Cassell’s Hamburgers


Cassell’s may not be completely defunct but its first two outlets certainly are, as are several short-lived “expansion” outlets in the eighties.  Once upon a time, its name was the most often-given answer to the eternal question, “Where do you get the best hamburger in Los Angeles?”

Situated in Koreatown and open only for lunch, Cassell’s was the kind of place you took your friends, promising them something very special in a traditional burger.  A Cassell’s burger was an expertly-cooked piece of prime U.S.D.A. beef served to you on a rather ordinary bun…and then you could dress it yourself.  If you took a bite before condiments, you were impressed with how good the meat itself was.  Some hamburgers are great because of the toppings applied to bland chopped meat.  But the beef Al Cassell chose to use was the best you could use to make a hamburger and his unique slanted grill simultaneously broiled and fried it while the slant allowed excess grease to roll off.  Another secret ingredient was the guy who ran the broiler.  He’d cooked enough of them to know exactly the split-second to remove your burger from the fire.

Al Cassell opened Cassell’s Patio in 1948.  He was said to be obsessive about quality, hollering at his suppliers if they didn’t deliver him the best lemons, the best onions, the best tomatoes.  His homemade lemonade was especially exquisite and he was always tasting it himself and adjusting the sugar content.  He also made his own mayonnaise on the premises…and then there was his potato salad.  As good as Al’s hamburgers were, a lot of people thought the star of his limited menu was his unique potato salad.

Up until the mid-eighties, Cassell’s did not offer french fries.  After you got your burger, you could help yourself to what he called the buffet.  It was more like a topping bar: Ketchup, mustard, onions, his homemade mayo, lettuce, etc.  There was cottage cheese and canned pineapple chunks and sometimes, other kinds of canned fruit.  Mostly, there was this potato salad that looked like cold mashed potatoes.  It was white and full of large chunks of spud, plus there was either a rather potent horseradish or hot mustard.  Regular patrons of Cassell’s would argue over which it was and some would swear to have definitive information, sometimes from Mr. Cassell himself.  This site declines to take sides in this vicious dispute.

The “hotness” in the potato salad, whatever it was, was hit and miss.  You might get a scoop with very little of it.  You might get one that would have you spitting flame.  Most customers loved it but for those that didn’t want to risk the land mines, Mr. Cassell also provided a big basket of the smallest-sized bag of potato chips.  You could grab a few of them and eat chips with your burger.  (The potato chips went away when Cassell’s finally bowed to progress and introduced fries and later, onion rings.  The new side dishes never seemed to sell that well, partly because the potato salad was so wonderful and partly because all you could eat of it was included with your burger, whereas you had to pay extra for fries or rings.)

There were other menu items at Cassell’s but not many.  There was a pretty good ham sandwich, a pretty good egg salad sandwich and an excellent tuna salad sandwich.  The glories of the last two had a lot to do with Mr. Cassell’s mayo.

He originally opened in ’48 at the corner of 6th Street and Berendo.  Food critics discovered the place and it was very common to get there at lunchtime and find a line out the door.  The quaint building had an actual patio and it was not unusual to spot Al out there, busing tables himself so as to seat customers who’d gotten and dressed their burgers and needed a place to sit and eat them.  In the eighties, about the time fries appeared, he moved (grill and all) to a patio-less building a half-block east, still on 6th.  That’s it in the photo above.  Shortly after, a relative of Mr. Cassell’s opened an outlet in the shopping mall at Crescent Heights and Wilshire and did what appeared to be very good business.  Then he handed the operation over to others and went out to open another Cassell’s on Ventura Boulevard in Encino.  That one never caught on and in the meantime, the quality over at Crescent Heights plunged…and before long, both were gone.

In the nineties, Mr. Cassell’s health forced his retirement and he sold his beloved restaurant to a Korean family.  They changed very little, mostly adding things like salmon burgers and chicken breasts, but you could feel the absence of Mr. Cassell.  I found the quality variable.  At its best, it was as good as ever.  At its worst, it was still a better place to have a burger than most, including Hamptons, which I co-owned at the time…but it was no longer the kind of place restaurant critics raved about and the area was changing.  Once upon a time, you couldn’t get in at lunch without a wait.  Now, you could show up at 1:00 and be the only burger-eater in the house.

