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For Nosh: The Philly West Burger

Regular readers of this board surely know that our very own Nosh has been singing the praises of the burger at Philly West for quite some time.

All too often, said praise has been lost in the din of the numerous "best burger threads" -- threads which, again, all too often focus on the obvious choices like Father's Office, In and Out, The Apple Pan and the either-it's-overrated-or-it's-underrated burger at The Counter.

It takes strength and guts to take a stand, to praise that which no one else is praising, to stand firm and say "The burger at Philly West is one great burger."

Nosh went out on a limb. All he -- maybe she? -- asked is for someone else to go and give it a try. To either confirm or contradict the quality of the burger at Philly West.

I am that someone.

In the last three weeks, I've twice ventured in to PW for a burger and beer. Once to sample and the other to solidify my take on the burger.

First things first:

The current incarnation of Philly West is on the east side of Westwood Boulevard between Santa Monica and Olympic. It's a busy little stretch of street along the route that connects Pico and all it brings from the east and west, the Wilshire corridor and Westwood Village/UCLA to the north.

Even if the food at Philly West was inedible, I'd still eat there because Philly West has a parking lot. Located in the heart of what must be Exhibit A for this city's parking problems, Philly West has plenty, in a lot it shares with a laundry, a Quizno's and a more than decent Indian restaurant. At noon in Westwood, California, a good parking place is worth more than a good meal.

From the outside, Philly West is just another westside storefront. The street's a little too bright in the sun, the BMW-Hyndai ratio along Westwood tilts dramatically in favor of the Germans and not the Koreans.

Inside, though, it's a bar. I pleasantly dark, semi-crowded bar. There's lots of sports memorabilia on the walls and a couple of TVs blaring the latest from ESPN. A few guys in construction garb sip beers and talk with a guy who looks like he's been sitting on his stool since Goldwater ran for president. A couple of guys with ties flipped over their shoulders chow down on sandwiches, diet cokes at the ready.

The wife and I took a seat at table and the bartender came around promptly, offering menus and asking about our drink order. I don't often drink at lunch, but it seemed almost sacrilege to not imbibe at PWs so I order a golden lager of some unknown origin, chosen from a chalkboard across the room. The wife orders iced tea.

The bartender takes our drink order and chats for minute, treating us with a warmth normally associated with long-time regulars, I inquired a bit about the history of the place -- twenty-five years ago I used to eat in Philly West when it was across the street and Wilt Chaimberlain used to come in, order two cheese steaks "Double Meat," and ask me what the score was on whatever game we were watching. Wilt used to call me "Buddy." That was cool.

Even if we weren't really buddies.

I perused the menu, but didn't need to, really.

I knew what I wanted.

It's a good menu, for what it's worth. Various cheese steaks and subs, I was intrigued particularly by the fresh egg salad -- said to take longer than other orders because they made it fresh. Some other time, I'll try that and eat it.

Our order: A burger for me, a steak sandwich for the missus and some fries to share.

The food arrives after a few minutes, probably about as long as it took for you to read down to the actual review of the food in this post.

I'm nothing if not well-timed.

In a world that's been lessened by the ubiquitous pre-made beef patty and the set in stone sesame seed bun, the Philly West burger is an original. This bun is no common rock, it's a roll. A chewy, tasty sandwich roll, in and of itself an improvement over a bland burger bun.

The burger, too, is near-unique. Shaped to fit the bun ... errrr ... roll, it's -- I dunno -- tubular and obviously hand made. It doesn't go all the way to the end of the bread on one side and sort hangs out of the middle in another spot, it's imperfection a glorious reminder that there are still some things in this world man makes better than machines.

On the burger sits a pile of grilled onions. It's a cheesesteak place and, of course, they do onions right.

I try a fry first. We didn't order well done and maybe I would another time. But this was a damn good fry in its own right. What can you say about a french fry? Are their bad french fries? Like .. like ... well, this is a family board so I don't want to say exactly what it's like, but like the think I'm not saying it's like, there are no bad ones, there are only better ones and this was a better one.

