Try to imagine myself in part of Goldilocks in "Three Bears" stories getting lost in the woods. Instead of the woods, let's replaced it with da hood and the good ol' gruffly Pepsi Monster is playing the sweet naive little girl in this fairy tale.
My mission (unlike the little girl getting lost in the forest and finding an abandoned cottage with porridge being cooked in the hot pot unattended) was just simply trying to find a good old burger joint in this neck of the woods. An urban legend was spewed to me that a good ol' neighborhood place had a gigantic burger that rivaled Hawkin's House of Burgers and Big Mike in an epic proportion for the most gluttonous burger in town. In any ways possible, I just have to see it for myself.
I didn't get lost like Goldilocks, but I did felt like I'm out of my elements coming to this neighborhood. There were a few glances looking in my direction as though I shouldn't be here. Don't worry, it wasn't like this place was so dangerous you need to be on the lookout for a suicide bomber.
The place is so typical of the yesteryear's burger or taco shack. It is very small with a few tables inside for dining area. Maybe the place gave some hints of elements about its surrounding neighborhood as it had a metal bars on every window and the cashier counter have a very small space for the food to come out, but not for a hand with a gun to go through (unless it's a small revolver).
The urban legend that was recounted to me was dead on. The menu board consist of burgers named after all types of bear. The biggest burger was called "Smokey Bear" with the smallest being called "Baby Bear". They have different types of burgers with different toppings of pastrami, egg, or different sizes that were named "Grandma Bear", "Polar Bear", "Koloa Bear", and "Panda Bear". Their most famous burger that rivaled the Whopper or Famous Star (in this area) was the "Grizzly Bear" which was a double decker similar to Smokey, which is a triple decker.
After placing a few orders and checking out the place, I have noticed a small photo of Laurence Fishburne picture taken with the owner/manager? of the place. A small captioned below the picture stated he was here for $3 beer & chicken weekday special. Wow! I didn't know the CSI guy was a major baller. Yes, there is an economy special for cheap booze and a piece of wing during selected weekday evenings.
First off, a little warning about this place: the wait time for the burger to be cook will be very extensive of a wait. If you happened to think this is a fast food joint, think again. As some of these burgers will attest because of its size, especially the bigger burger will required a time of at least 10-15 minutes to be cooked. I waited about for over half of a hour for all my items to be ready.
My first thought about the seeing the Smokey Bear special was how ridiculously big it was. The buns are too small to handle the beef patties as I suspected the beef patties weighed at least half of a pound EACH. It has a very good charcoal pepper seasoning on the patties. Alas, with all big burger, there is one problem: when you bite into it, the middle of the burger is very bland.
With all these different components of topping flying around (pastrami and butterfly cut sausage), nobody ever thought of the big burger needed seasoning in the middle or inside of the patties. Once I finished chewing the top portion and get down to the middle portion of the beef patty, you will get a noticeable difference in taste. The seasoning is only on the outside of the patties and not incorporated to the inside of the patties. Therefore I surmised that they added the pepper when it was grilled to cook and not mixed into the ground patties.
The Smokey Bear was huge and in an epic disproportion compared to the buns. The Top layer of the triple decked burger has a butterfly cut sausage (split in half) with a slice of cheese. They stocked the pastrami on the bottom layer of the burger. The burger as usual come in an aluminum foil to make sure the grease didn't sipped through.
I ordered a $16.99 combo for that burger, it came with two cans of soda (they do have Pepsi, but it was diet) and two orders of seasoned fries. The best thing about this place was their onion rings and their seasoned fries. I wished I had ordered multiple orders of those two side orders because it was some of the best fries and onion rings I had ever had. They put some sort of garlic seasoning on those fries and it was delicious. The onions was battered just right and was worth it for $3.
The other items I had ordered was a slice of their peach cobbler (which was OK) and a Grandma Bear burger that comes with a pastrami. The Grandma burger was much more manageable to finish as it feel like a big Whopper with a pastrami added on. That would have been fine until I realized it was $7.95 just for the burger itself.
Then my thoughts sucker punched in the guts when realization hit me that majority of these items was much more expensive than a conventional burger joint. Yes, it does it rival gourmet places like Grace or 25 Degrees in price, and much more bigger. For the price they were charging? A doozy that put me to sleep like Goldilocks in Baby Bear's bed.
The Smokey burger was a tad underwhelming, the Grandma Bear felt like undervalued, and the peach cobbler was OK at best. The only saving grace was their fries and onion rings. If that was the highlight, then you are going to be in a big sticker shock for the main items.
Curiously, I wanted to take home a BBQ item since the burger was so underwhelming. By luck, there was something that came through for the night, it was their Tri Ribs. I ordered their "baby" version and came away very satisfy. It was nicely cooked, very tender and the sauce gave the right flavor to the ribs. If I come back, the Barbeque items are the ones I want to try out as it was badly overlooked because of the folk tales for the gigantic burgers.
I guess I wouldn't say that I would make my way coming here again soon. If I meandered my way down south of Harbor freeway and needed some tri ribs and some onion rings with a few cans of Dr. Pepper, then I'm there. Otherwise, I might stick with the Big Mike for my burger feast.
Three Bears Bar-B-Q
11916 S Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA 90061