Please don't tell me how much you don't like Pink's. Or worse, "I don't get what the big deal is about Pink's" — if there's one phrase in history that's been repeated more times about a Los Angeles eatery, it's that one. We all know this already. Nobody gets what the big deal is about Pink's. The Hollywood mainstay, which has been in business for 76 years, only seems to get more popular as time goes on. This is paralleled by the famous (or, rather, infamous) long lines at Pink's, which only seem to grow longer as the hour grows later.
Rich and poor, club kids, street rats, celebrities and celeb-wannabes alike all make the pilgrimage for their chili dogs and institutional seasoned fries. There are a dozen or more specialty dogs, many of which are adorably out-of-touch and named for underwhelming celebrities (Ryan Lochte Dog, anyone?). Like it or not, Pink's, which was founded as a pushcart in 1939 by Paul and Betty Pink, is a landmark.
Going to Pink's is experiential dining; it's less about the food than about where you were and who you were with at 11 p.m. when you decided to make the pilgrimage. Alcohol has been consumed at varying levels. It's usually not the first meal of the evening. At some point, a member of your party will half-grin and say, "So... should we go to Pink's?" The person who says this says it in a slightly joking manner, half-anticipating to be shot down immediately and mocked mercilessly.
Wait, you've never been to Pink's?
Having made it through that first hurdle, and after any vegetarians in the group have peeled off, the question is repeated: "So, guys... Pink's?" At this point, someone else pipes up: "You know what? I've never been to Pink's!" Someone else says incredulously: "Wait, you've never been to Pink's?" Cue two-to-three minute conversation about how your friend has lived in LA for six years, has always intended to go, but has never been to Pink's. Then, it would seem, the die has been cast. Everyone piles into the car and heads to the corner of Melrose and La Brea.
The arrival is exciting; Pink's is lit up like a cruise ship in the midst of a dark ocean. The fluorescent lights, and loud pink, white, and red color scheme act as a beacon that peeks through the mundane dirtiness of Hollywood. And there are people in line, of course. While the lines can be unforgiving on weekend nights, people are generally in a good mood. Waiting 45 minutes for a Rosie O'Donnell Dog gives you time to get to know these people with whom you made this journey. Lots of small talk ensues. Discussion of the menu. Cell phone pictures. A certain amount of self-reflection and why-am-I-here-ing may drift through your mind.
But then, you're inside the the small, brick hut-like structure where the cashier is. And you're ordering... burgers! That's right, ladies and gentlemen, it's Burger Week 2015 here at Eater L.A. HQ, and we are leaving no stone unturned to discover the ins and outs of the city's burgers. Even if — or should I say, especially if — the burgers come from the most unexpected, most counterintuitive place. And burgers at Pink's Hot Dogs's is about as counterintuitive at it gets. Father's Office? Apple Pan? In-N-Out? No, thanks. Take me to a place where no one ever orders the burger!
And at Pink's, no one does. There was a fair amount of confusion when we ordered four burgers; some scrambling, some muttering, some quick calculations being made in the heads of the kitchen staff. Burgers? their eyes seemed to say. Are you nuts? It was a little odd, considering that burgers take up about as much real estate on their menu as anything else. But, to their credit, they adjusted quickly and were soon flying through our order of a pastrami swiss cheeseburger, mushroom swiss cheeseburger, turkey burger, poli-bacon chili cheeseburger, and fries.
I began this article prepared to tell you that the burgers at Pink's were the greatest thing on earth — a truly hidden, unearthed gem to share with the L.A. burger fanatic crowd. The Best Burgers in LA Are at a Hot Dog Stand, the headline screamed in my head. Accolades, kudos, and ticker tape parade would follow for this shockingly original, out-of-the-box thinking.
That's what I wanted to be true, at the very least. It's not strictly true. It's so untrue, in fact, that we're not even going to discuss three of the burgers: the pastrami swiss cheeseburger, the mushroom swiss cheeseburger, and the turkey burger. Let's just say they were underwhelming. Let us brush them into the dustpan of burger history, never to be discussed again. The last burger we had, however, the poli-bacon chili cheeseburger, was a marvel. It has an entire polish sausage on the burger, cut lengthwise and flattened out, so that it looks like a progeny of Gene Simmons. It's not lost on me that the best burger at Pink's Hot Dogs happens to be the one that's most like a hot dog.
The last burger we had was a marvel.
Why was it outstanding? Bacon was crispy and salty. The chili and cheese swirled together, creating a silken texture of meaty smokiness mixed with the pleasant plasticity only American cheese brings. The addition of the polish sausage, though, was really what made it shine. The polish was spicy, wonderfully textured, had a slightly nutty flavor, and a wonderful bite. The poli-bacon chili cheeseburger was eaten, completely. It was really delicious. It was almost enough, in fact, to make you forget you were eating a burger.