When in Doubt: Eat a Hamburger.

Having a go-to burger spot may not be the most illustrious of the American privileges, but it is one of the most accessible.

Why? Because burgers are cheap. That’s how they became “the burger.”

And despite the allure of more recent “fancy-pants” burger trends, there are still plenty of reasons to eat a cheap hamburger. For starters it’s cheap, which is great. And then there’s also the fact that it’s a hamburger, so what more more do you need?

giant burrito

The shape of the sign is evidence of the brandcestry, but as they became independent restaurants the signs have evolved. Now also serving Burritos at 25th Street and San Pablo Avenue.

An Oakland Burger

When it comes to having a go-to burger spot, a place you’d recommend to friends or family, it cannot be a national chain, that’s just not right.

We cheap-burger munchers may enjoy a Big Mac at the airport, or consider In-N-Out an essential part of any California road-trip, but when it comes to your home turf, you’ve got to have something with some character. Maybe a regional chain, like the Dick’s in Seattle, or a better yet, an independent, grungy, local joint.

In Oakland, that need is met by the “1/4-lb. Giant Burgers,” a defunct chain of cheap-burger spots that are now independently owned and operated, but share a common ancestry of menu, mentality and signage.

Burger Joint Iconography: The Sign

3625 International

Palimpsest signage: new owners refurbished the old Giant Burger sign

The retro signs of Oakland’s 6 Giant Burgers harken back to the heydays of the burger industry, back to that mythical era of wholesome teenagedom: the 50s.   While national brands have updated their signage, the Giant Burger signs linger on as abandoned branding and Americana artifacts.

Some of the signs remain nearly the same as when they were made, except for wear and tear, while others have changed along with the restaurants that operate beneath them. Some offer new menu items, like burritos, or have completely redone the signs, like Maricos La Costa on 37th Ave & International. Even then, the shape still betrays the heritage.

The History of the Giant Burger

The lineage of the Giant Burger chain remains shrouded in indifference. They may be related to Nation’s Giant Burger, or maybe not.  Or, according to internet rumors, they might have been sired by the mythical hamburger god Hambrick.  And the signs are not  the only evidence of common ancestry.

Vestigial menu items, your chili dogs, your pineapple milkshakes, slices of pie or pastry snails, are also clues in the paternity case.

But for now, the brandcestry remains one of those great mysteries that Oaklanders must bear as part of the Oakland condition.

As the OaklandWiki entry puts it:

“Some seem descended from Hambrick’s, while others retain the distinct stamp of a Nation’s lineage (note that Ahn’s Burgers is one of these, though which branch is unclear). GB’s were, and still are, spread all over Oakland, yet it seemed like a significant number of these joints were once located along San Pablo Avenue; legend has it that the flagship restaurant originated, and may still be, in the city of San Pablo (though not many burger-chomping Oaklanders would feel the need to leave Oakland to investigate).

But while we may never have definitive answers about the origins of the Giant Burger, we don’t have to live in ignorance; we can study the specimens in their current form:

Food Review, by way of Awards

Why review the cheap burger? Some people may not know this, but price is a spice.

When food is expensive, you tend to give it more attention, to savor it. But if -in your savorings- you decide that the food is too expensive, then it may as well be over-salted; it’s near impossible to enjoy overpriced food. However, when food is cheap, it is easier to season to satisfaction.

So, how does one review 6 versions of the same cheap burger? Instead of imitating the style of a chic food-review, let’s try something more befitting to the honorable burger: Trophies!

Burger Xpress on San Pablo Avenue & 54th

Best Burger Trophy, Gut-buster Award

 

 


 

 

Giant Burrito on San Pablo Avenue and 25th Street

Best Deal Trophy, Best New Menu Items Award

 


 

Hambrick’s Giant Burger on 22nd & Telegraph

Night-owl Trophy for 24hr Service, Best First-Friday Car Show Award, Most Graffiti Award

 


 

Laurel district Giant Burger on MacArthur Boulevard & High Street

The Making Ends Meet Trophy, The Toasted Bun Award

 

 


Dimond District Giant Burger on MacArthur Boulevard

Best Outdoor Seating Trophy, The Looking-sharp Award, Member of the Breakfast Club

 

 


 

Ahn’s 1/4-lb. Burger on Grand Avenue

Best Fries Trophy, Best Indoor Seating award, Lake Appeal Award, Member of the Breakfast Club

 

 

The winning hamburger

The winning hamburger from Burger Xpress.

About The Author

Eric is a freelance writer who covers Oakland's thriving New Economy movement, as well as local culture, community projects, and letters. As graduate of UC Santa Cruz he is essentially a socialist, but what does that even mean anymore, really? As a proud Oakland transplant from the PNW, Eric sees his work at Oakland Local as a small part of Oakland's battle to keep its identity, support all its peoples, and be prospering without plundering.

4 Responses

  1. Amanda

    We used to call them “Quarter Pound” as in, “which Quarter Pound we going to after the club?” There used to be one on Grand, at Jean; the Ace Hardware garden center is there now. And the one on 106th & MacArthur has been replaced with new housing; it was very popular with the car club crowd & the earlier, kinder sideshows. As far as I can tell, Hambrick’s and Nation’s were competitors but never business partners; and I don’t believe the Ahn’s location was ever part of the Giant Burger chain.

    Reply
  2. Oaklander

    Which of these burger stands have food that tastes the same as it did in the late 60s-early 70s?

    Reply
  3. Pablo Marx

    enjoy your steroid infused BGH soaked dead meat
    on every dead corner of your dying street
    cows were tortured for your cheap beef treat
    your bones will be ground up for more heifers to eat
    you’ll be fed to them when your maker you meet
    with BSE to make the noose complete

    Reply
  4. Rob

    Why only those 6? The Deep East Oakland Giant Burger on 81st and International gets no love?

    Reply

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