Thursday, August 5, 2010

#3 Burger -- Russell's

(photo courtesy of LA Time Machine)
Every time I go to Russell’s, in Pasadena, I look down at my half-eaten burger and I say to myself that maybe this is the best burger in the world. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful. As I’ve mentioned before, Russell’s is an extraordinarily colorful burger inside, with its purple tomato, deep green lettuce (indicating that’s it’s not even iceberg lettuce, a rarity) and bright orange cheddar cheese. Of course, none of this would mean a thing if the taste didn’t measure up. Obviously it does.

For years, Russell’s, like The Apple Pan, floated around in the number two or number three position on my Top Ten List. Every once in a while, usually immediately after visiting there, I flirt with the idea of making it number one. That’s how close it is between the top burgers, and how uniformly special they all are.

But Russell’s even has something going for it that the others such as The Apple Pan and Cassell’s don’t. It’s a really nice restaurant. In fact, when you enter Russell’s you immediately think that this meal is going to cost a bit more than you think. The fact that the prices are pretty much the same as the others definitely elevates this burger into the stratosphere.

This seems to be a recent development in Russell’s. The first time I tried Russell’s, it was their Belmont Shores location. The place was homey and comfortable, not too different from Pie ‘N’ Burger. For years, nearby Hamburger Henry’s was my burger joint of choice, and many people asked if I’d been to Russell’s. It took me a long time to finally find it, but when I did, I was hooked, and in many ways it instantly surpassed Henry’s as my burger of choice in the Long Beach area.

At one point there were several Russell’s around, although I’ve only tried the Belmont Shore location and ultimately the Old Town Pasadena location, which turned out to be the original location, dating back to 1930. That makes Russell’s the second oldest surviving burger joint, I believe, next to The Apple Pan. I’ve heard a few different versions of how the chain expanded and contracted, most of it centering on an Asian family who purchased them all and sold them off, one by one, until only the Pasadena location remained. I think that’s sad in a way, especially considering that Russell’s offers some of the finest food around in addition to their burgers, and in a perfect world they’d be putting one on every corner instead of closing them down. But I don’t know the whole story, so maybe I’m off base here.

Anyways, by the time the chain more or less disappeared, I had already settled into going to the Pasadena location, mostly because Pasadena had become a veritable hamburger haven for me with all of the great burgers. Just a few years ago I noticed that the restaurant had been redecorated, and that it closely resembles a very nice restaurant inside. Not quite L’Orangerie, but much nicer than say, Marie Callender’s. They even started playing classical music on the sound system there.

What does this all do for the burger? Well, nothing, I suppose. But I think it’s nice that Russell’s did all this without jacking up the prices like they do at some of the trendier gourmet burger places. The Russell’s burger, after all, is still a purist burger, although beautifully rendered with the freshest and finest of ingredients.


  1. geez I miss the real Russell's that used to be in Long Beach. a couple of years ago I found myself in Pasadena and went to that Russell's in the hopes I could relive that ultimate burger experience. while it is a fine burger it is not a true Russells burger. the spread is not the same the buns are not the same and the patty is way too big. and all those fabulous hash browns are nowhere to be found. same thing in New York City PJ Clarke's cut out their hash browns which were my second favorite. one of these days I'm going to find some local peeps that know who the original owners and get that damn recipe. - zig

  2. RIP Russell's in LB on Atlantic!

  3. The one in long Beach with the mile high pie? Oh yeah, Baby. A cheeseburger and lemon meringue pie and coffee? A meal to remember...good times.

  4. The Atlantic location has the best memories for me! The burger, the hash browns with melted cheese, the lemon meringue pie! The lunch counter and the whole vibe of that location...the best. Grew up going there, even long after we moved away.