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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.

Endnotes:

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.