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EAT, DRINK & PLAY   -   GET OUT OF TOWN
Get Out of Town! - The Original Tommy's
Tommy's and Trojans make for a Winning Combination
November, 2006 - Issue #25
It's the most wonderful time of the year! College football is in full swing, ushering in the celebrations of the season: tailgate parties, office pools, and if you're a USC fan, post-game pilgrimages to the Original Tommy's at Beverly and Rampart.

They are as much a part of the Trojan tradition as Traveler, the Fight Song, and Tommy Trojan himself. I don't know why that it is. Perhaps it has to do with the restaurant and school mascot sharing the same name. Whatever the reason, 'SC newbies learn about Tommy's their first week on campus. I knew how to get there before I found my classes.

Being an L.A. native, I was already well acquainted with a Tommy's burger. I grew up just blocks away from the former location on Van Nuys Boulevard. But the late-night runs after home football games to the Original soon became sacred, with the same routine always followed.

Pile in a car and head up Hoover Street through neighborhoods that make most middle-class folks nervous during daylight. Order a double cheeseburger with no tomatoes and a Mountain Dew. Savor every bite and lick the remaining cheese and chili off the wrapper. Return to the line for a "suicide single" - one more chili burger, but this time a single rather than a double.

The importance of the ritual grew with each passing year in college. By the time I was a senior, two guys I knew swore they wouldn't get married unless their girlfriends passed the Tommy's test. The ladies had to down burgers, and if not claim to like them, at least not voice any complaints.

Thanks to a loyal following of Trojan fans and other Angelenos, the famed burger shack is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Since Tommy Koulax himself began serving up his signature chili burgers, the eatery has become an L.A. institution and expanded throughout Southern California and Nevada. We even have one here in Santa Clarita on The Old Road.

Getting There

The Original Tommy's is located at 2575 W. Beverly Boulevard.

Call them at 213-389-9060 or visit www.originaltommys.com.

Take I-5 south to State Route 170 south. Get on US 101 south and head over the hill and past Hollywood. Exit at Benton Way and turn right. Go left on Temple Street. Turn right on Rampart Boulevard. Tommy's is at the corner of Beverly and Rampart. Park in the main lot or across Rampart on the other corner.
Tommy's is still owned by Koulax's family and they have avoided franchising to ensure each new location is still faithful to the original. To their credit, the newer outlets authentically replicate the food. But the gleaming interiors, roomy booths and air conditioning at some newer locations belie the Original's humble roots.

The full Tommy's experience, with all of its ambience, can only be appreciated at the source. A cross-section of L.A. society lines up outside and ponders the menu: burgers, dogs, fries and tamales. The soda coolers stocked with canned Pepsi products offer more variety. But that's OK. Tommy's does one thing - and I will argue they do it better than anyone else - chili burgers.

After ordering and paying, you have the privilege of seeing your meal created. Watching the kitchen crew at work, attired in their red or blue aprons, white tee-shirts and paper hats, is akin to performance art. The cooks deftly layer pickles, spread onions, smear mustard, pile tomatoes and smother the all-beef patties and double-thick cheese in the trademark chili with a soundtrack of sizzling beef and spatulas scraping the grill. Within seconds, your order is wrapped in yellow and white paper, inserted in a cardboard container and slid across the counter into your waiting hands. You're moments away from burger nirvana.

Besides wrapping your mouth around the burger, the next big challenge is finding a place to stand. Yes, stand. There are no seats. Tommy's is always busy, but on Saturday nights after an 'SC home game, it's downright crowded. Counter space is at a premium and reaching past someone for paper towels (they don't have napkins either) is a given. But it's all part of the experience. In a city where appearance is everything, there is nothing more egalitarian than standing at an outdoor counter and watching perfect strangers try to keep chili from dribbling down their chins.

It's also a great way to find out whether your girlfriend takes herself too seriously. Mine didn't and passed the test with ease.

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Eric Harnish is a Newhall resident.
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