By Jim McLauchlin
One look around will tell you that Los Angeles leads the league in image consciousness and plastic surgery. So why, in the land of the wispy-thin supermodel, does everything come slathered in chili?
Bob Auerbach has an answer. “That’s just part of L.A. That’s Hollywood, the Beverly Hills crowd, the stuff you see on TV. At its core, L.A. is a nuts-and-bolts town of hard-working people who want down-home food. The people who turn the wrenches in this city love chili.”
Auerbach should know. He’s the stepson of L.A. chili burger icon Tommy Koulax, and he’s worked as a regional supervisor for Original Tommy’s for 30 years. Original Tommy’s has 31 locations in Southern California, and as you might imagine, serves some of Auerbach’s favorite food. Not that there isn’t other great stuff as well.
“L.A. has other icons—Philippe’s, Pink’s, The Pantry,” Auerbach says. “Some of these places have been around for 90, 100 years. And the common thread is it’s all good, hearty food. That’s what people want.”
The City of Angels is chili heaven. So next time you’re in L.A., skip the visit to the Botox clinic and instead have one of the five greatest chili dogs or chili burgers in L.A. (Procedural note: If you insist on both, have the dog first.)
In order to savor the flavor, we’re splitting our ranks-and-reviews in two. Nos. 4 and 5 on our list of the top five chili-burger/dog places will appear in this installment; Nos. 1 through 3 will appear next time.
Legend has it that founder Ray Byrne was serving up hot dogs and coleslaw at a housewarming party in 2009 when the simple idea hit him of layering the slaw on the dogs. Byrne and his guests loved it, and in 2010, The Slaw Dogs Café was born.
Slaw Dogs are popular at all three of its locations—Pasadena, Duarte, and Woodland Hills—but item No. 1 on the menu is still “The Traditional”: A chili dog with cheddar, mustard and onions ($4.99). The chili is made with beer—always a winner—and makes a great meal all on its own.
The dog is a quarter-pound Vienna Beef that comes grilled or steamed. The bun is giant enough that you can actually pick it up even after a generous swath of chili is applied. Take our advice, and take the slaw—which has a vinegary tang and some beefy chunks of cabbage—on the side.
720 N. Lake Ave. #8, Pasadena, 626-808-9777; 1355 Huntington Dr., Duarte, 626-358-8898; 19801 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, 818-887-8882.
Is Big Tomy’s an imitator? Guilty as charged (and more on that later). But regardless of whether this is a terminal case of imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery, Big Tomy’s has carved out a niche all its own. The restaurant sits right under the 405, the Busiest Damn Freeway in America, and caters to a decidedly blue-collar clientele. Get there at noon and you’ll see plaster-covered painters and concrete masons still wet from the morning’s work with giant take-out boxes of burgers for everyone back at the job site. Big Tomy’s is the kind of place where you say, “Give me the combo,” and everyone knows what you’re talking about—a chili burger, fries and a drink for $5.99. The burger, a juicy and solid quarter-pound, comes oozing chili out of its paper wrapper, and can get any electrician or carpenter (and his posterior fissure) through the rest of his work day. The chili has just a hint of spice, so do what I do—grab a few of the pickled sport peppers to go with it.
Bonus: Big Tomy’s is open 24 hours, with a nice 3 a.m. mix of after-bar drunks and late-shift local-haul truckers. Try the chili cheese fries to soak up those nine Budweisers in your gut, huh?
11289 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-479-0601.
The top three are just around the corner, but rest assured you won’t have to wait long. After all, what else is Foodie Friday for?
Jim McLauchlin is a regular contributor to Playboy and Wired. You can, should you so desire, “follow Jim McLauchlin on Twitter,” as the kids say. It’s @McLauchlin.