Vineland and Victory Blvd.: Great Burgers, Old School Donuts + DoppelgĂ¤nger Burritos
It's almost rare to find a strip mall in Los Angeles that doesn't have some sort of doughnut place tucked away, around the corner. Sometimes they're prominently displayed, with humming lights and flashy pictures that attempt to entice the early morning commuter crowd. Others are quieter, more subtle affairs, relying on a steady income from bands of seemingly unemployed old men who sit around buying each other apple fritters and arguing over who gets to pay the $2 coffee bill. Doughnut shops are a way of life in Los Angeles, and they're an absolutely integral part of strip mall culture. Long live the strip mall doughnut.
Just west of the Burbank Airport on the corner of Vineland and Victory in North Hollywood, you can find such an L.A. doughnut classic. It's called Foster's Donuts, and every detail about the place is exactly as you'd expect, from the cash only sign down to the empty mid-afternoon booths and congenial old man running the register. They even sell cigarettes behind the counter, should you find yourself in the middle of a sweet tooth / nicotine addiction Venn diagram. And, believe it or not, Foster's isn't even the only restaurant on this Victory and Vineland corner that plays up its classic Southern California roots.
Noam Bleiweiss Foster's Donuts
With its corner billing, this Foster's Donuts (not to be confused with a million other Foster's Donuts throughout L.A.) manages to take up a pretty hefty chunk of this Valley strip mall. The odd number of parking spaces in the diminutive parking lot even skews towards the Foster's side, which might give you the impression that this place does big business. On the contrary. Step into Foster's past 10 a.m. and you'll find the storefront's solitary proprietor, quietly listening to music or rotating the inventory so the fresh stuff stays up front. Plus, there are rows of Marlboro cigarettes to be restocked, Lotto tickets to keep an eye on and phone cards that have to managed.
With all of the busy work that the eye can see, you'd imagine Foster's to be a lively epicenter of North Hollywood commerce, but in truth it's just the lovely old man, chatting with the occasional overweight food writer as he snacks down on chocolate glazed donuts and the oddest apple Danish you've ever seen. Long and tubelike, the filling and slip of cheese are rolled up inside, while the dough is punctured through, slowly leaking warm apple filling until the rest is either on your shirt or inside your stomach. Despite the calm surroundings, it's the sort of treat you just have to eat fast. Foster's Donuts opens daily at 4 a.m. and is cash only. 11005 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood; 818-761-5120.
Noam Bleiweiss Pastrami Cheeseburger and Chili Dog at Edy's Burger
If you see a decent amount of foot traffic coming in and out of this strip mall, you'll have Edy's Burger to thank. The corner burger shop isn't comprised of much: a small rectangular kitchen, thin counter with a straightforward menu board behind it, a few formica tables and a lone television flickering in one high corner of the room. But the TV is set permanently to the Food Network and the unmistakable smell of salty beef being caressed by a hot griddle makes Edy's a destination that the neighborhood long ago found out about.
Burgers here come thick and cooked fully, with a prodigious sear to go along with the snap of decent vegetables and the creamy slice of fat known as American cheese. There are entire deals devoted to the basic cheeseburger (try The Family Pack; it's four burger combos for $18), and a plateful of thin chili cheese fries are only a dollar after 4 p.m.
There is some seriously old school Southern California burgering going on here, with buttered and grilled sesame seed buns locking in over piles of pastrami or thick, beefy chili that are poured over each patty. There are hotdogs too, split and grilled into a snappy, well-spiced delight, then laid on with that same chili, some cheddar shreds and put into a bun that's been grilled itself. It seems like they throw everything they can onto that damn grill, which is exactly the way it should be. If you can figure out a way to grill up milkshakes, Edy's would probably do that too. Edy's takes credit cards and opens at 10:30 a.m. on weekdays, 11 a.m. on weekends and closes daily at 9 p.m. 11007 Victory Blvd., North Hollywood; 818-753-0648.