Mr. Cassell died in June of 2010.  Two years later, his restaurant was closed.  Another set of new owners were refurbishing the historic (built in 1928) Hotel Normandie a few blocks away and they planned to reopen Cassell’s there as part of that building.  At the time, they said Cassell’s would be back in eight months with the old quality and some new menu items, including milk shakes.

As of this writing, it’s been a year and there’s no word of the comeback of Cassell’s.  We hope it’ll be back and that much of Al Cassell’s way of making burgers will be in evidence.  If so, it’ll be a great place…but it probably won’t match the glory days when Al himself was on the premises and you could hear him simultaneously tasting his lemonade and yelling on the phone at a supplier who’d delivered something less than the best lemons.


50 Responses to Cassell’s Hamburgers

  • Irv Parchman says:

    I love the reviews on this site. Brings back so many good memories. I first discovered Cassell’s in the early 80s. I worked at a law firm on Wilshire and New Hampshire and went there the first time with some partners and associates. I loved their hamburgers — they meat quality was excellent. But what really blew my mind was the potatoe salad! I loved the horseradish flavoring — so tasty and unique. I also remember the sides condiments bar, especially the big pineapple chunks and cottage cheese.

    I also remember a great thai food place in the minimall across the street from

  • Reynaldo Baca says:

    McCabe, a columnist for the San Francisco in he 1070s, challenged anyone to find as could a burger in the city as was Cassell in Los Angeles. When I returned to live in LA I tried the burgers and thy were by far the best. Many years later I went to the new Cassell. I saw the old signs and the old grills. I was very disappointed. I wrote a review ask if they use the same Colorado prime beef; the new owners said thy seed Prime Colorado beef. Still, there was a big difference. Maybe a different supplier or maybe it is because we can’t add ou own fillings. It may still be among the top three in LA, it just is not nearly as good. Maybe it is from Colorado, but maybe it is a different supplier. I suggest the mix from the Huntington Butcher in the old Farmers Market. It gas a much better taste.

  • C Pettro says:

    Irv, I remember LaStrega on Western. It was wonderful. The pizza was excellent. I had a young lady working in our office and the wait staff at LaStrega was very taken by her. When she’d order a pizza for delivery to our office it always arrived in minutes and was superb. Dinner was also great. And, then one day they were closed.

  • The Management says:

    I think the current Cassell’s in the Hotel Normandie serves pretty good burgers which have little or nothing to do with the hamburgers served in original Cassell’s at either of its two locations. They may use the same grill and have signs from the old place around but to me, the only thing they have in common is the recipe for the wonderful Cassell’s potato salad.

    The Cassell’s in LAX Terminal 1 serves the same pretty good burgers as they do in the Hotel Normandie but they don’t have the potato salad.

  • Bob Miller says:

    I saw a Cassell’s Hamburgers in the new food court at Terminal 1 (Southwest Airlines) at LAX. I wasn’t aware of the history behind it. I wished now that I had tried it. What do people think of it?

  • Chuck Moshontz says:

    I delivered furniture for Lee’s Bars n’ Stools out of the warehouse at 1st and Vermont in the late 60s and fondly remember frequently stopping at Cassell’s Patio on 6th. Me and my buddies were connoisseurs of L.A. burgers like the original Tommy’s on Rampart and Monster Burger on Van Nuys in the Valley (Apple Pan burgers were as overrated then as they are now). Cassell’s burgers were top contenders, huge, richly flavored meat, and then that spicy potato salad. I’m smiling remembering the lunch lines and the order-by-the number format.

  • Tom Chambers says:

    I wish I still had one of my old Cassell’s T-shirts… Anyway, my mom used to take us for a treat to the one on 6th st. back in the early ’70’s.I grew up knowing it was the best burger in LA. We’ll be at the opening of the new location downtown on Monday Oct. 29th. So glad to know they’ve managed to stay in business for such a long time. Sure, prices go up, things change, I get that. I just like knowing some of the greatest things still manage to survive!

