I can’t recall the specifics of my first time eating at The Apple Pan, but I do remember that my six or seven year old self wasn’t all that impressed. You see, I grew up on a steady diet of McDonald’s for breakfast and some dinners, with Lunchables (before they got all “healthy” and started offering sugary smoothies and tiny portions of fruit. Needless to say, I didn’t have the developed, nuanced palate that I do today. With that in mind, I think what threw me off that first time sitting at the U-shaped counter at the small shack shadowed by the massive Westside Pavillion across the street, was how fresh the burgers were; juicy, cooked to order, and set atop a crisp layer of iceberg lettuce that was a far cry from the plain double cheeseburgers that I preferred. As I got older I saw (and more so tasted) the errors in my ways, and quickly made up for lost time by ditching the fast food chains and making The Apple Pan a weekly destination for my family and I while we lived in west LA.
Fast forward about fifteen years after my introduction to The Apple Pan and things remain largely unchanged, as has been the case for longtime regulars since the restaurant opened way back in 1947. You won’t find a more old school, no-frills burger joint in the city, where the cash register could pass for an antique (cash only of course) and sodas are served in paper cups filled with ice and placed in a metal holder, somehow making a regular Coke or 7-Up taste that much better, as it must have back in the 50s and 60s when it contained real cane sugar. It’s this same throwback mentality that apparently throws off some customers (as evidenced by countless Yelp reviews) who seem to come in expecting a full-service burger experience in line with an Umami or The Counter and leave disappointed when the white-aproned men behind the counter stop by just long enough to toss down a menu and scribble down your order, leaving no room for pleasantries or chit chat, the way a burger joint of this fashion should operate.
French Fries [$2.60]
A burger just isn’t a burger for me without a pile of fries (chips will do as well) to go along with it. The most important part about the fries at The Apple Pan is how quickly they show up in front of you, fried to a perfect golden crisp with a steaming hot interior that’s soft and starchy. One order is enough for two people to share, though don’t expect anyone to concede the last fry.
Tuna Salad [$8.10]
Although the restaurant’s storied success is mostly on account of their burgers and pies, there does exist a loyal minority that swear by the tuna and egg salad options. On occasion I can be convinced to split a burger and a sandwich (as was the case on this visit), but frankly the tuna just never really hits the spot the way a burger does; the relish is too sweet and the amount of mayonnaise can be excessive. I much prefer the versions at The Sycamore Kitchen and Gjelina Takeaway.
Only two burgers are offered here and they’re nearly identical except for sweet BBQ-esque sauce on the Hickoryburger and the tangy, relish found on the Steakburger. I tend to go through phases of ordering one over the other, and lately it’s been the Steakburger. The loosely-formed, crumbly beef patty is usually cooked to right around medium, and at its best when topped with a slice of Tillamook cheddar cheese for an extra 50 cents. Crispy iceberg lettuce is a refreshing counterpoint to the meat, while that sweet and sour relish coats each bite.
Banana Cream Pie [$6.25]
Although their apple pie has always been the most popular, it’s banana cream or bust for me. It’s the best of its kind in Los Angeles. The ratios are perfect: firm, flaky crust; slices of fresh bananas not yet turned brown from oxidation; a velvety yellow custard coating; a top layer of cream. It’s no doubt a pricey piece of pie, but getting “the best” usually comes at a higher cost. In this case, it’s totally worth it.
In all my years of eating at The Apple Pan, the only thing that has changed is the price, something I can overlook given that everything else has remained the same. It’s precisely this consistency that turns one-time customers into “lifers” whom you might notice quietly eating a hickory burger alone at the counter with an aura of inner-peace in this precise moment. Maybe it’s the nostalgia factor, of being able to recall childhood memories by sipping from a paper cup, or perhaps it’s simply the fresh, made-to-order taste of the burger with its unique relish. Whatever it is, the fact remains that The Apple Pan is as LA as it gets, something not to be taken for granted all these years later.
The Apple Pan
10801 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Dine date: Fri 12.27.13, 1:15p