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[This Hole-In-the-Wall Life] Dinner for Needy Times at Classic Burger in Tustin

In these days of $4-per-gallon gas and worldwide food shortages, it's nice, even vital, to know that CLASSIC BURGER is around to help. It's one of Orange County's many independent diners, those strange amalgams of American, Mexican, Greek and Japanese (in other words, Southern Californian) cuisine, the type of place where you can order country-fried steak for breakfast and tacos for lunch, and then end the day with pancakes. And unlike many of the other diners, Classic Burger is actually good, in a qualified way.

I add the warning only because the grub is as straightforward as a Bernard Hopkins haymaker. There is no nuance, just overwhelmingly good simplicity. Take the fried-chicken dinner, for instance. You start with a salad—iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and shaved Jack and Cheddar cheeses, all topped with the dressing of your choice. The salad is big enough to feed three, but that's just the starter; following is the actual fried chicken: two drums, two wings and a breast, a little bit too greasy but splendid for filling guts. The pieces sit on a pile of fries, and to the side are honest-to-goodness dinner biscuits—cut in squares, thin and a bit salty, a delicious artifact from the days when fedoras were mainstays instead of some hipster trend. You can only eat so much of the chicken at one sitting before your innards revolt—but spread the meal across three days, and you have a bargain for less than $7.

Even better are the burgers, some of the best that aren't served by In-N-Out or the TK's chains. They're simple enough—quarter-pounders on a sesame bun, stocked with onions, tomatoes, pickles, Thousand Island dressing, a crisp lettuce leaf, and toppings ranging from chili to an Ortega chile. Somewhere within this mix, everything meshes extraordinarily. The grilled patty's char soaks up the dressing and intensifies to a sublime burger taste: meaty, toasty, sweet, with just a bit of tartness.

There's much, much more to try at Classic Burger: the steaming three-egg omelettes, the cheaper-than-Norms-but-tastier steaks—and how can you not love a place that has Orange Bang! on tap? But the greatest thing about this place is the diverse clientele. You have Mexican families from the shabby apartments down the street, workers from the nearby industrial parks, old folks, commuters stopping by for an hour until the 55 traffic dwindles. It's the type of place that stocks Tabasco, Tapatio, and sugary taco sauce—and though the languages might be different, everyone laughs when some kid knocks himself out on America's Funniest Home Videos, which always seems to be on the TV. Eh, nobody's perfect.

CLASSIC BURGER, 15712 TUSTIN VILLAGE WAY, TUSTIN, (714) 667-3884.

 
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