Everyone knows The Oinkster. Eagle Rock’s decade-old claim to restaurant fame sports a pitched A-frame roof and throwback exterior signage, while inside fans line up for meaty burgers, house-cured pastrami, and bright purple ube milkshakes. But exactly how someone comes to love The Oinkster, and why, actually says a lot about the individual diner themselves — and what chef/owner Andre Guerrero’s signature casual restaurant secretly means to the city of Los Angeles.
For many fans of The Oinkster, love came at first bite during Burger Week, a now-annual affair that features a slew of one-off creations, done day after day. Burger Week has become the stuff of legend in many circles, a feat for friends to try to tackle together — eat every burger across the full seven days to become a true #burgerlord, enamel pin and all.
First started at the pitch of the recession, Burger Week was meant initially as a way to keep drumming up business for the restaurant, nothing more. “I was thinking of kind of burger throwdown,” says Guerrero, “What are the most iconic burgers out there? We’ll do our version of it. And the first thing I thought of was the Big Mac.”
From there, Burger Week became a contest of conception and execution, with Guerrero in the kitchen trying to best the creations of other places locally and internationally, from McDonald’s to Sang Yoon’s own Father’s Office burger. The weeklong event was a hit, with dozens of fans lining up for the burgers, but also sticking around for sides, shakes, and takeaway promotional posters.
Two years later, The Oinkster was doing hundreds of new Burger Week burgers per day, selling to thousands of rabid fans sporting t-shirts and pins, eager to become #burgerlords themselves. Burger Week was, and remains, a certifiable hit with a certain type of consumer, eager to test the boundaries of sauce and size. It’s the stuff that heavily-saturated Instagram photos were made for, which only propels the enormous annual lines for the next Burger Week to come.
One now-permanent burger from all those years of creation is the Royale, a decadent option with beef, bun, pastrami, bacon, cheese, and chili all piled inside. It’s a staple order at The Oinkster for off-season fans still looking to stack up something meaty before the next Burger Week comes. Others come for the pastrami, a Los Angeles signature done for years by places like The Hat, where thin-cut piles are favored over thicker-style Jewish deli pastrami.
Today Guerrero and company sell about 1,500 pounds of the stuff a week across two locations in Eagle Rock and Hollywood. That’s no small feat for a place that’s just as well known for its burgers, Belgian-style fries, and that famous ube shake. Shaded light purple and effortlessly creamy, the ube shake has its own legions of fans — and for very good reason.
Ube, perhaps more commonly known as a purple yam, is a staple dessert ingredient in the Filipino repertoire, but it wasn’t Guerrero’s first thought for including as part of a milkshake. “I didn’t want to be known as a guy who only cooked Filipino food,” he says. “But everybody knows I’m Filipino,” and with a wry smile, “Especially in this neighborhood.”
Eagle Rock is a home for many of the hundreds of thousands of Filipino families spread across California, and as such is rife with mom and pop shops selling flavors from the Philippines to locals. But before The Oinkster, there wasn’t much cultural mixing of Filipino and American flavors in Los Angeles, or America for that matter. Pinoys tended to eat out at restaurants that favored their own home cooking, or offered fast food alternatives like Jollibee so famously does.
Not long after opening, Guerrero decided to lean in, just a little bit, to find out what the neighborhood might like.
“In the Philippines, my mom used to cook down ube with coconut milk and sugar, and it takes forever,” says Guerrero. “You just have to keep stirring it and stirring it, until it becomes a paste. One day we made some of that and put it in with a scoop of ice cream, and it just tasted great.”
The purple dessert drink was a near-instant hit, thanks in no small part to (who else?) Jonathan Gold, who wrote up the thing on a whim just days after stopping in. Filipinos flooded the place, and now the shake is as much a staple of The Oinkster’s menu as pastrami and burgers ever were. That singular shake also helped to create a pathway forward for younger, newer Filipino chefs to experiment with their own rich family flavors and American culture. After all, what’s more classically American than a milkshake, and more Filipino than ube?
Today’s Oinkster is no less rife with innovation. Craft beer anchors the drinks side of the menu now, with a particular focus on brews from Mark Jilg, the notoriously mercurial founder of Craftsman in Pasadena. Jilg and his team have a waiting list hundreds of names long for people who want to sell their beer and they don’t offer a consumer taproom, but Jilg is a fan of Guerrero’s and routinely sends anyone looking for a taste to The Oinkster instead, or Guerrero’s Italian restaurant Maximiliano over in Highland Park.
Guerrero’s own children even run a couple of burger stands around Los Angeles now, years after vowing never to into the restaurant industry themselves. Brothers Fred and Max would help during busy Burger Weeks, running orders or working on logos and branding materials ahead of time. That led to a popular social media account chronicling The Oinkster (and other) burgers, and ultimately to a corner stall in Chinatown that routinely does its own collaborations with high-end chefs across the city. The name of that restaurant? Burgerlords, of course.
2005 Colorado Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA