Sunday, April 12, 2009

Rick's Drive-In

Sometimes, when sifting through old Jonathan Gold columns of long gone restaurants, flipping through one of those "Images of America" books at Vroman's, or just catching a glimpse of a movie like Chinatown or L.A. Confidential, I imagine what it would be like to have the whole of Los Angeles as a blank canvas before me, as if I could construct it however I wanted, like a real-life SimCity. And I could choose things from the entire existence of L.A.

Busch Gardens would still be in Pasadena (the original was here from 1905-1937, a fact I made it 28 years without knowing but learned a couple years ago thanks to Huell Howser) and the Red Cars would run. Dodger Stadium would still be the villages of Chavez Ravine, but Wrigley Field would exist. It was torn down at least a decade before I was born and I wish I'd seen it. (Years ago my grandmother was in the second stages of Alzheimer's and told me how she and my grandfather, who died more than 30 years before I was born, used to to love going to baseball games at Wrigley Field. I condescendingly assured her that Wrigley Field was in Chicago and they never went there. Oops. I'm a moron.)

As for music, the Troubadour would stand proudly, no different from the way it is now. Probably the Wiltern as well. Poo-Bah Records would be back in its old location on Walnut next to the head shop. In high school my friends would visit the head shop every day while I would duck into Poo-Bah to check out the 50 cent vinyl bins. (I still have a bootleg of Dylan live in England in 1966 for which I paid 50 cents; it is better than any new album I have purchased in years.)

But the most fun thing, of course, would be selecting the restaurants. Philippe's would be the first choice for restaurants (probably the first choice of anything, to be honest.) King Arthur's Pizza would be back in Arcadia, Hammy's in San Marino, and for the love of God there would be a Fatburger closer to Pasadena than there currently is. And the first open-air burger stand I would select would definitely be Rick's.

Like other places I have written about, Rick's has been part of my life for a long time. But unlike Taco Lita, Hutch's, or The Crab Cooker, I was not introduced to Rick's by my parents, but rather my friends. Before I could drive, my friend Scott, who was two years older than I and a teammate on the basketball team, would often give me a ride home. He was the first person to introduce me to Rick's. Eventually I got my parents hooked on it, and even my grandmother (not the one with Alzheimer's,) who, when she was 86 years old, would drive over to Rick's by herself, stand in line, and order a hamburger and fries.

Shortly before I turned 21, I went on a diet that eliminated both beer and fast food for several months. Eventually I went to an all-day barbecue at my friend's parents' house. Anyone who has taken an extended break from drinking and then returned can guess what happened next: I got hammered, on an amount of beer that a few months earlier would have only given me a slight buzz. My dad, God bless him, was happy to pick me up from the party that night. He asked if I wanted him to take me anywhere to get food, and I chose Rick's, for the first fast food I had eaten in about three months. It might not have been the best meal of my life, but I cannot think of a more enjoyable one.

In my early 20s, when I met my friend Murph, I was not jealous of his fast car or the fact that his job took him out of town frequently, but the fact that he lived a couple blocks from Rick's and ate dinner there at least 4 times per week was almost too much for me to take.

Having professed my love for Taco Lita, I must admit the tacos at Rick's are better. Their burger is one of my favorite is Pasadena, and their fries are always well cooked and vastly superior to the limp, undercooked fries at Lucky Boy, Tops, and certainly In-n-Out.

My standard order at Rick's is two tacos (extra hot sauce if I'm in the mood) and a burger. If I'm more than a little hungry or have someone with me, I will get an order of fries. When I was a teenager I always got three tacos. When there was a party it was six; half for dinner and half for late night. (I still employ this strategy with Philly's Best sandwiches, although "late night" has become 10:00.) My friends always talked of ordering the "Spuderito" - a burrito filled with cheese, hot sauce and french fries - but I never saw one of them actually do it.

I do not eat at Rick's very often these days. Sometimes months go by without me having any. But a couple days ago I got a strong craving and had to go. I only ordered one taco (with the regular amount of hot sauce,) along with a hamburger. Elizabeth ordered a cheeseburger and we spilt an order of fries. Rick's burgers come with a generous amount of pickles, which I love, and taste very much like larger versions of the burgers at Del Taco. Which is a good thing. This was Elizabeth's first trip to Rick's and she really liked her burger, although it was obvious from her reaction that it will not be supplanting the desire for a Double-Double when she is in a burger mood. The taco was even better than I remembered.

For years there has been talk that Rick's is closing, their lease being terminated to make way for yet another condo development. Thankfully that hasn't happened.. yet. And hopefully it won't. There are plenty of condos in Pasadena, some of them actually nice. But there is only one Rick's.

3 comments:

Liz said...

I enjoyed Rick's. It reminded me of NYC, delicious food from a little stand and people talking loudly about inappropriate things. Good times.

TJM said...

I had forgotten about Hammy's. I can't really remember what food they had or what it even looked like. But, I do remember I enjoyed eating there. Weren't they near the San Marino Toy & Book Shoppe before it moved into a bank?

King Arthur's lives and will continue to live eternally at the top of my list. That is, unless, Babbo's in Greenwich Village closes one of these days. Although, it would probably be years before I heard about it, so maybe that statement isn't accurate.

I remember trying Rick's for the first time in high school, probably courtesy of you, and the joy at discovering that milkshake's came in more than three flavors. I had my first pineapple shake there and it was only occasionally that the pineapple part of the machine would actually work. It was always a true joy to go to Rick's and discover not only short lines, but a working pineapple shake machine. It's probably been ten years since I last ate there but your writeup makes me want to go tomorrow...

Tyler said...

I would have to take issue with the "limp fries at Lucky Boys". I think their fries are vastly superior, when cooked correctly, which is about 65% of the time.