For far too long, the 1950s-era face clock attached to the Dave's Burgers sign on Atlantic Avenue has sat looming over the roadway with no hands, mocking me. “Time To Eat!” the face of the clock declared. And yet, it never actually told me the time.
But last month, a new replica of the weathered, broken signage was erected in its place and on Oct. 11, an electrician came to perform the final touches. I drove by to see it while scoping for a late lunch and lo, it was after 3 p.m.–truly time to eat.
A working clock might not seem like a big deal for a regular ol' restaurant, but when you are an eight-by-five foot burger-and-dogs-only shack in the corner of a Chevron parking lot in Bixby Knolls, every amenity counts.
Inside the tiny Dave's Burgers is a prep station, a little fridge and a grill. Outside is an old, dented top-sliding fridge full of soda cans and a cheap metal chip rack loaded with Tapatio Ruffles and BBQ-flavored Lays. A menu riveted to the wooden structure lists Dave's minimal offerings, which includes an assortment of regular, jumbo and double cheeseburgers as well as some turkey, chicken and “grilled dog” meat options.
Note that even though the two other Dave's Burgers locations north of the 405 in Long Beach have indoor seating, fries, ice cream shakes and even a Mexican food menu, the Bixby Knolls spot possesses none of that. A 50-plus year-old experiment in fast-food minimalism, it serves only the mini-chain's “world-famous” cooked-to-order burgers and dogs and provides you with a few gas-pump adjacent picnic tables to eat them at.
In an attempt to get variety out of the limited menu, I ordered a turkey cheeseburger and a buddy of mine got the patty melt (plus chips and drinks, total bill $15). The patty melt is easily the best in Long Beach, if not beyond. Made on toasted rye bread with sweet-and-brown grilled onions spilling out in all directions, this is not a poor man's diner hamburger. But the burger also didn't disappoint. It came as every crazy Yelper describes: massive, juicy and expertly seasoned. It was also intimidating. Topped only with lettuce, pickles, onions and thousand island dressing, Dave's seemingly simple burgers somehow still require two fanned-out hands to hold onto.
I attacked the thing with a day's worth of hunger (and a stack of napkins to soak up all the drippings), but I still couldn't finish it all. Sure, you could drive just a few miles away and get air conditioning and fries from either of the other Dave's, but for some reason the Bixby Knolls installment feels less pretentious, more authentic–more Long Beach.
Dave's Burgers, 3396 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, (562) 424-3340.
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.