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Tommy's - an appreciation

It is what it is. You like it or you don't. I've been going to Tommy's - the original location at Beverly & Rampart - since 1967. Over the past 25 years or so it's only been about once a year. Today was the day.

No, it does not have the best burger patty by far. Not the best bun, the best chili, the best tomato, pickle, onion, mustard. That is, it doesn't have the best of all that stuff individually. The whole thing is, however, far greater than the sum of its parts. It is perfection for what it is - a Tommy's Burger.

I prefer the simple old, single cheese burger. I think the balance of flavors is perfect. And today, just for the hell of it, I took a bite of the tomato by itself and it was a surprisingly good, thick, juicy tomato. I ate one of the pickles by itself, it was very tart, an excellent complement to the rest of the burger. The chili, the patty, the cheese - all was as it has ever been - or at least during my 42 years of experience.

And it was $2.40 - a total deal. (If I recall correctly, when I first went it was 40 cents for the same burger.)

Now most of the time, when I want a burger I crave something different; something with high-quality meat you can taste all on its own, with top of the line individual ingredients. I'm willing to pay a premium for that.

But that Tommy's burger, once a year, is as excellent as it has always been. At thisrate, if my body holds up, I figure I've got another 25 to 30 of them in my future, and I'm looking forward to them.

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  1. Agreed. Tommy's is something special. I especially like the fries. Nice and crispy. If you eat the chili fries fast enough, the fries stay crispy down to the last one. The dogs are always nice and crisp, never chewy. I usually go to either the Santa Momica (so-so) and Eagle Rock (really good) locations. I have to admit, though, I like the double cheese burger. If you ask them, they can even construct a monster triple decker. Guilty pleasure.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ohdaylay

      Tommy's are my favorite Fast Food Fries hands down... I love those little greasy extra crispy numbs you sometimes get... Only at Tommys...

      1. re: Dommy

        Tommy's, at least the one on Pico and Lincoln in Santa Monica, is one of the few places that when you ask for your fries extra welldone, they actually come out noticeably crispier and darker. And a big helping; I usually can't finish them.

        I prefer the double-chili-cheeseburger -- the single patty just gets a little lost in all the chili and tomato and other stuff. Agree with the OP -- a Tommy's chili-cheeseburger is much more than the sum of its parts.

      1. Tommy's = WIN

        Stoned and have a bad case of the munchies, Tommy's is the best remedy.

        1 Reply
        1. re: A5 KOBE

          Tomm's has the best CHILI.
          When I lived in Lake Tahoe, my parent used to Fed Ex me Tommy's Chili.

        2. I too have been going there for 40 years and it's still a treat after all these years.

          1. The one individual ingredient you didn't taste on its own was the chili. My daughter gets her burger with the chili on the side. I'll use some for my fries and if there's some left over I'll eat it plain. It's horrible on its own, there's no meat in the chili. It looks like something lumpy like meat, but it isn't.
            Try it next year on your annual pilgrimage.

            Don't get me wrong, I like Tommy's for what it is.
            I always get the chili dog and eat the tomatoes and pickles individually and scoop off some chli with my fries until its somewhat "neat" enough to pick up and eat the hot dog and some chili.

            Here's another good way to eat a Tommy's burger. One day at some event there were extra Tommy's burgers and I took a few home and put them in my refrigerator and ate them cold, they were pretty tasty.

            4 Replies
            1. re: monku

              Cold? You are a braver man than I. All that congealed grease. Hard to imagine. Then again, I will try anything once.

              1. re: estone888

                You got it....congealed grease.
                If you like pizza from the refrigerator, you'll like a Tommy's burger the same way.

              2. re: monku

                From Wikipedia I found, "Original Tommy's chili is a mixture of an all-beef chili con carne base, flour, water, and a "secret" blend of spices, and resembles a condiment more than a conventional bowl of chili." I was hoping you were correct about no meat because several weeks ago i stopped eating meat and the only thing I miss is Tommy's breakfast sandwich.

