Since 1963, Pie ‘N Burger has been feeding Pasadena residents and CalTech students primarily two staples extolled in their name: superior pies, at least a dozen baked fresh daily, and thin, crispy-edged burgers, perfectly grilled and topped with fried onions, pickles, and housemade Thousand Island dressing in the classic California style. Little has changed inside the spacious restaurant since the ’60s: the Formica counter, old-timey stools, and tables have held hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of customers. Since they’ve never installed a modern soda fountain, the wait staff will whip up a cola from syrup and seltzer, or maybe you’re feeling like a cold glass of buttermilk?
The pies deserve special attention. Seasonal fruit pies sport fragile crusts and ultra-flavorful fillings, like blueberry, cherry, and the curious olallieberry (a blackberry hybrid). The meringue pies stand tall against the pull of gravity with such rarities as peanut butter, butterscotch, and banana. Pie ‘N Burger also carries mincemeat pie during the wintry months, that wonderfully aromatic, old-world jumble of apples, raisins, and spices, its crust topped with a dollop of hard sauce for a British touch. Hearty breakfast plates are popular, though we’ll be satisfied as long as burgers are always available. Pie ‘N Burger is open Monday-Friday, 6 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m.-10 p.m., and Sunday 7 a.m.-9 p.m. And don’t forget: cash only!
Pie n’ Burger has a lot going for it. For over 40 years the little diner has graced the corner of California and Lake. The current owner is Michael Osborn, who ate at Pie n’ Burger on summer trips to visit his grandmother. He began working there in 1972 and never left. The Formica® counters and elderly waitresses make entering Pie n’ Burger feel like a trip back in time circa Nick at Nite. Pie ‘n Burger has been around so long that its diet plate of a burger patty, peach slices and cottage cheese has actually come into vogue again.
The meaty patty is nicely charred. Burgers come standard with big leaves of iceberg lettuce, pickles, and thousand island dressing, which makes for a delightfully messy handful. There is so much lettuce on it that it probably counts as a salad, but instead of being filler, the crispy iceberg makes the burger strangely refreshing. You can also order your onions grilled, which we highly recommend.
As the name suggests, pies are the star of the show here. The fruit pies are possibly the best pies in the Los Angeles area, especially the blueberry pie. The flaky crust fairly bursts with blueberries, and the slice collapses under the weight of two massive scoops of ice cream. The cream pies are topped with meringue instead of a whipped cream topping, the best of these being the banana. When olallieberry season comes around it is newsworthy.
Best of all, Chronicle Wine Cellar is inconspicuously located in the back of the parking lot. You can stop in and pick up a bottle from the friendly shopkeeper, Gus Martin, before your meal. The diner doesn’t charge corkage, so you can enjoy your burger with a shiraz or zinfandel.
Old-fashioned also means no credit cards. Cash or checks only, and I think a check might be pushing it. Although once as I dug for an elusive two dollars, the cashier said, “It’s ok if you don’t have it.” Talk about the good old days!