I know Burbank has gotten its share of grief, from everyone from the late Johnny Carson to yours truly. Burbank’s “downtown” area is one big mess of chain everything. The remainder of Burbank is a quiet wasteland of well-tended front yards and moribund shopfronts. It is a town populated by a strange mix of senior citizens and blue-collar workers from the studios (The real studio players live over the hill, or increasingly in Studio City, Toluca Lake and Sherman Oaks). It makes for an interesting demographic. One of the beauties of neglected neighborhoods is that many of the old places and signs that would normally have been torn down to make way for Starbucks survive.
Here are some of Burbank’s gems:
1. Oldest surviving Bob’s Big Boy.
When we had a Bob’s Big Boy in every neighborhood, I always thought of it like Denny’s. It was just another chain joint where I could smoke, drink coffee, and read beatnik literature. There were no coffeehouses in the 80s. Not outside of Greenwich Village, anyways. Bob’s Big Boy served that purpose, and on the more lurid side, it also had waiters that dealt cocaine. It was the 80s after all.
It wasn’t until I started getting into restaurant forums that I discovered the collective nostalgia for Bob’s, which has nearly disappeared off the national map. Here in Burbank, we have the oldest surviving Bob’s Big Boy. As a bonus, it was designed by architect Wayne McCallister and foreshadows the coming googie style. People often wonder about the mysterious neon number 49 that glows on the front wall. It is simply the year the restaurant opened: 1949.
The current owners, who bought the restaurant in 1993, have reinstated carhop service on Friday and Saturday nights. But the real star here is the Super Big Boy Combo, a study in nostalgia. They start you off with a shockingly crisp iceberg lettuce salad topped with one of their their thick, creamy house dressings. The salad is followed by the classic cheeseburger-fries-coke combination. Some people claim that Bob’s invented the very first double-decker burger for this combo. It vaguely resembles a Big Mac, with a strange chow-chow-like relish, super-soft bun and superthin patties. But somehow it is greater than the sum of its parts. Sprinkle some of the house seasoning salt on your fries, and eavesdrop on all of the old people as they stop at each other’s tables to inquire, “How did the blood tests go?”