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Tommy's a retrospective

There are few franchised eating establishments that dot the southern California landscape worth mentioning in a food blog. As you might guess the majority of these would be fast food. In-n-out and Tommy’s are two that come to mind, that might be considered institutions, perhaps maybe even iconic.

Lately, after not really enjoying the sandwich known as a burger most of my life, I have come to a long for an in-n-out cheese burger and indulge myself on rare occasions, and even more recently I have started to crave a burger that I once had in college. A little place over on Beverly and Rampart that we would drive to after the UCLA football games at the Coliseum, (I know I am dating myself once again).

Tommy’s. I would stand in line and order mine, no onion no mustard and watch the big Samoan guy scowl at me for the special request, but dutifully make it for me non-the- less; the greasy cheesy chili mess all over my hands which later had to be washed with soap to remove the orange stains (from the grease and chili), a super thick slice of tomato, crisp pickles slices, and no mustard.

Today I indulged myself once again. Not living near, or wanting to drive to the “Original” Tommy’s. I decided to try one that was on my way home from the office. I assume they would all be as good, as conscientious about your burger, even with a scowl, the Samoan made mine right every time.

I drove through, Cheeseburger grilled onion, NO mustard. The cashier repeated my order to me and handed me a bag that was already beginning to turn a faint orange color on the bottom.

By the time I got home to eat the thing, I had worked myself into a Tommy burger froth. I found my camera do document the blessed event, carefully unwrapping and photographing the mess. Next I decided to cut the burger, since you really couldn’t see the inside from the frontal shot.

I cut the burger in two and separated the halves, licking the knife in anticipation of my first bite.

What did I taste?
No, it couldn’t be!

I removed the bun and yes, it was there, bright yellow, I took off the tomato, the pickle, and scraped off the onion until no yellow was to be seen. What was left? Chili, burger and cheese; I had a pink pit bull begging at my feet. I considered giving her what was left, half a bun, burger and chili, but I was hungry, so I knife and forked most of the remainder. I had heartburn by the time I was halfway through, probably more from the disappointment than from the food. The pretty pink pit bull shared the second half with me, I wonder if she got heartburn too.

Such an anti-climactic journey back in time, maybe one day I will journey back to Rampart and Beverly. I am sure the big Samoan who made sure there was no mustard on my burger 20 years ago is long gone, but hopefully replaced with someone just as conscientious, who maybe doesn’t scowl.
pictures here: http://rantsnravesnreviews.blogspot.com/

P.S. Obviously I really don't like mustard!

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  1. When I was at school at USC Tommy's was the Bounty quicker picker upper of my boozed out stomach.

    1. I feel your pain. I also loathe mustard, and no amount of scraping could salvage a burger or sandwich painted with it. I make a habit of asking most places about mustard, mayo, and other "sauces" they might ordinarily put on a burger and order without. But sometimes there are surprises, like the much-praised burger at Houston's that came with unadvertised mustard that I had to send back.

      You said this wasn't the original Tommy's at Rampart and Beverly. So where was it? I'm not so sure that Tommy's is franchised -- I see a bunch of variations (Tomy's, Big Tommy's) about town that I'm sure are just capitalizing on the name.

      8 Replies
      1. re: nosh

        It was on Foothill and Mountain in Duarte/Monrovia. And trojans is right about using the word "franchise", they are not ther are just dozens of "Original Tommy's" now all over the place! Here is their locations map:

        1. re: rantsnravesnreviews

          Foothill and Mountain? There's nothing but houses right there now. So they tore it down? I know there's a Tommy's (an "original" one, not a misspelled imitator) on Huntington and Mountain but that one is fairly new.

          1. re: monkuboy

            I think It is Foothill and then it changes to Huntington with in a block of the place. If you are coming from the west going east you would be on Huntington, if you were coming from the east you would be on Foothill.

            1. re: rantsnravesnreviews

              True, somewhere around there it turns into Foothill since the Costco further east is on the same street but it's Foothill, not Huntington. So are you saying that the Tommy's that is currently sitting just a little bit west of Mountain on Huntington (or Foothill, as the case may be) is the original location?

              1. re: monkuboy

                No the orignal is on Beverly and Rampart, all the signs at all the Tommy's say The Original! LOL!

                1. re: rantsnravesnreviews

                  Oh.. never mind, I misunderstood the original statement - they were asking if it was at the original Tommy's where they put mustard on your burger and when you said it was on Foothill I thought you were saying the original one is on Foothill... uh, never mind! <embarrassed grin>

        2. re: nosh

          Tommy's does have more than one place now and has had for many years. There is one in Long Beach, one in Fountain Valley, one on the way to Vegas in Barstow/Lenwood and several others. There are several wannabe's as well.

          1. re: justagthing

            I just look for the original sign. There is also one on Roscoe & the 405 and Victory west of Van Nuys.

        3. Just so you know, while both In-N-Out and Tommy's do have quite a few locations each, neither one franchises. All of the locations of each are owned by their respective companies.

          4 Replies
          1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

            And thank goodness because if In-N-Out turned into a franchise, their quality would go down the drain and they'd be just another McD with horrible, horrible service.

            1. re: monkuboy

              Actually, there are some very good franchise restaurants out there. Le Pain Quotidien is one of them (and oh, how I wish they were here in Phoenix!), La Madeleine is terrific as well. It just depends on how much the main office wants to invest in quality control.

              1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                You're right about that. Unfortunately McD doesn't seem the least bit interested in quality control. I would say that of all the ones I have visited, literally 1 in 20 has decent service. All the rest are staffed by people who don't seem to have been trained at all, much less trained the right way.