  • Quincy Magoo says:

    New Cassell’s now charges for the potato salad, which should be a crime. When the new iteration first opened, a generous scoop (although not as generous as the serve yourself at the original) came with your burger. Now they charge for it – and it doesn’t have the same amount of heat. Still, new Cassell’s does make a good burger.

  • PJ Barth says:

    The original 1948 Patio was on Wilshire near Westmorland, and moved to 6th and Berendo in the early ’60’s when the Wilshire location was demolished for the building of a high rise office, then known as the Borax Building. My father’s office was a half a block away, directly across from the old Bullock’s Wilshire, and at least twice a year we got to go to lunch at Cassells, which had the best burgers and lemonade ever. Mrs. Cassell was the cashier until she retired and passed away. Mr. Cassell and my father became friends. If I remember correctly, he’d been a cook in the military during the war, and ran a tight ship in his restaurant. I was probably 16 before I could eat an entire hamburger, and it was wonderful!

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  • Jerry says:

    I am a distant cousin of the Cassalls and I remember eating there on 6th St in the early 60″s. I know Al’s wife worked there as I remember talking to her about our family. I’m not sure if any other women worked there.
    It was, without a doubt, the best “pure” burger ever. You didn’t need any flavor enhancers–the meat was that good. I always loved the potato salad but was never able to get the recipe from Al. By experiment, I found it was mustard powder and not horse radish, along with his mayo, salt, and pepper.

  • Norm says:

    Cassell’s also had the best (and biggest) grilled cheese sandwiches in town.

  • Jeffrey Utter says:

    The best and most reliable way to send legendary Basque Julio Maeso of the Bucket into one of his frenzied rants was to tell him you were going to get a real burger at Cassell’s!!! (You had to be ready to duck, lol.)

  • Mitch Norton says:

    Cassell’s is now reincarnated, up and running in the Normandie Hotel and looked busy when I walked by on a recent evening. Ktown is hopping these evenings so I would expect it to do well.

  • Irv says:

    Just found this site today and love it! My first law firm job was with a firm located on Wilshire and New Hampshire. Some of the partners would take us associates there for lunch, so that’s how I was introduced to Cassel’s. I went there primarily from 1983-1986. The burgers were excellent! So tasty! Makes sense they were made of prime beef. I also loved the potato salad – I always thought the spicy ingredient was horseradish.

    Another restaurant I was thinking about was La Strega, on Western near Beverly. If any one has any info or recollections on it, please share. I remember my law firm used to have our annual holiday dinner there. I remember it as being pretty fancy, but really can’t recall anything about the food.

  • Christina says:

    I worked at 5th and Shatto Pl. for years and What I remember is that across the street from Bullock’s Wilshire, at least in the late 60’s and 70’s was a a great coffee shop, I can’t remember the name but there was a chain of them and the best Denver omelette a served with a slice of grilled pineapple and there was a German bakery that served great lunches. That baker, Biermann’s? Served the most amazing butter cake on Friday’s only. And, does anyone remember the little Italian sandwich shop on 6th Street near Virgil that was set at the back of an old business court? The most amazing Italian sandwiches that you ordered in line and then ate on their patio. In the evening the made pizza.

  • Jim Gick says:

    I used to go to Cassel’s in the late 60’s. The burgers were like none other. The pattys were so generous for the times and they were cooked to perfection. It was a special treat for lunch. I was in my late teens.

  • Phil Ankofski says:

    I was glad to see Jon’s recent posting on Cassell’s because it aroused my interest to check out their current reviews. First of all, I am glad to see the new location is still operating. I had feared they would close within six months due to the expensive menu pricing and skimpy parking spaces.

    All the posted reviews seem to love the food quality and yet very few complain amount the menu pricing ; $16.00 for a 1/3 lb burger lunch,
    plus parking fee !

    If the Normandie Hotel has fallen on the LA County list for retrofitting you can bet these current menu prices will increase another 30 %. What then ?
    Hell, for a few dollars more you will be able to order a prime steak from Taylor’s Steak House.
    Anyway, kudos to the operators of Cassell’s ……. it was a gutsy move.