But, it's the burger you want to know about and now, right here, is when we get down to the beefy, brass tacks.

The Philly West burger is a damn fine bar burger. One I've now had twice and will eat again and again. I'm no cooking expert, but I'd bet anything it was flame-broiled, not cooked on a pan or griddle. It had a nice, but light char on the outside and was soft and juicy on the inside. The beef flavor was strong.

I hate to bring up anything other than superlatives, but this board is all about honesty. So, I feel compelled to confess that I felt the burger could have been seasoned just a bit more, If I'm down on The Counter for serving the world's blandest burger, I can't let Philly West off the hook on a similar charge. I wouldn't say the burger was sans seasoning, but a bit more salt and pepper would elevate this sandwich to near-legendary status.

Overall, an excellent experience.

Philly West possesses the feel-good charm of a neighborhood bar. The (female - if you must know) treats you well.

The burger is a great choice for your lunch or dinner and my bite of the missus' steak sandwich was enough to recommend that as well. The fries are right and the beer is cold.

And then there's the parking.

Philly West is a hidden gem.


1 - My second experience at PW was much like the first, so describe the second visit. It served as confirmation of the initial meal. My wife ate a different sandwich the second time but I don't remember what it was.

2 - Nosh, I recall you asked me if you want to meet at PW for a burger in another thread. Sure, why not? If you are by any chance a hot, UCLA coed, aspiring model or recently divorced personal trainer, I'll buy and the part about my wife was made up, If you're a dopey guy like me, we're splitting the bill.

3 - The Cliff's Notes version of this review will soon be available via email. Just drop me a line.

4- I'm too tired to edit this thing. Any typos or grammatical errors are due to low blood sugar and I refuse to accept responsibility for them. Who edits on a message board, anyway?

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  1. Thanks for your detailed and enjoyable report. I've only been to Philly West once a few weeks ago based on the reports on CH and had the same good burger (rare) with an ale off of the blackboard. GF had one of the cheesesteaks. We went in the early evening, not crowded and the guy behind the bar was friendly. Food was good and I liked the low key relatively quiet ambiance! In other words a good place for a relaxing burger and beer!

    1. So glad that you liked and thought so highly of the Philly West burger, PaulF. Yes, it is flame-grilled -- that is what first brought it to my attention when glancing into the kitchen, since their cheesesteaks are seared on a flattop -- and their default is a pinkish medium-rare rather than the welldone hockey pucks so many places serve. We should note that the burger comes in around $5, a little more with cheese, but it is a half-pound and less pricey than the Counter or other bar competitors such as S.F. Saloon or even the Shack.

      As for me possibly a hot coed -- well, maybe in some very different chat rooms. ;-) But thanks for the props, very sorry to hear about Markie D's, and I'll be happy to share the fries (extra crispy) and the check should an opportunity work out. In the meantime, let me and the rest of us know what you think of Porky's when you have the chance to try their pulled pork and ribs.

      1. PaulF, Thanks for the great post. I had been to PW a few years back and had a Cheese Steak ( which I thought was very good ) and have never been back. I guess next time I am on Westwood Blvd, I might take advantage of the parking. It must be in the back and I had never thought of it. BTW, very amusing post as well (endnotes). Compared to most on this board, looks like I missed out on the Creative Writing Classed when I was in school.. For the wine drinkers out there. The Cost Plus across the street has a nice and neat selection of California Cabernet's and other wines as well at very good price points..

        1. What a fun and informative review, thanks! The part about their great parking situation was every bit as enticing as the burger description...

          1. Nice and entertaining review - thanks! I have to get up there soon. Do you think it's little kid friendly in an early evening, or too much of a bar?

            And you know, if driving 3 miles into Westwood under clear skies to get a burger and a beer where you have memories of a Laker great calling you buddy is "taking one for the team" to confirm a burgatory legend, we really do have it pretty great.

