Smart guy Calvin Trillin once said that "anyone who doesn't think that the best hamburger place in the world is in his hometown is a sissy." Luckily, the best hamburger place in the world is in my hometown.
Pie 'n Burger serves the essential Southern-California-style cheeseburger. The SoCal-style cheeseburger is the world's essential cheeseburger, ergo, Pie 'n Burger serves the world's essential cheeseburger.
What is the SoCal cheeseburger? It's travelled far-and-wide in corrupted form, as the Big Mac, and not-so-far in fine form, as the In-N-Out double-double. It consists of thinner patties well-seasoned with griddle grease. The bun is nice and spongy but not too fancy. Crunchy iceberg, onions, and melted American cheese are necessary, pickles are welcome, but tomatoes are optional.
The key ingredient, though, is sauce. It must be a variation on Thousand Island dressing, although recipes can vary. (According to legend, the Pie 'n Burger recipe comes from the Kraft company back in the '60s.) The sauce provides the tang, the punch, and the balance. The sauce ties the room together.
Pie 'n Burger's sauce is simply perfect. It's copiously drippy but doesn't overpower the burger. You won't forget it's there, but it won't constantly remind you either. It's the best there is.
The patties are packed with meat and grease flavor, owing to the griddle's decades of service. They probably didn't taste just right until a few tens of thousands of burgers laid a seasoning base. Now, they do.
What else does Pie 'n Burger serve? The fries are better than they used to be, but nothing to travel for. The shakes will satisfy. The pie? It's classic, Grandma style — totally basic and yet sometimes what you need.
As is appropriate for this breed of gluttony, the restaurant is a dingy lunch counter with at-best-begrudging service. It's risen to moderate notoriety since I moved out of my parent's house — a trend that I think can be attributed to a Serious Eats article leading to a Food Network mention leading to hordes of idiotic Yelpers descending on the place.
Don't worry, though, I've checked back in, repeatedly, and the place is still going strong. It's the paragon of the form.
Pie 'n Burger is a piece of my childhood, and the cheeseburger has been my favorite in the world since I was 10. It still is.
Majestic — see above. Unless you're just stopping in for dessert, it must be ordered, with cheese. I recommend onions, both grilled and raw play well with the tang of the sauce. If you love cheeseburgers, this is joy in wax paper.
You're going to get some, just for textural contrast. They're definitely a lot better than the steak fries they used to serve.
A "Pulp Fiction"-esque vanilla and chocolate shake. Split one unless you're REALLY feeling it.
The old Americana. Banana cream/lemon meringue are good picks, but you'll basically get the platonic ideal of whatever kind of pie you order. Including apple, of course.