A Love Letter to One of the Last Greasy
Spoons in West Hollywood
By Dave White
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
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