and a short list emerges: protein shakes, chicken breasts, broccoli. It's a myth we like to promote even among our own kind. We would never touch something so greasy and toxic as a cheeseburger – something so full of fat and carbs that you might as well drive yourself to the emergency room immediately after eating one. What kind of homosexuals do you think we are, anyway?

Dining establishments that deviate from that myopic fantasy of West Hollywood – places that aren't Lucques or Ago or the juice bar at Crunch – don't get a whole lot of attention. But those of us who'll gladly admit to loving foods that are full of fat and carbs know a secret: The best place to get your fill of both is Irv's.

I never see it in those annual "Best of L.A." lists that pop up in local newspapers and magazines. I never hear the name issued from the carnivorous lips of burger aficionados when they talk about their favorite places. But Irv's Burgers, which has been around since 1950, is the best hamburger stand in Los Angeles. In fact, it's more than a hamburger stand – it's a place that embodies the best human qualities you might care to find in this big, often impersonal city.

Sonia Hong runs the place with her mother and older brother. She's there from morning until night, whipping up breakfast burritos for the staff at West Hollywood City Hall before 9 a.m. and holding down the fort during the lunch rush, when the line can stretch out onto the sidewalk. The people in that line know what they want: a hamburger that didn't come from a box in a freezer; one that's been shaped by hand and doused with just enough condiments; and fries that have never known a processing plant's machine blades. This is homemade food as delicious, if not more so, as any offered from the competing burger places with bigger advertising budgets and multiple locations. Yeah, it'll break your Atkins streak, but a life devoted to perfect abs is a life devoid of pleasure. And this place is positively sybaritic.

Yet Irv's Burgers isn't strictly about food; it's a neighborhood gathering place, its warmth rivaling your grandmother's kitchen. My Irv's experience is the same nearly every time I go. I walk up to the window and I'm greeted by Sonia, who cheers, "Hello, Dave! Long time, no see!" (It doesn't matter if it's only been 48 hours since my last visit.) Then she tells me my order – Number 2 (a double cheeseburger), hold the pickles, with onion rings and orange soda. Sonia tells me my order because she knows what I want. She's memorized my favorite thing, as well as the favorite thing of every person behind me in line. If they've visited her domain more than a few times, she'll call them out by name and favorite menu item, too. Next, I'm ushered to one of the metal tables with plastic chairs. If it's a slow time of the day, it's not unheard of for Sonia to make up a song with my name in it, clapping and bouncing as she serenades me. I've seen her do this for other people as well. I know I'm not that special. And even if it's not a slow day – even if the line is down to the end of the block, even if she's busting it getting everyone's order correct – I always get a handwritten note in black Sharpie on my paper plate. Usually it says "Just for Our Dave." Last Dec. 23, she drew Santa on it. On Jan. 2, I got "Peace to #1 Dave in 2004." I'm not picky about what it says, but I've come to expect it. This is behavior that goes beyond rote customer-service training-manual niceties. This is a woman who gives her heart to the people she cooks for.

So if you've never been to this bright spot in WeHo, put down your Thighmaster and get in line for one of Sonia's burgers. But be quick about it. As I write this, Irv's is in danger of being demolished to make room for a Peet's Coffee in the seemingly never-ending mallification of idiosyncratic urban life. Their lease is due to be terminated and a beloved institution may, sadly, vanish into thin air. Get your fries and loving paper-plate notes while you still can.

Irv's is located at 7998 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. 323/650-2456.


IRV'S BURGERS Since 1950
7998 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90046

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