Inspired by my great trip to Connal's two months ago, I have been in the mood to try burger joints in Pasadena that I have not previously been to. With Cypress Best Burgers, I failed miserably. Undeterred, I am continuing on.
Not long ago I was on a mission to purchase a large amount of glue sticks. (Don't ask.) The quest was harder than it sounds: every place I went to - and I went to at least half a dozen - was out of them. I had driven pretty high up Lake Ave, almost to the mountains, and decided to cut over to Fair Oaks and drive back down. This is an area of town with which I am not very familiar, a corner of Altadena whose sole purpose in my life to this point was being a location where my friends and I could always find people to buy us beer when we were 19.
I had no idea what businesses were around here. I drove past a burger stand, Fair Oaks Burger, and it was packed. The conversations I have had with friends over the years about places to get a quick lunch in the Pasadena area number in the hundreds, or perhaps the thousands... but I could not remember a single person ever having mentioned this place. I intended to look it up when I got home. I forgot.
The other day I was craving a burger and considering my options. I remembered Fair Oaks Burger. Why not go check it out? I drove up there and it was again packed. There were two Sheriff's deputies, a few MTA workers, and a couple ambulance drivers all eating there. This was an encouraging sign, reminding me of the first time I walked into "Nick's Taste of Texas" by accident a decade ago and there were a dozen cops eating lunch. (And it was awesome.)
Fair Oaks Burger advertises "Mexican, American and Chinese Food." (Also "Credit Card Accepted." I considered asking which one, although I didn't feel like being a wise ass on my first visit.) Several of the people working there were Asian, so I considered getting something off the Chinese menu, but I was really in a burger mood. I ordered a combo of a drink, fries, and a burger with bacon. (Their eponymous burger contains avocado, jalapeno, and teriyaki sauce, which sounded interesting - except for the avocado, of course.) The total was just over six bucks.
I sat down to wait for my food. It took almost fifteen minutes. People kept coming in and ordering, as well as going through the drive-through. (This definitely seemed more like Connal's than Cypress Best.) The whole time the cooks were busting their butts cooking one burger after another, repeatedly dunking fries in the fryer, cooking things in the giant woks. The girl taking orders would call out commands like she was working a trading floor, but the cooks had no trouble with any of it; I was there a half hour and not a single person had a complaint about their order. Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.
Finally my food was ready and was delivered by the super-friendly girl who had taken my order. I was unimpressed with the fries: they were the same thick pieces of potato that many fast food joints use. I have no problem with these as long as they are cooked long enough. However, I can count on one hand the number of places that do that. Usually they are served limp, frequently room temperature, and sometimes still cold in the center. These definitely could have used a couple more minutes in the fryer.
But the burger is what I was craving, and it looked much better. The lettuce was fresh and there were onions like I had requested, but what really jumped out at me was the bacon. I was expecting undercooked bacon, dripping with fat. I had planned to pick off whatever meat I could and throw the rest away. This bacon was actually really good; thicker than I expected and very meaty.
I finished all of my food. Actually, that's not entirely accurate: I finished all my food except for a few fries I gave to a man who sat down at my table while waiting for his food. He spoke no English but I remember enough of the five years of Spanish I took to understand what he was saying, and he was really hungry. I did not mind sharing a little. We chatted for a couple minutes about the Lakers (at least I hope that's what I was talking about; it's been a long time since those years of Spanish) and I left, wondering how in the hell I made it this long without knowing anything about this burger joint.
Is Fair Oaks Burger as good as Pie 'n Burger or Hutch's? No. But then again, it's less than half the price. It's simply a neighborhood burger joint that people seem to love. And with the high turnover of customers, it was no surprise that the ingredients on my burger were so fresh. I will definitely try it again. I've never ordered a torta and an egg roll from a restaurant before. I think that will be my next order.