Thursday, December 11, 2008

Original Tommy's (Los Angeles, CA)

Original Tommy's
2575 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057
Thu 12/11/2008, 12:45a-01:10a

In a sense, this meal was a continuation of the FoodDigger old red wine and sushi dinner at Shibucho. As I was driving home, trying to get on the 101, I received a call from Ryan of Tangmeister. He was in his car a ways in front of me, and excitedly told me that he just passed the original Original Tommy's. Known for its chili-cheeseburgers, Tommy's is one of those legendary LA eateries, and neither of us had been, so we decided to stop by for a midnight "snack."

A bit of a history lesson is appropriate. This location was opened on May 15, 1946 by Tom Koulax, son of Greek immigrants. Tommy's began selling hamburgers and hot dogs topped with chili, and though business was slow initially, things started to pick up in the 1960's. The original shack is pictured above, but eventually Koulax bought out the entire surrounding lot. Starting in the 1970's, Tommy's began expanding throughout Southern California, and now has 30 locations in the region (and also one in Henderson, Nevada). Interestingly, none of the restaurants are franchised; all are company-owned (much like In-n-Out). I imagine this is to keep tighter control of the food and overall Tommy's experience.

Eventually, a second service counter on the eastern side of the lot was set up to accommodate more customers. The food is largely the same, but the original shack tends to have longer lines, for purely nostalgic reasons I'm sure. The counter was closed on our visit, probably because it was late.

Here we see the menu board; I was actually reprimanded by a security guard for photographing it! Click for a larger version. Ryan decided to challenge me with the so-called Mega Combo [$9.00], which consists of a Triple Cheeseburger, Chili Cheese Fries, and a 20oz drink. If I finished it, he'd pay for the meal. Not one to back down from these sorts of things, I heartily accepted his dare. What surprised us was the sheer speed of the operation--I swear the food was ready before Ryan even got to put the change back in his wallet!

Not surprisingly, the food didn't come out looking quite as appetizing as pictured in the advertisement, smothered somewhat haphazardly in chili. About that signature chili, it comes with just about everything on the menu, even the breakfast Sausage & Egg Sandwich. According to the Tommy's web site, it's composed of an amalgam of an all beef chili con carne base, water, flour, and a special "secret" blend of spices. The result is a somewhat lean, watery, mild concoction that tends to congeal rather quickly.

The burger was a pretty standard one, consisting of three 100% beef patties and two slices of American cheese, topped with chili (of course), mustard, hand-sliced beef steak tomato, pickles, and chopped onions. It wasn't exactly a life-changing burger, but it was tasty. The chili actually took a back seat to the beef/cheese combination, which was by far the dominant taste component here. The pickles and mustard provided some tartness to liven things up, while the tomatoes added a refreshing textural contrast. Some of that old Bordeaux we had at Shibucho probably wouldn't have been bad here (in any case, certainly more interesting than my Diet Pepsi)!

The Chili Cheese Fries, meanwhile, comprised of an order of fries topped with a slice of cheese and plenty of that signature chili. It was about what you'd expect, though one problem I found was that the cheese didn't quite melt. That was my only real complaint, though I really think some onions would make this even better. Good, but I still do prefer the version at my old high school haunt, Volcano Burger.

In the end, I was able to rise to the occasion and finish the Mega Combo, which I must say was pretty impressive, given that I had a 17-course dinner earlier that night. Nevertheless, my gluttony wasn't really the point here; the point was to experience a giant of the LA restaurant scene. The food is tasty, but thoroughly uncomplicated. Certainly, most any competent chef could come close to duplicating the cuisine at Tommy's. But with a place like this, the experience really rises above just the food. The reason that Tommy's has been able to survive this long isn't merely the chili, it's the history, the custom, the folklore, it's how the restaurant has become part of LA's culinary landscape, a place for all Angelinos. Tommy's has been able to transcend the boundaries of old vs. young, rich vs. poor, foodie vs. casual eater. We saw teenagers there; we saw quinquagenarians. We saw people dressed as they could be migrant workers, and people dressed as captains of industry. And then you have us--two budding food bloggers with perhaps slightly inflated senses of self-importance. Truly then, this is a special place, one positively deserving of the moniker iconic.


Blogger mattatouille said...

Tommy's is a once a year thing for me, or else my arteries will keel over and die. But dang, that ONE time a year is certainly worth it. Nice review, nice contrast to the abounding Michelin stars on your site :)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 9:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Mega Combo AFTER a 17-course dinner? You RULE.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 9:50:00 AM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

oh man we used to go to this place almost every night @ 2am for one summer. Heart attack central!