    Phil Ankofski

  • Jon Stock says:

    I went to the Cassell’s on 6th Street in the early 2000’s because I heard it was legendary and it was NOT all that! The best Burgers I have had in L.A. were Molly’s which is closed down now in Hollywood, Marty’s on Pico, Apple Pan also on Pico, and probably #1 is Dave’s Burgers in Long Beach which is located in the corner of a Gas station.

  • dixie nordstrom says:

    GOOD FOR ‘RAE’ 5/17/15…Only the savvy native Angelenos (I’m 3rd gen)remember it ACROSS FROM BULLOCKS WILSHIRE …circa 1958 it was our little secret…thru building breezeway to the back patio under the trees…it was such fun taking visitors there…after the move to 6th st. the fun,(tho less secret) was to take a short trek down the sidewalk to the back separated patio across the crackle of dry tree leaves ! I can remember the over-size buns and bread and the taste of the potato salad still lingers…at the risk of spoiling my fond memories…I will try it again to see what remains… THANKS RAE FOR THE TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE !!!

  • Rae says:

    The original Cassell’s was not on 6th Street, but on Wilshire, across from Bullock’s Wilshire. Entrance to the patio was through the storefront. They later moved to the 6th St. location, in which the patio could be accessed directly from the street, but it never had quite the feel of the original location. The patio at the Wilshire location was like a secret garden, a tucked-away little surprise in the midst of the Wilshire financial district high-rises. And at that time, unquestionably the best burgers in L.A.

  • John Engstrom says:

    Remember Cassell’s (on 6th) well. I haven’t lived in L.A. area for years, but it was NOT in Koreatown, unless Koreatown expanded greatly. We used to call the area Mid-Wilshire when I worked and lived in that area.

    Great burgers, controversial potato salad.

  • Guy Reading Blog says:

    I checked this place out today, second day they were open. They were in “soft-opening” mode so were still working out the kinks. It bears little resemblance to the old Cassell’s. No cafeteria line, no self-serve condiments, no run-down feeling. They have preserved, though, the signs and some other artifacts. It feels very clean, upscale, retro-hip, but still casual enough that you could walk in here at lunch and sit at a stool. There was a nice attention to detail all through the restaurant. Everyone was very friendly, perhaps trying a bit too hard.

    A guy, maybe the owner, told me they are no longer allowed, legally, to have a condiment bar, but I think preserving that cafeteria aspect, with the trays and everything else, would have been better.

    The burger was really quite good. Very juicy, cooked a “medium” that was actually medium. Potato “salad” (which is really mashed potatoes) is great and unique. Mexican Coke, free little bag of chips. It took forever for the burger to arrive, but I would chalk that up to it being day #2. You could see they were still figuring things out; I’m fine with that.

    The only gripe is the price. Cassell’s was always over-priced, going back to the glory days. Now it’s even more so. A burger and a Coke ran me $16. If they had the burger at $5.95 and drinks at $1.50, there would be a line out the door.

    I’d certainly be more likely to return to this Cassell’s than the old one, which was crossed off my list decades ago when it became gross. It’s neat somebody decided to preserve some LA heritage.

  • Will Hamblet says:

    Yeah, but do they have the homemade mayo they used to have??

  • Brian says:

    As of today, December 22, 2014, Cassell’s has reopened in the Hotel Normandie.

    Is it the same as before? No, but that isn’t a bad thing. There is no more buffet, but burgers come with a side of lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles. Also, a generous portion of that amazing potato salad. And, for the record, it is definitely not horseradish that gives Cassell’s potato salad its special taste. It is dried mustard. Also, the canned peaches and cottage cheese are gone, but does anyone really care?

    The burgers are still made with freshly ground USDA Prime chuck, and still come in 1/3lb and 2/3lb sizes. The patties are not as wide as those from the original Cassell’s, and thus are thicker. The advantage being they can now be cooked to temperature (rare, medium rare, etc.).

    Today is the first day of the reopening, and I only had a burger. It was excellent, and I will be back.

  • Ken Simon says:

    My dad and his work buddies were big fans of the Cassell’s on 6th. We lived in the valley, though, and when the Encino one opened, he excitedly took us all there for dinner. It was pretty bad. I was just a kid, so I don’t remember why, but we were all disappointed in the food. He said it was nothing like the 6th street location. We gave it one more shot a few months later, and after that decided not to return. As I recall, it didn’t last long in that spot.