                1. re: JeetJet

                  Wikipedia? (JJ-I'm surprised at you)
                  They might put one all beef hamburger patty into 5 gallons of chili and that would be as much meat I've seen in it.

              3. Mrs. O and her buds frequently sought refuge and restoration at the original location, back when she was going to USC. She normally urges me to eat more healthily and to eschew the gross and greasy, but she insists that my life will not be whole until I've had a Tommy's chili burger. So Eagle Rock's a good one? Hey, I'm practically there... (OK, there's one in Pasadena, too, but it's too clean and modern-looking. Don't trust it).

                9 Replies
                1. re: Will Owen

                  Agreed on the Pasadena location. Actually, I think all the "modern" sites are seriously lacking. The Eagle Rock one is spot on. Although, it is hard to pass up The Oinkster when I head over there.

                  1. re: ohdaylay

                    Yes, but living so close by means that I know I can go back to Oinkster whenever I damn well feel like it. And I certainly will!

                  2. re: Will Owen

                    The only one I ever eat at is the Original on Beverly/Rampart. It tastes much better than any other one.

                    1. re: A5 KOBE

                      To be honest I have eaten at many locations and I cant tell the difference from the original location. The chili is made at a central location, the beef patties, pickles, tomatoes , buns , etc. none of these are made at each single location. Could it be that the nostalgia of the original location makes it seem different.

                      Apparently the original location is the only one that still has the tub of hot yellow chili peppers out, all the others you have to ask for and they give you a skimpy amount.

                      1. re: malibumike

                        Just as good as Tommy's, and with a tub of the yellow peppers still on the counter, is Big Tomy's on the NE corner of Sawtelle and Pico just a stones throw from where the 405 crosses over the top of Pico in WLA.

                        1. re: Servorg

                          no freaking way. if you like this place then bully for you. but it is a completely different taste from Original Tommy's. I've eaten there many times at many hours. I can't do it anymore because it's really hard on "the system".

                        2. re: malibumike

                          All the ones near my house are really nasty. I think it the mere fact that the chili does not turn over as fast and just sits there makes a huge difference.

                          Everything seems to be the same, except the chili is not as great. It is more of a paste rather than the runny, greasy chili that the Original offers.

                          1. re: A5 KOBE

                            I have also eaten at many locations. The tomatoes, onion, and buns are always fresh and it would seem that they would be the first thing to go bad from slow turnover. I think nostalgia has lots to with this difference and for that reason I would agree that there is something special about the ambiance there -- but only very late at night. For that great breakfast sandwich I would rather be at one of the newer super clean locations like the one in Monrovia.

                          2. re: malibumike

                            The location on Roscoe at the 405 has the tub of peppers. They don't have the drink machine in front of the counter though. The Santa Clarita one has self serve drinks but the peppers are locked up.

                      2. estone: There is nothing better than a double chili cheeseburger with extra chili and onions on a cold rainy day. The one thing that bothers me is that all the Tommy's I have been to lately have removed the tub of the great yellow chili peppers, you have to ask for them and only get a few, I love to eat quite a lot more than they give out, does the original Tommy's at Beverly $ Rampart still have the chilis out?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: malibumike

                          Yep, the tub of yellow chilies is still there at the original. For me, a Tommy's burger isn't a Tommy's burger without some of those on the side.

                        2. Definitely a double chili cheese for me. and once they became available instead of just bags of chips, chili cheese fries.

                          I half joke, half seriously say i fell in love with my wife at Tommy's. Second date, on a way to a concert, both dressed nice and running late and not eaten all day. We drove past one and she noticed me perk up. She never had Tommy's was adventurous enough to go for it since we were short on time even after I warned her of the sloppiness. She had me order her the same thing I usually got..

                          There we were in the cold november night sitting outside on picnic tables dressed nicely munching down on sloppy chili burgers. I'm watching her match me bite for bite and I thought to myself. I'm in love!

                          Tommy's will always have a place in my heart.

