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The Apple Pan hickory burger revisited (with clear eyes)

It seems like it's been quite a few weeks since there's been a heated debate on this board about The Apple Pan. I think we're overdue.

Personally, I hadn't been to Apple Pan in a few years, admittedly because I was never impressed with the place the several times I had been there before. But time can change one's perspective and taste...

Or not.

I was in an out-of-control burger mood today, and was already on Pico in West L.A., so I figured it was time to give Apple Pan another shot. Walking in at about 4:30 PM, the place was near capacity and I was lucky to get the last of the uncomfortably cramped stools immediately. It didn't seem like anything had changed there except the fairly steep prices. I ordered a hickory burger with cheese, fries, and a Diet Coke. Total: $11.10 ($13.00 with tip). Reality check: For that much, I could get the Double-Double combo at In 'N Out two and a half times.

Which is IMHO unquestionably a superior, saner option. I'm sorry, but the legendary Apple Pan burger is nothing the least bit special. If you're a first-timer going in with any notion that you're going to be served a classic thick, juicy burger, that illusion will likely be shattered as soon as you take your first bite. The patty, just as I remembered, is still cardboard thin, close to what you'd find at most fast-food restaurants. The sandwich was dominated by a huge wedge of iceberg lettuce with a barely perceptible bit of pickle and a single slice of cheese (50 cents extra). Tomato is not even an option. The famed hickory sauce is passable, but of no better quality than what you might purchase off any supermarket shelf. Overall, the burger tasted just fine, but was not in any way superior to what you'd expect to get from most any diner, coffee shop or Fatburger stand.

I will concede that the fries were excellent. Mine were fresh out of the fryer, very hot, golden brown and crispy.

I did not feel up to spending an additonal $5.50 for a slice of any of their pies, which I also remember as overrated.

I think the Apple Pan is just another of L.A.'s inglorious dives whose legendary status does not conform with reality. (See Canter's for another recently debated example.) Frankly, I don't see how anyone finds Apple Pan's food to be leaps and bounds ahead of its "bastard child," the Johnny Rocket's chain. Yes, you can certainly do much worse locally than an Apple Pan burger. But given the hype and the prices, that just ain't nearly good enough.

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  1. Amen, total hype. And you have to fight chaotic parking etc. to boot.

    1. Agree completely. And you didn't even mention the difficult traffic and tight parking. Add to that standing against the wall like a schoolchild waiting for one of the seats to clear during busy hours.

      Story a couple of decades ago was that the owners held out against the developers of the Westside Pavilion additions and kept their property. Kudos for that. But rather than turn out a really great thick carefully cooked burger, you get a fairly chintzy sandwich. Now Merrill Schindler does rave about the tuna sandwich and says that's what to get there. Or stop in for a slice of pie -- but who wants to battle the parking and prices to do that?

      1. My vote for best old school burger is still Pie N Burger in Pasadena; you'll get your pie fix as well!

        1. "but was not in any way superior to what you'd expect to get from most any diner, coffee shop or Fatburger stand."

          You were right on about everything except the above. A chargrilled Fatburger is pretty darned good - certainly way beyond Apple Pan's (which I've been to a handful of times in 30 years and ALWAYS found subpar)

          8 Replies
          1. re: Briggs

            I'm with you Briggs. It wasn't at all my intention to denigrate Fatburger, which I agree is pretty fantastic. I'm so sorry if that sentence came across negatively. I was just trying to come up with an example of a quality chain other than the others I cited, In 'N Out and Johnny Rocket's.

            1. re: Arthur

              I'm not going to wade into the Apple Pan question as the thread's getting repetitious but are you & Briggs really both okay with Fatburger's doneness restrictions (medium-well or well only)? It has been over three years since the chain went to a no-medium policy.

              Have either of you had a Fatburger store make you a medium or less burger within the past month, and if so, which store and what time of day?

              1. re: Alimentary My Dear Watson

                I have never had a problem with a Fatburger as-is at any location, so that is a non-issue for me.

                1. re: Alimentary My Dear Watson

                  Over at the Fatburger by USC, I've had no problems ordering fatburgers cooked medium. I've actually been doing it throughout my grad school career here and am incredibly happy with them. I actually had no idea a no-medium policy was put into place...

                  1. re: sklathill

                    Thanks, sklathill.... I have not found one willing to do this for a long time. (I also lived on them during grad school.)

                    I think doneness doesn't matter to a lot of people.

                    1. re: Alimentary My Dear Watson

                      I had a medium burger at the Santa Monica location maybe a few months ago, but it was the middle of the day on a weekday.

                  2. re: Alimentary My Dear Watson

                    i haven't had one in awhile, but the Sepulveda/Venice location would ALWAYS serve the Kingburger (or whatever) at the requested medium rare - as well as chargrilled.

                    1. re: Briggs

                      I haven't eaten at the FB on Ventura in Woodland Hills for some time so I'm surprised about the no rare policy. However, right on the other side of the street is Boulevard Burger, where you'll get your burger rare, with grilled onions and grilled chilis. Their well done fries are great. I urge you to give it a try. Or you could go back to the other side of the street to Gorikee for a Whimpy Burger - excellent!

              2. I completely agree on the burger. Never understood the hype. Now, the Banana Creme pie...that is a completely different story. Worth the $$ and parking hassle.

                Nice OP, btw.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Jeet Yet

                  The tuna, fries and coffee are delicious. That is all I care about. And if you haven't ordered banana cream pie, then you haven't had their best pie. I don't really like any of the ingredients separately-- bananas, cream or pie-- but the Apple Pan made me love them together.

                  Do not eat the Pie 'N Burger version of Banana Cream Pie-- it is covered in merengue, not cream. Yuck. And my cream was clumpy. Double Yuck.