            2 Replies
            1. re: CulverJack

              I asked about the kid situation ... I've got a couple myself (16 and 11) and the bartender told me that kids are welcome. She sort of made it seem like it's better for kids when its not crowded ... can't remember what she said, exactly but that's what I remember.

              In other words, I wouldn't take kids there to watch an Eagles game, it's probably more "bar-like" than it is at lunch or in the early evening.

              But -- definitely -- bring the kids -- they said it was cool.

              1. re: CulverJack

                Yeah, seeing Wilt was always a trip.

                A gigantic guy with a really deep voice. And a really cool guy, too.

                I used to work for Elgin Baylor a long time ago. Elgin had a few funny Wilt stories. Mostly he wondered when Wilt had the time to hang with 20,000 women, when he and Elgin were playing poker every night.

                The memory of a barefoot Wilt in a black tank top talking sports with me is one I'll never forget.

              2. PaulF,

                Any reco's for a similar type bar around the Centinela/Culver to Sepulveda/Washington blvd area? I used to live within walking distance of Philly's West and enjoyed the food and atmosphere. Thanks again to Nosh for the burger prompt. Btw, try asking for a combo cheesesteak and burger there. But have them hold the lettuce. I did a writeup a while ago. The cheesyness of the steak was a great contrast to the burger patty.

                I moved down a bit further south recently and have been trying all the recs you have for the area. But haven't found a bar which has the same mellow atmoshphere as Philly's. Joxer's isn't doing it for me. Haven't checked out alibi room yet. At Philly's it was convenient to not drive and just walk after having a few drinks. Hoping I can find something similar around my new digs. It would be nice if the bar had decent food but I'm not holding my breath. I'm hoping the new Pho place near El Rincon Criollo is going to be at least decent. Acceptable Bahn Mi and Pho this side of town would be great.

                Thanks for the past recos and for any new ones.

                10 Replies
                1. re: Jase

                  I haven't been to the Alibi yet either.

                  The old place was a dive, now it's fancy.

                  I like to drink in a place called 90 West. It's at Culver and McConnell. It's in the same parking lot as a diner I like.

                  I usually eat at the diner, then drink in the bar. I think they'll let you bring in food from the diner to eat in the bar and that would be cool, but I haven't done it yet.

                  It's a beer only bar (maybe wine, but I don't drink wine.) So, no booze.

                  Cinema Bar is a great dive bar, but there is no food (that I know of).

                  Joxer's is okay.

                  If you don't mind a five minute drive, go the The Shack. That's probably my best choice for a burger and beer bar. It's mellow and the run from Centinela up Culver to the Shack is really quick -- like two miles or something. Too far to walk, though.

                  The bar at Petrelli's is really different from Philly, but it's cheesy/cool. And Petrelli's has a good hamburger. It's down Sepulveda a couple of miles from El Rincon.

                  By the way, did you know the L.A., Weekly is moving into the office building adjacent to the on ramp at Venice and Sepulveda? I bet the Cinema Bar gets new life as a result.

                  Cinema Bar, btw, has no cover and life music.

                  I'll keep thinking about your question, though. We're neighbors -- I'm at Inglewood and Culver.

                  Hey -- as the Tamale guy come up your street? The guy who blows the bike horn and yells "Tamale, tamale, tamale" in a sing song voice and sells them out the back of his hatchback?

                  If he does, get some tamales, really good ...

                  1. re: PaulF


                    Inglewood and Culver is not too far from Ground Zero for me. I've walked over to check out Top Value a couple of times. They look like they still have real butchers. I've seen the Cemitas truck parked out there but haven't had a chance to try it. Wondering if it's the same one as the Venice Smart&Final one.

                    I remember you mentioning the diner and see it on the other thread. I'll be sure to tell everyone it's horrible so you can eat in peace.

                    We'll have to check out Cinema bar, my wife and I love checking out live music in low key places. With no cover, that sounds like a good place we can walk over, have a drink and check out the band at low risk. I hate paying a cover and leaving quickly because I can't stand the music.

