There might be a lot of burger spots in Long Beach, but only one has the distinction of being the one closest to the largest high school in the city.
Sure, all those Jackrabbits can walk the extra 100 feet to La Lune for some Cambodian grub or across the street for tacos from El Pacifico's freshly minted taqueria window, but Poly High School's scholars and champions have piled into the tiny red-roofed burger hut for for decade to gorge on fries, ice cream and, of course, burgers.
The central Long Beach staple (formerly called Tomy's, a place with the same menu and possibly the same kitchen staff as Poly Burger) has long fed enviable teenage metabolisms with insane deals like $2 seasoned fries, $3 chili cheese fries and the $5.15 burger combo, which after adding cheese and tax, gives you a full drink-included meal for an even $6.
Don't let the photos in the window advertisements lure you in--the burgers look nothing like the towers of meat, bread and lettuce shown. Poly's greasy-spoon burgers are made from a thin, quarter-pound patty topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion and Thousand Island dressing and even when there's nothing else in the bag, it comes out looking smushed like it was on the bottom of a food pile you never ordered.
Fear not, though, burger lovers because the unappetizing appearance has nothing to do with the full flavor and salty goodness of a Poly Burger. Melted cheddar cheese sticks to the few leaves of green inside and you'll need to squeeze hard with every bite, lest you lose the patty as it slides around and tries to escape from between doughy buns. For anyone who walked Poly's halls, the standard burger (not the chicken or fish one) is a rite of passage.
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An order of the junior chili cheese fries is enough to make you feel 16 again, too, with just the right amount of meat-only chili and shredded yellow cheese to share forkfuls with friends and a portion small enough to finish in the time it takes to ditch 4th period and slip back onto campus undetected.
Like many other over-age locals, I have decided to not eat at Poly Burger during the school year, or at least not during daylight hours when it overflows with raging hormones who take over the six interior booths and four outdoor tables, carving phone numbers and newly discovered nicknames into the tabletops. But summertime is fair game. Staff is friendly, seats are empty and your locked-up bike is not a theft target for bored seniors.
Since the Neo-Geo game in the corner is broken and there is no bathroom on site, however, it's probably still best to get the food to go. And if burgers aren't on the crave-list for the day, the shack is still an nuevo-American diner with a menu that goes beyond the classic combos. Salads, shrimp baskets, pastrami sandwiches, teriyaki bowls and a "deep fried burrito" are all available to fuel another summer day in the LBC. Poly Burger, 1460 Atlantic Ave., (562) 599-2826.