  • Phil Ankofski says:

    This question is for anyone who remembers Cassell’s staff from the early 1060’s : Were the employees working the line always male or did Al
    employee women as well ? ( 1950’s & 60’s )


  • Ken Coate says:

    Often the line would be out the door, and as soon as you made it to the door and saw the menu, the guy taking the orders would as for your number. If you weren’t ready, he’d just move on and never come back to you. You’d have to tell the first person you hit at the counter that he’d ignored you, and they’d take your order with a sigh and a rolling of the eyes.

    What I never quite understood was how your order translated into different colored peices of paper, in various shapes, that they would toss on your tray for the people to decipher behind the counter as to what you ordered.

    I vote for horseradish as the secret ingredient in the potato salad. I think it deliberately reduced consumption.

  • Carol (Relish Girl) says:

    Hotel Normandie’ s site says Cassell’s will be opening there this autumn 2014. That’s close to now.

  • Edwin Self says:

    what I remember best was the fact that you had to order by the number of the item. If, while you waited in line to order, if you shouted anything else, the guy taking the order would pretend not th o hear, holding his hand to his ear and frowning. If you shouted the same thing again, he would do the same again, no matter how loud you shouted. When you finally yelled the number, he heard perfectly! He would nod and repeat the number. And, all of the numbers were fabulous.

  • Ronald Fernberg says:

    Funny, reading your website, I was looking for some reference to a popular steak house and coffee shop, named: Mr. Ed’s Steak House and Coffee Shop, the first one was on Western & Manchester, in Inglewood, early 60’s to 70’s, plus another one on Sunset Blvd., in a motel. I was a junior partner with Eddie Wilson (Mr. Ed
    himself, who was a great Chef and restaurant operator) in both those restaurants!

    We had an offer from standard oil company for 10 places on their property, at $250,000 per place, which was a lot of money back then, but, then Mr. Ed’s wife filed for divorce and there went the ballgame! Almost, Haaa.

  • KAREN STAHL says:

    Used to go to Cassell’s after shopping at Bullock’s Wilshire (having worked up an appetite to big for the Tea Room) with my best friend, Mary Alice. The Burger filled the plate, it must have been 10″ in diameter. We would cut it in fourths and share. Always delicious!!!

  • Lindy Hardman says:

    During the summer I worked there (1975), the order taker was a long-haired (ponytail) guy named Baxter. To get people’s attention, he’d say things like “hey you, with the cigarette hanging out of your mouth,” or “hey you in the leisure suit” or “you, with the ugly tie.” Crazy.

  • Aston Banniser says:

    I had forgotten how abrupt and rude the order taker could be, but if your Burgers are that good….Love it or Lump it…hehe

  • Aston Banniser says:

    Loved the Burgers,, certainty the best in LA, and the T-Shirts were great, had one I wore all over Europe..big Burger on it…first of a kind that I know of…caught everyone has them..but not as good..

  • Phil A. says:

    For Mark Evanier and all Readers,

    I need help on one more Cassell’s issue.

    In the early years of Cassell’s ( 1948 thru 1960 ) , was the staff made up of all guys or a combo of guys and gals ?
    Thank you !

  • Will Hamblet says:

    And the cooks took your order.

    Lord help you if didn’t know what you wanted when asked. Four seconds of silence & he’d go to the next person in line.

  • The Management says:

    Cassell’s was cafeteria style, no waitresses.

  • Phil A. says:

    For Mark Evanier and all Readers,

    I am most interested in learning how the original Cassell’s on 6th street
    served their patrons. Did Al Cassell precede Woody’s Smorgasburger
    with the semi cafeteria model or did he feature waitresses?
    Thank you !
    Phil Ankofski

  • Craig D. Smith says:

    I ran into Mark Evanier at the Cassell’s that used to be on Crescent Heights and Wilshire back in the 80s. With the impulsiveness of youth (late 20s at the time) I invited myself to dine with him and he accepted. Nice conversation though looking back I’m pretty sure Mark would have probably preferred the solitude to work some script assignment out in his mind. About the only thing I can add to the Cassell’s comments that hasn’t been said is that before they offered steak fries there used to be small bags of Lay’s potato chips under the buffet table for munching along with your burger.

