Old Hickory


Across the street from the vast Westside Pavilion and down the street from the computer stores of Pico stands the Apple Pan, the U-shaped lunch counter that has been feeding West Los Angeles from this location since the first Truman administration. It’s the crowded, genteel hamburger shack that figures in every Westsider’s dreams.

My family has been Apple Pan regulars at least since Lew Alcindor played freshman ball, and when my brother and his wife stayed home with their newborn last week, my mother and I independently had the same idea of what food might be appropriate to the occasion. My brother’s refrigerator currently bulges with hickory burgers and apple pie. Baby Zack missed out on the booty, of course, though it’s never too early to imprint the hickory burger smell . I like to think he’ll remember.

It’s a specialized operation, this place, with one grill dedicated to crisping hamburger buns and another to cooking the patties, a pie bakery in the rear, a man whose special skill is pulling leaves from heads of iceberg lettuce and riffling them into perfect sheaves, like a riverboat gambler shuffling a deck of cards. Here are the worn wooden walls; the homey plaid wallpaper; the clean, warm funk of frying meat. Here is Coca-Cola poured into paper cones snug in plastic holders. Here are the long, thick French fries, usually golden, occasionally pale and limp, which are customarily served with a separate cardboard plate for the ketchup. No matter how many waiting people may be crowded in behind you, no matter how hungrily they stare at your pie, the countermen will always draw you another cup of coffee from the gas-fired urn and give you with it a dram of fresh, heavy cream.

The Apple Pan is the matrix, the template, the straw that stirs the drink, and it is no coincidence that when nostalgia-mongering restaurateurs attempt to duplicate the Los Angeles hamburger experience, it is to the Apple Pan hamburger that they turn--not Tommy’s, not Russell’s, not Cassell’s.


The top and bottom buns of an Apple Pan hamburger are both crisped and slightly oily, crunchy at the edges, working toward a near-complete softness at the middle; the pickles are resilient dill chips; the sheaf of fresh iceberg lettuce provides a dozen-layered crispness at the core. The beef, generally cooked to a perfect, pink-centered medium, is juicy and full-flavored; the cheese, half-melted to a kind of sharp graininess, is good Tillamook Cheddar. If you order a steak burger, it will be dabbed with a sweet chile relish; if you order a hickory burger, with sweet, slightly noxious barbecue sauce instead. Hamburgers are what they do here. I am partial to the sandwiches made with smoky, thinly sliced Virginia ham, but I suspect that I will never order a ham sandwich of my own.

Apple Pan

10801 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 475-3585. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday to 1 a.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Cash only. Dinner for two, food only, $9 to $14.