99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Hawkins House of Burgers

photo by Garrett Snyder

The owner of Hawkins House of Burgers, Cynthia Hawkins, knows a newbie when she sees one. “Your first time here?” she asks a couple of women, huddled facing the menu on the wall of this tiny burger shack. The women nod, and Hawkins says, “How did you hear about us? Food Network?” Turns out it was the Travel Channel, but it could have been accolades from any number of sources that brought new faces into the heart of Watts, right up the street from Watts Towers, for a behemoth burger. Masochists will go for the Whipper, a creation that falls squarely into the Frankenstein school of burger-making, with two patties, layers of pastrami and a hot link sliced in half. It’s a ridiculous thing, delicious in its hulking deformity, but the Fat Bacon Cheeseburger might be the more perfect beast. There’s something so old-school and perfect about the hand-formed patties, the melty American cheese, the lettuce and pickles and tomato and onion. Burgers take about 15 minutes to cook (“You shoulda called in your order,” Hawkins advises), and those familiar with the routine wait in their cars on the street outside till Hawkins steps out the door and hollers the order number to the surrounding neighborhood.

-- Besha Rodell