Beautiful Burgers In the ’Burbs
This joint would be a natural in Anaheim or Costa Mesa—but Lake Forest? Yet it has stood on Muirlands for years, in the kind of antiquated shopping plaza that’s more the hallmark of North County than the land once called El Toro. The menu doesn’t appear to have changed much since its inception, and the yellowed marquee looks as if no one has rearranged it since the days of the quarterbacking Johnson brothers. It seems the most modern dish is the fried shrimp and teriyaki dinner, and those made it only because Asians now run the place. They’ve left Burger Town USA mostly frozen in time, down to the Minnesota Vikings poster advertising the NFL’s 75th anniversary 15 years ago and Little League sponsorships. But the owners care about the time warp—consider the beautiful mini-koi in the water tank next to the soda fountain as you chomp through the meals. With A’s Burgers down the 5 in Mission Viejo and In-N-Out over in Laguna Hills, add Burger Town USA to the list of top South County hamburger destinations.
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This is where to find a filling breakfast if fate ever condemns you to enter Lake Forest—massive pancakes and omelets in varying combos, most less than five bucks, most painted on the windows as you enter. Only a retiree could truly love their sandwiches, which range from Cobb to Polish sausage, patty melt to grilled cheese and other beloved, disappearing, fattening pieces of Americana. A faded Orange County Registerarticle praises the breakfast burritos, but you’re better off ordering them at Avila’s El Ranchito next door. Really: Pay attention to the name! Those burgers! Cheap, big, a bit too slathered with Thousand Island dressing, but great. I enjoy the Ortega variety, a mild chile splayed across the patty, with a slice of Swiss cheese melted on top—two different types of sweet to create bliss. The Colossal variety piles on enough pastrami to make Pink’s proud.
Finally, a word about the Chinese woman who runs the restaurant: She’s not the dragon lady whom those crazy Yelp kids paint as slightly warmer than the Soup Nazi. Sure, she rarely smiles, and the tone in her voice when she yells out your order will spark flashbacks to your algebra teacher. But you try to maintain a sunshine smile taking orders from both the counter and the drive-through and then barking them to cooks. And, last I remembered, gruff owners are as essential to burger stands as pickles.
Burger Town USA, 24418 Muirlands Blvd., Lake Forest, (949) 586-9841.