The Rose Parade is likely one of the main things that comes to mind when people think of the city of Pasadena.
But according to city officials, Pasadena has another much larger and tastier claim to fame: It’s the birthplace of the cheeseburger.
“The whole idea is to do something fun and different,” said Paul Little, president and chief executive officer of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, which is honoring the beloved food item with its annual Cheeseburger Week.
“When they think of Pasadena they think of the parade and football game, so we thought a Cheeseburger Week would flip that,” he added. “Everybody loves cheeseburgers.”
The event, first launched in 2012, will feature 40 local restaurants — including Der Wolf, Jake’s Trustworthy Burgers and Beer, The Stand, Kathleen’s Restaurant, Lucky Baldwin’s Pub and many more — offering cheeseburger specials from Jan. 22-28.
Some will be debuting new cheeseburgers on their menu, some will be creating special burgers just for the event, while others will offer discounts on existing burgers. And all will be standing firmly behind the city’s claim as the birthplace of the cheeseburger, which according to Little, happened in 1924 thanks to a careless teenager who was flipping burgers for a living.
Lionel Sternberger was working at his father’s restaurant called The Rite Spot, located at 1500 W. Colorado Blvd., when he accidentally burned a hamburger patty. Instead of throwing it away, Sternberger tried to hide his mistake by putting a piece of cheese on the meat and serving it to a customer.
And after that, word got out and people soon started coming to the Rite Spot to try the new “Aristocratic Burger,” at the since long-closed restaurant. According to Little and The Chamber, proof of this milestone moment in food history can be found in a Wikipedia entry, as well as old articles in local papers and an obituary in Time magazine for Sternberger in 1964.
While other cities across the United States, like Denver and Louisville, also claim to be the birthplace of the cheeseburger, Little and other chamber officials are so convinced it was born in Pasadena that on Jan. 5, 2017 the city unveiled a plaque commemorating the invention of the cheeseburger in front of the LA Financial Credit Union, which is were the Rite Spot once stood.
“It’s pretty well verified,” Little said. “Or at least what I can say is there is no earlier recorded instance on record of somebody putting cheese on a burger and serving it to a customer.”
With that settled, here are three must-try cheeseburgers available during Cheeseburger Week, including a burger from a classic Pasadena restaurant, a fusion burger that’s only available during this special week and one from a growing burger and hot dog chain restaurant that got its start in Pasadena.
Pie N’ Burger, 913 E. California Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 795-1123 or pienburger.com.
First opened in 1964, the Pie N’ Burger is a Pasadena staple, serving old school, simple food. And their cheeseburger is the star of the joint.
“We don’t have like 14 different types of burger, just one, so it’s a classic,” said owner Michael Osborn. The burger is served in a paper wrapper and made with a recipe that dates back more than 50 years. It consists of housemade Thousand Island dressing, a quarter-pound of ground beef cooked on a griddle and topped with American cheese. It’s served on a toasted white bun with lettuce, onions and pickles. So how good is this simple burger? Well, it has been featured on the Food Network’s list of 100 Best Burgers in America. For Cheeseburger Week, Pie N’ Burger is serving their classic burger with a soft drink and a side for $16. Normally that combo would be $22.
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One week only
El Portal, 695 E. Green St., Pasadena. 626-795-8553 or elportalrestaurant.com.
El Portal is a popular Mexican restaurant known for serving authentic food from the Yucatan region. But for Cheeseburger Week, the restaurant brings back its Zacatecas Burger. The burger is made with Yucatan pork and ground beef that’s smothered with cheese, a secret sauce and served on a grilled roll.
“It’s just really delicious and I recommend it. It’s one I try to eat every year since they only serve it that one week during the year,” Little said.
The Hometown chain
Dog Haus, 93 E. Green St. and 105 N. Hill Ave., Pasadena. doghaus.com.
Dog Haus is a growing hot dog, sausage and burger chain with close to 100 locations throughout the country. But like the cheeseburger, the chain has its roots in the city, so for co-founder Andre Vener, Cheeseburger Week isn’t just about burgers, it’s also about local pride.
“We were created in Pasadena, we opened the first one here 12 years ago, I live in Pasadena, so this is our hometown,” said Vener.
This may be a chain, but Dog Haus doesn’t serve traditional fast-food style cheeseburgers. Its burgers are six-ounce Angus beef smashed burgers, which gives the patty a bit of a charred flavor. They are made with a slightly spicy Thousand Island sauce, Swiss-American cheese and they’re served between grilled sweet King’s Hawaiian bread.
“You get this amazing sweet texture of the soft bun and you get that amazing crunch of the burger,” Vener said.
On the menu are cheeseburger options like the Little Mule, which is made with a fried egg, chipotle sauce and pickled jalapenos. For those with big appetites, or who maybe went to a big party the night before, there’s the Hangover, made with bacon, fried egg and the house chili. For Cheeseburger Week, the Pasadena Dog Haus locations will be offering $7.99 deals on their burgers, which normally sell for about $11.
For a complete list of participating Cheeseburger Week restaurants, go to pasadenarestaurantweek.com.