At the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Wardlow Road, a bona fide burger smack down is in full effect, and it’s a doozy. One place is old school (like half a century old school), the other brand new, and the battle between the two reflects a current tipping point in Long Beach’s quickly accelerating food scene.
In the southeast corner, we have Dave’s World Famous Burgers and Dogs, an eight-by-five foot shack in the corner of a Chevron parking lot that’s been serving the same so-simple-it-works menu since the 1950s. A nearly 70-year-old experiment in fast-food minimalism, the place is only equipped to prepare the mini-chain's oversized and juicy cooked-to-order roadside burgers (no fries, no nothing), and it provides you only with a few gas-pump adjacent picnic tables to eat them at.
Directly across the street from the Long Beach burger landmark sits Hashtag Burgers, a 5-month-old locally owned house of organic meat with modern flare built into its name. Hashtag takes over for Mustard's, the all-hot-dogs-all-the-time counter that had the only Vienna Beef account for miles.
Hashtag isn’t trying to be fancy (stainless steel tables keep the quick-service feel), but it’s clear the owners care about their ingredients. Using organic, grass-fed beef and sourcing from Long Beach farms whenever possible, Hashtag proves you don’t have to be some farm-to-table gastropub to take your burgers seriously.
Still, it’s the restaurant’s 30-ounce-burger challenge that’s done the most to distinguish it from its veteran neighbor.
If you eat the sumo-sized so-called “Hashtag This” burger – six strips of bacon, eight onion rings, four fried eggs, a cup and a half of hash browns, a bowl of chili, eight slices of cheese, etc. – and drink 32-ounces of beer in under 15 minutes, it’s free.
So far, no one’s accomplished the feat (the allotted time was recently increased from seven minutes to 15 to help out the hopeful), but that hasn’t stopped the curious from stopping in and ordering from the list of more regular-human-sized half-pound burgers.
When you pay at the register, you get to watch as each hand-formed patty of grass-fed beef is thrown on the grill along with sweating sweet onions and smashed roasted garlic. If you take the table service, though, you can instead watch whatever’s playing on the mounted TVs until the burger arrives, which it will, fully formed with a pylon of stacked toppings: pastrami for the #BOBW (Best of Both Worlds), grilled jalepenos and guacamole for the Hot Mess, a fried egg on the herbaceous turkey burger. Side orders are just as unique for a burger joint on this side of town: skin-on French fries, beer battered onion rings and the holy forkable grail of shrimp-and-cheese Bixby Fries.
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With about a 20-minute wait for each order (get a beer to make it go by faster), Hashtag does not claim to make a fast food burger like Dave’s. It does not try to beat Dave’s under-$5 prices. And it’s not trying to capitalize on the nostalgia factor of a simple meat-and-bread operation. Even its back-to-basics “Old Fashion” burger features a dollop of garlic aoli, as if the chef can’t help but add a pinch of contemporary to the classic.
Because both Dave’s and Hashtag are so good at what they do, it’s almost unfair to take sides in the Atlantic-and-Wardlow burger smack down. Yet the mere fact that these two generationally separated eateries exist within earshot of one other shows that these kinds of decisions are going to be more common in Long Beach.
This year, more than any other, the city saw a rash of restaurant openings, many of them with menus in stark contrast to those that have fed people here for decades. As Long Beach embraces the inevitable new-school, here's to hoping it never forgets the old.
Hashtag Burgers, 3387 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach; (562) 427-6435; hashtagburgers.com