Original Tommy's—World's Best Hamburger
I had my first taste of Tommy's chili hamburger in 1968. I had been working late, long past midnight to get out an urgent mailing. When my boss asked if I was hungry, I nodded enthusiastically. "Then," she said, "I have a real treat for you."
She took me and a couple of other co-workers a few blocks away to Beverly and Rampart in Los Angeles to the Original Tommy's. Surprisingly, there was a line of nearly a hundred people queued up along the sidewalk to this outdoor shack. It was almost 3 AM.
No worries, though. The line moved quickly. At the shack, I could see why. The one assembling the burgers was a maniac of blurred motion—hands darting to and fro, whipping the components into position and skillfully wrapping them in paper and presenting them assembly line fashion. Mine was a "sissy cheese" (no onions). At the condiment counter, my boss suggested I grab a jalapeño pepper—a waxy looking, pale yellow-green bundle of spice. I would grow to love nibbling on these spicy fingers of mouthwatering warmth along with each burger.
There was no place to sit down, so we stood at the side counter which surrounds the parking lot. I took a cautious bite of this monstrosity and immediately fell in love. The chili sauce had a mild tanginess, but satisfying sumptuousness. The pickles and tomatoes were thick, fresh and juicy. The beef was just as sumptuous and tasty. I couldn't get enough of it. A few hours later, when finally I got to bed, I dreamed of the Tommy burger. And I looked forward to the next.
I began to wonder, do they put something illegal in the chili sauce? Why did I have such a maddening urge to go back to Tommy's? Like I said, the line was long, the seating was nonexistent, but the food was heavenly. Even when the chili slopped out onto my clothes, I found I didn't mind. Each time, the fulfilling Tommy burger made up for any inconvenience.
Rating Original Tommy's Hamburgers
Missing Tommy's Hamburgers Like Crazy
The last time I visited Tommy's, they had expanded from their original location. It was 1997. They had several sit-down stores across the Los Angeles area. I had noticed an older friend drive by in his classic Mercedes Benz with the license, "I GROK" (alluding to Robert Heinlein's equally classic "Stranger in a Strange Land"). Moments later, my friend came in and sat right next to me. We each had a Tommy burger and life was good.
Later that year, I moved to Phoenix and never again savored the Tommy burger classic. And now, after 5 years living in the Philippines, I sometimes remember wistfully the joy of biting into a double Tommy cheeseburger with everything. Yeah, no more sissy burger. I've grown up.
The Original Tommy's started in 1946. That any business stays in one place for nearly 70 years and continues to expand says something wildly good about their service and product. People keep coming back. In 1970, they started expanding across southern California, now with 30 locations. Enough people are hooked to keep the business growing—now into southern Nevada. The family business is in no hurry to take over the world. They carefully choose each location and grow the business slowly to keep the quality high and the enthusiasm large.
Maybe one day, we'll have an Original Tommy's in the Philippines. I can dream, can't I?