CASSELL’S HAMBURGERS 3600 West 6th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90020
So this is the first stop on our list, here, and in my opinion, the list could just stop here. I mean, shit, one grease-drenched, cheese-covered, doublestack meat sammiches from this joint and my Year of the Burger is already off to the artery-clogging start I expected. Admittedly, though, Cassel’s gonna get granted a little bit of a leg-up as such here. I’ll make it no secret that, as self-styled burger connoisseur, I tend to favor simple, diner-style smash steakburgers over the farm-raised gourmet fork-and-knife bourgeurs that have risen up recently to represent the “new era” of burger eatery.
Cassell’s Hamburgers was established in 1948 and now occupies the lower level of the historic Hotel Normandie, where it operates 7am to 11pm daily, and til 2am on Fridays and Saturdays. Cassell’s has a storied legacy in Los Angeles — a city that prides itself on hanging onto establishments unchanged for decades — first as a burger stand and then as a restaurant that dwindled in popularity until it finally closed in 2012. It reopened as part of the neighborhood’s revitalization project and is now on prominent display at this busy corner on the topside of K-Town.
Parking in that neighborhood at night, no matter what day of the week, is a bitch. The epitome of what parking in LA is at its worst — pushing already borderline metro area drivers, circling the block again and again and again until, at the teetering brink of insanity, they wedge the car up on a curb and toss the keys in the gutter. Best bet, IMO, whether they have their shit together or not (because when I went, THEY DID NOT) is to leave your car with the valets of the Hotel Normandie. It’s worth the five dollars so that you don’t road rage so hard you split in two and give up on your own life.
Inside, the diner will be bustling, probably, because, though it’s possessed still of some of its old-world charm, has become another typical 21st Century burn-and-turn. Staff are clipped and direct, but its because they’re busy not because they’re dicks. My partner-in-burger, SM, had already grabbed a table by the window by the time I got there, so we settled in and started the night off with a couple beers and an order of fries.
When it comes to the main event, you have your choice between a A) hamburger or B) cheeseburger or C) some vegetarian bullshit, with further options of patty size, as well as a number of add-ons, such as “sauce.” The burger comes presented on metal cafeteria trays, with tomato, lettuce, onion, and pickle as basic trimmings. I ordered a cheeseburger, DOUBLE, one-third pound, and I ordered it WELL DONE, and you can all say what you will about me, America, I ain’t embarrassed that I like my meat cooked.
For my money, this burger came exactly how I like them. It was smothered in American cheese, which did not eclipse the taste of the burger, the meat of which maintained the perfect greasy zest that makes diner steakburgers so goddamn good. It came on a traditional Parker House hamburger bun, so, y’know, none of this fancy-ass highfalutin’ brioche crap that’s become so indicative of the “$20 BURGER” phenomenon, that it’s just become a fucking bun. I dressed the burger to my liking with regular ketchup and mustard and some of those pickles. I finished all two-thirds of a pound of beef and cheese with LITTLE TO NO GASTROINTESTINAL INCIDENT.
Our server seemed, at first, a little on the bitter side, but once we made it clear that we were working through Eater LA’s list of LA’s Best Burgers, he blossomed like a flower. It turned out that he wasn’t all about the gig, he is all about burgers. He maintains an Instagram page devoted to a cheeseburger-a-day journey.
Follow @chasing_cheeseburgers, although I have to warn you, he’s “pretty into patty melts right now.”
Partner-in-burger, SM, who’s a Los Angeles native, grew up on Apple Pan, which we’re getting to, so he favors that taste and experience in particular. Cassel’s ended up on the fair end of our “out-of-10” burger rating scale, but nothing special. He didn’t particularly care for the fries, which is a cornerstone for a burger experience for him, and which I admit, were, in this case, a little lackluster. He gave Cassell’s 6/10.
In Cassell’s defense, however, when Al Cassell first opened, he didn’t make fries. In fact, he flat out refused to, and he served homemade potato salad instead. In any case, for me, this was a great burger experience. Although I’m increasingly excited that this was the inaugural outing for my Year of the Burger, it’ll be tough to wade through 20 more hamburgers before I can come back to this boss bitch for round two. — 9/10