  • Richard Garcia says:

    Cassell’s will be reopening at the Hotel Normandie located at Normandie Avenue and 6th Street… Hoping for the best…

  • Lindy Hardman says:

    In the ’60s, my father worked 2 blocks away and got his morning coffee at Cassell’s every day. He became very close to Al who started calling my father BK (best kind). I worked there during the summer of 1975 – my first job after freshman year in college. I had to show up around 5:30am – the potatoes would be finished being cooked in boiling water and I had to put on garden gloves to skin them. The gloves had so many holes in them that I always burned my hands. I still remember the recipe for the potato salad because I had to make it every morning. To solve the age-old question of what provided the heat, it was Coleman’s Hot Mustard!
    To this day, I have been unable to find a burger as good as Cassell’s!

  • Brian says:

    On October 22, 2013, Eater LA is reporting that Cassell’s will re-open at the Hotel Normandie early-to-mid 2014.

  • Dana Gabbard says:

    I first learned about it from the old Paul Wallach Southern California dining guide. Like the Pantry and Taylor’s Steakhouse (two other L.A. institutions, thankfully still active!) this is the sort of place you eat at a few times a year because it is very filling. They even had salad dressing as part of the condiment bar so you could have an impromptu salad grace one side of the large plate that came with the burgers. I found the large sliced tomatoes excellent not only for the burger but also as a side dish garnished with mayo. The last year or so it was open I had a chance to have some lengthy conversations with the Korean owner (heck of a nice guy) on Saturday afternoons when it wasn’t too busy (although even threeish it was not unusual to have a party of folks come in to get burgers before it closed at 4 p.m.) The recession hit them hard. Folks who used to eat there 5 days a week for lunch who worked in nearby office buildings cut back to three. Many who used to get a burger, fries and drink reduced their orders to just the burger. People who used to pay cash now paid with credit cards. So I wasn’t surprised when I heard the news he had sold it to the guy who evidently thinks having it as part of his trendy boutique upgrade of the Hotel Normandie will be selling point. I haven’t seen any signs the new location is even started. Meanwhile the old location is vacant and rather sad looking. BTW, I always would dilute the potato salad with some mayo and pickles from the condiment bar. And one time when I was in the midst of walking to Cassel’s who should I run into exiting but Mr. Evanier and a friend from out of town he was treating! I hope some year I can have that re-occur if/when the new location opens (hopefully with comparable quality).

  • Ferrell Forehand says:

    How sad! I am truly bummed. I live in Germany now but used to go regularly when I worked in Hollywood in the ’70s and 80’s. Such a memorable experience. I looked it up today planning on having lunch there on Friday. The horseradish potato salad (anyone that says “mustard” has never has horseradish) was out of this world. And those huge burgers! What a shame. But I guess nothing stays the same.

  • BobbKatt says:

    I was a regular at Cassell’s since August, 1969, and was never disappointed in their burgers or their sides. The horseradish potato salad was their most unique dish, but a 2/3-lb patty cooked-to-order was unbeatable. I drove in from residences in Northridge and Pasadena just for a meal. I hope Tek, the owner, can bring it back.

  • Shannon says:

    Wow…I was telling my husband who is from Colorado about a fabulous burger joint in downtown LA that a beloved relative used to take me to in the 70’s. I couldn’t remember the name. So I searched and found your great post! Bravo! Cassell’s was in its heyday when I used to go there. I remember the lemonade and I remember Al yelling…thanks for the memory!

  • Bruce says:

    I had a memorable lunch at Cassell’s a few years ago, compliments of the proprietor of this site. Great meal, and thanks again!

  • Richard Davies says:

    Looking at the new item’s menu I didn’t know the grocer’s apostraphe had found it’s self the west side of the Atlantic.

  • Will Hamblet says:

    Started going to Cassell’s in the late sixties when I was a computer programmer at Paramount. Loved the Swiss Cheese Burger with that great home-made mayo & onions…. plus the incredible potato salad which I only found “hit & miss” on a daily basis. NOT on a bite-to-bite basis.

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