Cassell’s is an updated mid-century diner that paid attention to the important parts of what made those nostalgic bites great. Being a restaurant that re-opened in 2014, it necessarily caters to current Los Angeles mores. The new menu touts vegan alternatives, line-caught tuna, and craft beers. But, being a restaurant that originally opened in 1948, Cassell’s also serves hearty scoops of potato salad, overflowing milkshakes in tall frosty glasses, and ham sandwiches with jagged skirt cheese poking out of the bread.
It is so easy to order a patty melt and a sarsaparilla and re-live simpler times. In fact, that is exactly what you should order at Cassell’s. If you must, you can get sweet potato waffle fries and a zesty fried chicken sandwich with a Southeast Asian inspired “crack sauce.” You wouldn’t have a bad time with these choices, but you would be enjoying only a marginal improvement upon what every other 21st Century Americana restaurant serves. Pay attention to Cassell’s old menus on the wall. They offer guidance as to which of the kitchen’s dishes are time-tested classics.
It is foremost a hamburger place, its burgers thick, juicy, and well seasoned with salt and pepper. French fries are medium thick, light gold from a dip in peanut oil. We prefer the skin-on chips, which have a kettle-cooked crunch and a clearer peanut oil flavor. The patty melt suits us even more than the burger. Your preference will probably depend on how much you like onions. We never say no to a layer of soft, grill sweetened onions on a burger patty.
No matter what you get, make sure to get something that touched the grill. It was rescued from the original Cassell’s, and has decades of flavor sizzled into it. Also recommended is the wonderfully smokey ham and cheese, even if its meat is a bit scant. The delicious, nitrate-free ham is made by Iowa smokehouse Beeler’s and reflects a delicate pickling spice; you taste this same complexity in their pickles as well. Sodas are made from house-made herbal syrups. The hamburger patties are ground in house. These artisan flourishes are appreciated and help justify the 21st century pricing.
Breakfast also is available, and is a collection of diner classics, likely appreciated by the lodgers at the attached Hotel Normandie. Dessert is important here. It even gets its own menu. The first thing you see when you enter the restaurant is an impressive display of pies. Get the lemon ice box pie. It’s a smart blend of cream cheese and lemon curd. The compound is a nice twist on lemon meringue, and it balances perfectly against a browned buttery graham cracker crust.