If you have ever wondered what Los Angeles was like in the 1950s, spend some time at the counter of the Apple Pan. There are no gimmicks here: no jukeboxes blasting 50s music; no poodle-skirt-clad, wanna-be-actor waitresses. However, this might be the only place in the entire city that hasn’t changed since it opened, in 1947.
The Apple Pan’s dining area and kitchen are all in one room of a bungalow-style building. Open the front doors, and you are a few feet from the large, u-shaped counter - the only seating available. If you see an open stool, sit; if not, wait. Undoubtedly, you will immediately smell the burgers. This is because the kitchen is right there! You can watch your burger and fries made while you wait. And the wait won’t be long.
My husband and I were lucky when we went there on Saturday - there were two stools right when we got in. Even though there were no other open seats, we were immediately greeted by one of the two servers. Our server (who manned our half of the counter), gave us the simple, one-page menu. The few items on it include two types of steak burgers, ham and cheese, tuna, egg salad, and a melted cheese sandwich. There are fries that can be ordered on the side, several drinks (including buttermilk!), and of course the homemade pies.
Neither of us could pass up the steak burgers, so we ordered two with cheese and one order of fries. Our fresh fries were served to us in a heaping pile on a small paper plate within minutes. The servers aren’t known for their small talk (other reviews describe them as “crusty”), but when prodded, ours was friendly enough. He let us know that he has been there for fifty years, and the server at the other end of the counter has been there for forty-one. In a city known for constant change, this fascinated me, as did the amazing taste of the fries. They were crispy on the outside, potato-y on the inside, and hot.
Shortly after we got our fries, out came our burgers. Their steak burgers are not of the fork-and-knife variety, but that’s okay with me because I prefer quality over quantity. They are wrapped in paper and topped with mayo, ketchup, sweet relish, pickles, and crisp iceberg lettuce. Basically, this is fast food the way it was first conceived - made to order, served up hot, and oh so delicious.
Here comes the blasphemous part - the part that could even solicit hate mail - the Apple Pan blows In-and-Out right out of the water. They have a lot of similarities: greasy burger, fresh food, simple menu, LA landmark, etc. But the food at the Apple Pan just tastes better. There is a reason why its counter is never empty.
To finish off our perfect evening of greasy, yet fatalistically American, food, we got the apple pie, ala mode. You know it’s a good sign when you see boxes of apples in the kitchen. The pie is delivered hot, covered with two large scoops of vanilla ice cream that slowly melt on the plate. It’s definitely big enough to share, although I wouldn’t have argued at having my own piece.
In the end, there was a small price to pay to experience a real LA burger - our meal was over $20. At $6.50 each, I wouldn’t say these are the cheapest burgers you can get. And yeah, for just a few dollars more, you might be able to get one of these big, thick knife-and-fork style burgers, with fries included. But then you won’t be at the Apple Pan, and until you’ve gone, you can’t say you can put a price on that. As my husband and I got rung up at one of the two built-in cash registers, as old as the Apple Pan themselves, we knew it was worth it.
The Apple Pan is located in West Los Angeles, at Westwood and Pico, across the street from the Westside Pavilion: 10801 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Phone: (310) 475-3585
Note: The above-mentioned 1947 cash registers are cash only. Luckily, there is a Wells Fargo across the street.
Noteworthy reviews: The Apple Pan’s 60th birthday is mentioned on Serious Eats.