                          1. "the sum of its parts..." IMO, each part (burger, chili, cheese and bun) individually, or the sum, is better at Carneys and that includes the chili dogs also. What Tommy's does better than any other place is make a chili cheese breakfast sandwich with a sausage patty, fried egg, tomato, onion, pickel, and mayo on a English Muffin. Start now and you might be going to Tommy's 25 to 30 more times than you expected when you add Tommy's breakfast to your future.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: JeetJet

                              This morning I had that breakfast sandwich without the cheese. It's pretty delicious, but extremely messy. The Tommy's on Victory just west of Van Nuys Blvd. has no restroom, and the paper towels don't remove the smell from your hands.

                              1. re: Dogbite Williams

                                That's part of the appreciation of Tommy's........you're either going to smell it from your hands or later on this afternoon you'll still be tasting it in your mouth.

                                1. re: monku

                                  That is true. I proudly wear the chili on my white shirt, face and hands like a badge of honor – perfume even.

                              2. re: JeetJet

                                Agree on the breakfast sandwich - used to stop for one on the way back from dropping offspring at high school - will carry you through the day (or more correctly, you will carry the sandwich). Coworkers likely to smell it on your person though -


                                1. re: swimfin

                                  OK, I tried the breakfast burrito today. I will admit it was HUGE, and a great value at $2.75. But unlike the chili-double-cheeseburger, where the sum is greater than the parts, this conglomeration didn't work. The hashbrowns had the tiniest bit of crunch at the beginning, but then sogged up. The egg was nicely cooked (how do they get it so thin?) but it was bland. The sausage lost any nice caramelization in the muck. I ended up just cutting surgically into the center and eating the chili, cheese and meat. It was a worthy experiment, and still gave me a good amount of food at a cheap price, but after this and the disappointment of the salty, hard to eat chili-cheesedog, I think I'll stick to the double-chili-cheeseburger.

                                  One note -- they have switched from Pepsi to Coke, at least in Santa Monica on Pico at Lincoln.

                                  1. re: nosh

                                    One Hounds muck is anothers fusion. I love that burrito but I do ask that the hash browns be crispy. However, I request "crispy" every place I order them. I also request that they add pickel, tomato and extra oinion (pickel in a breck fast burrito? In L.A., yes!) To me the sum is a blend of chili and cheese with so many other flavors going-on that no one flavor has a chance of standing out. A "Chow moment" for $2.75 -- you can't beat that. Well, maybe you can beat that but it would have to be the Tommy's breakfast sandwich with everything on a English muffin.

                              3. I haven't been in the L.A area for 25 years but will be there the first 2 weeks of May and one of my first stops is Tommys. I miss a lot of good food from the area and this is on the top of my list. might have to do in"n out as well and maybe Pinks but Tommys is a must.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: traumachef

                                  If you have Tommy's and Pink's in your sights, you should also do Tito's Tacos. I avoid the meat, but you do what you think is right. Also the Pastrami place across the parking lot from Tito's, name is escaping me right now (Johnny's maybe?). Good eating.

                                  1. re: swimfin

                                    swimfin, so Where's Tito's? Always up for a new spot and why should I avoid the meat?

                                    1. re: traumachef

                                      you should avoid the tacos, not the meat. get a burrito - the burritos are truly unique, made with what seems to be a type of chili colorado.

                                      just kidding about "avoiding" the tacos but the burrito is where it's at!

                                      1. re: estnyboer

                                        "May I have one beef, rice and cheese burrito with a side of guacamole, please." Don't forget the chips and salsa - the salsa seems nothing special but strangely it goes with most things there.

                                2. Tommy's will be the last fast food left standing in my diet no matter what happens. I only go a couple of times a year (and the original Beverly/Rampart location really is the best) but it is an all-time favorite. As the years go by, more and more of my peers, upon hearing "Tommy's" shudder with memories of indigestion but I wonder if they are just imagining things. Tommy's never does me wrong in the least, and I don't have an iron gut. Maybe it's just the love keeping us together!

                                  PS I'm very impressed/surprised to see how many people love the chili on its own. Similar to estone888, I've always regarded Tommy's as a "sum of its parts" experience.