              2. re: monkuboy

                Mcd has awsome service. It's the food that is just so so.

            2. The Big Samoan guy is long gone. Once when I worked for a fund raiser we went to Tommy's and ordered 120 cheese burgers, the Samoan guy looked at me and laughed, they put it in overdrive, I kid you not, less than 10 minutes later they had pumped out 120 cheese burgers, those guys were wild, crazy middle of the night nut jobs!

              2 Replies
              1. re: Burger Boy

                The Big Samoan Guy was an icon of my college days ( or should I say early mornings? Probably so). His face was inscrutable and, like Ray Charles, he would do his work at lightning speed without looking at his hands (like a good touch typist). So long as the grill guy could keep up supplying the patty setups, the BSG assembled the burgers in seconds, putting the current branches' guys and even the current Beverly/Rampart folks to shame. Whenever there was a lag in the supply of patties, he'd stand there mute and still, reminicent of Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Those are fond memories and I'm grateful that I still have the cells to recall them. Mustard is OK in moderation but pile on the extra onions!

                1. re: TomSwift

                  All I can say is "Klatu Borada Nikto" (or however you spell it) to that. Before I found out the hard way that I no longer could tolerate the grease from the chili, I used to enjoy going to the Tommy's in Santa Ana. One of the few tables there was in a spot where it was tilted a bit in one direction and the chili fries would always start moving by themselves. Had to keep them from falling off the table. Tasted great though!

              2. I so feel your pain. I HATE mustard on hamburgers!!! I don't mind it on other things, but on burgers?? yuck!! For some reason it is very hard to get this information to fast food servers, and when you order from driveup its very hard to check for its presence (especially with a chiliburger!). I have been known to tell servers that I am deathly allergic to mustard (a total lie) because it seems to be the only way to get their attention....

                As for Tommy's: One of my more memorable road trips in college involved a drive from Berkeley to LA to eat a Tommy burger. I'm sure we were in an altered state when the trip was suggested...I swear I remember the Big Samoan guy!!

                1. I really hate mustard, too! One of my saddest stories was when I had a bad case of the flu and a friend of mine went and got me a Langer's pastrami sandwich. And it had mustard all over it.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: hpcat

                    I actually live about 5 minutes from that Tommy's. I find their chili to be horrendous so I actually get it w/o chili. But their shakes are fantabulous for the price.

                    1. re: ns1

                      Tommy's has a shake? I think maybe you've been duped by a Tommy's rip off joint. If it was the real deal you probably would have liked the chili.

                  2. OK- now I need to go to get a Tommy's fix...
                    but ONLY ever at the original
                    and only the shack, never the hole in the wall side

                    no cheese no mustard....love the big tasteless tomato!!!!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: msmd310

                      can you explain the difference between the shack v hole in the wall?

                      1. re: ns1

                        on the corner is the small shack, in the back is another larger building, that I think ns1 considers the hole in the wall.

                    2. Lol, love your review! I can totally relate, as I cannot STAND mustard on hamburgers. Ketchup, mayo, thousand island, chili, YES, mustard NO. Mustard is for hot dogs.

                      Fatburger is another place where mustard comes standard on the burger, but they seem pretty good about following the "no mustard" directive when you order it that way. Also, at Fatburger, you can watch them while they make the burger to ensure that they don't forget and add the mustard.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: DanaB

                        I'm with you 100% re: mustard (on everything, as far as I'm concerned). What a heartbreak! I actually no longer bother with fast food chain hamburgers due to the inability of the workers to process special orders (w/ the exception of In-and-Out, which usually gets it right). And yes, I too make them go to great lengths, have them repeat it back, etc.

                        Some places (Fatburger? Whataburger?) actually put the mustard on before cooking the patty. Shudder, shudder.

                        1. re: cant talk...eating

                          LOL! We were cut form the same cloth. I also cannot stomach mustard on anything! I had a tuna sandwich at a resturant once (slips my mind where) and I was sure I tasted mustard, my dininng companion assured me it was the pickle, so I asked the server, sure enough, mustard! YUCK! I'm with janetofreno, I will tell servers I am allergic just to nbe safe, especially when ordering pastrami, cuz they like to switch the bread and send back the same meat with traces of mustard!

                      2. I have a Tommy attack every now and then, and to settle my craving I visit the Rampart or Pico Rivera location on Whittier Blvd. I order two double cheese bugers with chili and cheese only and extra cheese, a bag of potato chips, and a root beer! This is heaven!

                        1. An old school, off the menu item at Tommy's I recently enjoyed:

                          Chili Fritos - they take the paper serving dish used for tamales, but dump a bag of Fritos in it. Cover with chili, then onions, then cheese. This has to be one of the worse things for your body, but it sure is good. And very old school (was called Chili Wampum, made with the same, when I was in high school).

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: droyal

                            True "old school" Chili Fritos are serve by opening a single serving bag and adding the chili directly!

                            1. re: Curt the Soi Hound

                              the bag was opened on its side not from the top...very yum!

                          2. I absolutely can't fathom why they put both mustard and chili on automatically. Even for mustard lovers it really disguises the chili.

                            I have an iron stomach and nothing ever bothered me, but when I first moved out here someone told me don't eat at Tommy's two days in a row. Well, actually lets just say it didn't bother my stomach. But, of course I thought it was an anomaly and had to try it again the following week. Same result. So Tommy's became a once a week tradition for me until I started gaining weight. Now its' about once a year. Love the chili Tamales