                    Did not know that about the Weekly. It'll be interesting to see the effect on the bar and surrounding food.

                    Shack does sound too far for a walk, I try to limit my bar walks to max 2 miles one way. Limits the chances of stumbling home too badly. Philly's west from Olympic/Sawtelle was perfect.

                    I've heard about Petrelli's steakhouse and seen it as we explored that stretch of Sepulveda. Popped into the Italian place. Saw the Tommy's knockoff. We used to walk to their Pico location. Wife loves chili burgers and burgers in general. We would do the circuit of Apple Pan, Tomy's, SF Saloon and Philly's west, all within walking distance.

                    The tamale person I get on my street is the older lady who I've seen at the Top Value parking lot. She uses the bike horn too but pushes a shopping cart, comes by Sat mornings. Only tried it once, buck each and only chicken. I love mexican food but not a hard core tamale person. Still these were great for a Sat morning kick start with some El Yucateco green.

                    I know I'm an irregular poster and lurker most of the time. But I'd love to buy you a beer and burger as thanks for all the recos from your past posts. My wife thinks I'm a genius because of your recos. Maybe we can check out if the Alibi bar got really fancy, I thought I saw the new owners own Beechwood or something like that. Maybe it's decent and not too hip yet. Although walking by one night, I was a little shocked to see a few women dressed in clubby wear walking down Washington to get to it. Not the type of crowd you normally see on that stretch on a weekend night.

                    Email is jsn underscore yee at yahoo if you want to take me up on the offer.

                    1. re: Jase

                      Thanks Jase ... I got your address and added it to my contacts, I'll be in touch ...

                      1. re: PaulF

                        Don't forget about Dear John's on Culver just barely west of Sepulveda on the south side of the street. Good bar with passable, (and maybe even better than passable - depending on how much drinking you do first) food.

                        Dear John's
                        11208 Culver Blvd
                        Culver City, CA 90230
                        (310) 397-0276

                        1. re: Servorg

                          Okay ...

                          Dear John's is right around the corner from my house. I could walk there in less than 10 minutes.

                          And I've never even been inside.

                          The place has no windows, it just looks uninviting.

                          But, you've made the rec ... now I might have to try it.

                          What's the menu like?

                          I can't tell from the outside if it's a barfly bar or a senior citizens hangout.

                          But it's a cool place to drink? Do they show sports on TV? (I don't care if they do or they don't, I'm just trying to get a feel for the vibe.)

                          What type of food?

                          1. re: PaulF

                            Basic menu with steak, chicken, etc. and IIRC I they had a tv over the bar but have never been in while sports were playing (timing may have just been wrong).

                            Not great food, as I stated. But a good local neighborhood bar with lots of folks who are obviously in there for the "Cheers" effect. They have some booths / tables against the left hand wall as you walk in with the bar on the right. It's been at least 3 years probably since we went in as my wife is not much of a drinker.

                            One other suggestion for really good burgers within a bar is Hinano's on Washington Blvd. basically at the beach on the north side of the street.

                            1. re: Servorg

                              I've passed Dear John's a bunch of times when leaving Taqueria Sanchez and heading back to Sepulveda for the drive home. Any favorite food items there? Are they better than Petrelli's or Billingsley's? Speaking of fossil restaurants on that stretch, what about the chinese place on the west side of Sepulveda at or near Culver/Washington?

                              1. re: nosh

                                I am not a fan of either Petrelli's or Billingsley's, but Dear John's is in another catagory to me. A bar that serves food rather than a restaurant that serves booze so I'm not sure it's a fair comparison to make.

                                Many, many years ago we went to the Chinese place that is north of Washington on Sepulveda (closer to the on ramp for the north bound 405) and since then it's changed names at least twice that I know of. Is that the place you mean? If so I am just not up on its current iteration.

                                  1. re: PaulF

                                    The Chinese place is closed. Drove up Sepulveda today and they were gutting it. The sushi place across the street is good though.