                                  1. Growing up in Long Beach, Tommys was a family staple. I had had very few throughout the last few years, then I moved near the Bronson location. So I've made the trip about five times in the last year. Delicious. Fries are good, but for me, it's all about the burger. The chili has almost a refried beantexture, and am I crazy? The taste of the chili mixed with the sour of the pickles is the greatest combo of tastes ever. I get extra pickles, for that reason. Also, I have to get it to go, so I can eat it at home in front of the TV in sweatpants, the way God intended.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: schrutefarms

                                      Grew up near Eagle Rock, so 20+ years of Tommys. I think I crave their chili cheese fries every week, it wasn't part of their original menu, but I am glad they added it. Now I'm hoping to convince them to add a fried egg to their chiliburger ala Jay's.

                                      1. re: LakerFan

                                        I hope you had one for tonight's win in Houston!

                                        1. re: estnyboer

                                          Not yet, but a win tonight and I'll have the Big 3! (Burger, Dog and Fries)

                                          1. re: LakerFan

                                            Grand slam would be with a tamale.

                                            1. re: monku

                                              CHIPS AND FRIES AND A GRAPE SODA AFTER THAT ONE!!!

                                      1. re: broncosaurus

                                        Carney's better? That's a laugh. I like Tommy's but Careny's is DEFINITELY a step down when I'm not able to make the drive...I take that back...I don't even bother to go to Carney's.

                                        That said...I do love the breakfast burrito. I've had other greats but for 2.75 there is no other. The chili cheese fries are alright but Pink's is better...just not worth the line better.

                                        1. re: lifeon2whls

                                          What? "A laugh?" "Step down?" How? Each item side-by-side and by itself, alone and without the aid of being part of a sum, the chili, dog or burger from Carney's are not only better than Tommy's but when sampled side-by-side reveal how bad Tommy’s is. Tommy’s dog is revealed as inedible crap after such a blind taste test. Pink’s falls in the middle someplace. That is why Carney’s, either as a sum or in component parts is better. Try it some time. But we do agree about that Break Fast Burrito – great! The “Three Dog Night” (Burrito Dog with 3 dogs, 3 bacon and 3 slices of cheese) at Pink’s is great also. Carney’s does not offer breakfast, or burrito dogs, but if they did....

                                          1. re: JeetJet

                                            Carney's any day of the week for chili cheese dogs, fries or burgers. It's the" A Train" when it comes to LA chili cheese heart attacks!

                                            1. re: Servorg

                                              Speaking of heart attacks, have you had the Carney's Derailer? A mountain of pasta with a mountain of that chili on top. Too much to eat there, so you will be taking home about half of it. Re-heat it later in a fry pan an make a chili/pasta sandwich with some good white bread. Now that is a heat attack.

                                              1. re: JeetJet

                                                Thanks for the thought JJ. I am currently trying to keep my lipid count south of 300 so will just have to dream about the derailer the next time heartburn crops up. ;-D>

                                                1. re: Servorg

                                                  Keep up the good fight but I'm sure you've already planned out your occasional falling-off-the-wagon/oops-I-slipped! moments. Please report back when you do so because I'm sure those times will be at some great places...

                                            2. re: JeetJet

                                              Never had the "Three Dog Night" at Pink's -- it sounds good, actually -- but I resemble your remark about Pink's in general being above Tommy's on the edibility scale. I'd say they're tied near bottom, if my experience last night was any indication.

                                              I was driving past the hot-dog stand everyone loves to hate, and the line wasn't too bad, so I stopped in for a chili-cheese dog with onions. I hadn't been to the place since Jimmy Carter was boiling peanuts at a roadside stand. The hot dog had that same old cheap taste, but I've always liked the snap of their natural (I'm hoping, praying) casing. The chili looked like good-quality brown library paste and smelled like brown library paste, but if it was library paste, the glue industry has really gone downhill. I had a similar thought about Tommy's chili the last time I was there. I haven't been to the original recently and should go back for old times sake. If I do late some night, I'll ask for the chili in a separate, ruggedized container.