They opened a "shiny" one in san diego, it's just not the same.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger Miracle Pending said...

It's yummy. I usually opt for Carney's though.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger FoodDigger said...

You and Ryan are nuts. Hanging out on Rampart at one in the morning??? I love Tommy's...unfortunately, my stomach doesn't. But like Matt says, once a year is good.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

mattatouille: Once a year sounds about right. Speaking of contrast, I'll be in NY starting tomorrow, and there will be 11 stars coming in the next few days, intermixed with typical NY pizza and hot dogs joints.

MyLastBite: Lol. I may rule, but my stomach certainly wasn't afterwards. ;)

Charlie Fu: Not the same indeed. If I'm going to Tommy's, it'd better be the original!

shar: Thanks for the tip about Carney's. I actually wasn't aware of that place.

FoodDigger: Like I said, we saw people from all walks of life there. ;)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 3:44:00 PM  
Blogger Miracle Pending said...

No problem! greasiest food on Sunset Blvd

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 4:48:00 PM  
Blogger Frequent Traveler said...

We used to go there in college !!! The burgers are famous...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 7:28:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

"World famous" according to the sign. I wonder if the places I went to in college will still be around after so long...

Thursday, December 18, 2008 1:18:00 AM  
Blogger mattatouille said...

eleven i'm bracing myself. please tell me how una pizza napoletana is...i'm really wondering if that place is worth the press.

Thursday, December 18, 2008 7:38:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Will do. Napoletana wasn't on the original to-eat list, but now that I'm stuck in NY (since my flight got cancelled), I may have time.

Sunday, December 21, 2008 10:16:00 PM  
Blogger me said...

kevin, merry christmas! oh my're in new york? PLEASE PLLEASEEEEE tell me you're gonna get to visit MASA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! PLEASE! haaha - hope you have a great trip. btw, shibutani san has 2 sons - shiganori (aka, shig) is in hawaii but his older bro helps pops run their sushi business. can't wait to see your upcoming reviews from the big apple. happy holidays, jane~

Wednesday, December 24, 2008 9:24:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Jane, I just got back from NY after my flight was cancelled twice. Didn't visit Masa, as the restaurant doesn't allow photos. I did however go to all the other 3-stars. ;)

Thursday, December 25, 2008 1:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Love the reviews. I look forward to some of your NY food reviews soon as I'm about to visit NYC next Spring.

Friday, December 26, 2008 5:11:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Thanks Danny. I've just started going through all the hundreds of photos and it looks like it's going to be quite a monumental task. I'm hoping to get Adour out tonight at least.

Friday, December 26, 2008 5:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, Has anyone tried Tommy Jr's Chili? Its alot better quality more meat! Tommy Koulax Sr. gave Tommy Jr. this recipe when he was a kid. Great Chili Try It. He is the real son of Tommy! Check out the link below.

Sunday, June 14, 2009 8:30:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

I've not had Tommy Jr's Chili, but I'm not surprised that it fares better than the chili here.

Original Tommy's chili is more like a condiment, something to top your food with. It's not an "eating" chili, so to speak.

Monday, June 15, 2009 3:10:00 AM  
Blogger dhkm said...

I came across this today reguarding some of the world most expensive, just want to see you take on it.

Lunch ~ $600

$200 BK Whopper- ,
$200 Club Sandwich-
with $400 Carlsberg Beer -

Dinner ~$30000

Monday, July 27, 2009 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Interesting links. I'd heard about that $30,000 dinner before; clearly the wine made up most of that cost. Assuming each diner received a glass of wine, the fine selection of vino still doesn't justify the price.

And the burger, if I'm spending that much on a hamburger, it wouldn't be from BK.

Monday, July 27, 2009 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger tjanvier said...

Original Tommy's is an LA experience touchstone. I always go there when I'm in town.

Thursday, September 03, 2009 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Vex, is there anywhere else you go when you're here?

Thursday, September 03, 2009 11:43:00 AM  
Anonymous tasteofbeirut said...

Tommy's was my first outing as a fresh "immigrant" into the US; I landed in L.A and was taken by my then husband to Tommy's as it was his all-time favorite place and he wanted me to experience chili burgers. I never became a convert of burgers or hot dogs but I enjoyed the outing at least!

Thursday, March 04, 2010 9:22:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

That's awesome Joumana! Unfortunately, Tommy's is perhaps not the best representation of American cuisine. :p

Saturday, March 06, 2010 3:30:00 AM  

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