Burgers, hot dogs plus a side of food nostalgia hit the spot in West Hollywood

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, July 25. I’m Andrew J. Campa, a metro reporter writing from the San Gabriel Valley (you know, the place where In-N-Out 🍔 was invented!).

It’s been a month of nostalgia dining in West Hollywood (WeHo, if you know), where warm memories and hot plates fed a crowd of salivating well-wishers.

Our Food Team documented a pair of returns in the iconic Westside enclave, leading with Irv’s Burgers.

The stand reopened July 1 after a four-year hiatus and has been celebrating a month of ceremonies, including a ribbon-cutting event ✂️.

Scores of crowds waited in long lines and shared recollections with our Stephanie Breijo, who documented the stand’s renaissance.

Among the fans were couple Dovie Mamikunian and Laurent Suchel, who lived in Paris until recently, and ventured to West Hollywood to and from Los Angeles International Airport.

“We … would have a hamburger before the plane,” Mamikunian said. “When we got off the airplane, first place we’d come is here.”

The duo visited Irv’s for 20 years at all three of its locations, including the newest version on Santa Monica Boulevard.

The burger stand has become a family tradition for Mamikunian, who grew up in Los Angeles. She discovered Irv’s with her brother, dined there with her husband, Laurent, and passed down the culinary custom with her daughter.

Like Mamikunian, regular diner James Evans was ecstatic to hear about the return of Irv’s. The location’s closing in 2018 brought about a sense of communal loss, said Evans.

“I was devastated — I felt so bad for them because they’re such a staple of the neighborhood,” he said.

On the first day back, Evans ordered his usual: a single cheeseburger, fries and a Coke. Mamikunian’s first trip back also heralded her familiar order of a patty melt.

The food was a welcome comfort for both. However, what made Irv’s stand out for Mamikunian, Evans and scores of others was the return of Sonia Hong, the restaurant’s former owner.

Hong ran and owned the locale from 2000 to 2018, when it closed after the death of Hong’s brother, the loss of a longtime cook and continual battles with various landlords.

Customers tried to help the limping institution, founded in 1946, by working shifts. They loved Hong’s humor, electric smile and her cartoon sketches of customers and their pets.

Eventually, Hong returned behind the counter as an employee for new owner Lawrence Longo.

Ted Sroka, a longtime customer, said it was not burgers that first brought him to Irv’s but a friendly face.

“She was super, super cheery, and I remember thinking, ‘Even if this burger is terrible, I have to come back,’” he said. “And it was the best burger I ever had.”

About two miles away, another historic locale was shaking off rust in favor of rebirth.

West Hollywood’s Tail o’ the Pup, the 18-foot concrete hot dog stand (picture the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile without tires), returned on Wednesday on National Hot Dog Day 🌭.

Our Nicole Kagan and Gregory Yee documented an army of ketchup-and-mustard-costume-clad customers who celebrated the grand reopening.

West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister said of the stand, “It’s a part of our history. I remember eating these back at the old location.” She then took two boxes of hot dogs to go.

Like Irv’s, Tail o’ the Pup opened in 1946, and the stand grew in fame with customers from the nearby Kiddieland amusement park (site of the current Beverly Center) patronizing the business.

Tail o’ the Pup closed in 2005, reopened and closed again in 2016 and has found life again under the current ownership of the 1933 Group, which includes Bobby Green, a Tail ‘o the Pup fan.

Green fell in love with the stand upon a family vacation in the mid-’80s. Then a young boy, Green never forgot his first impression of Southern California.

“From that trip I remember three things,” Green said. “The palm trees, the Hollywood sign and that hot dog stand. It’s just one of those things that sticks with you.”

Both restaurants hope to stick with a new generation of customers.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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L.A. STORIES

Los Angeles Police Department officers and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies stage at the entrance to Peck Park in San Pedro, where two people were killed and five injured in a shooting on Sunday afternoon.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

Gunfire broke out Sunday afternoon at San Pedro’s Peck Park, killing two adultsand wounding five other people. Approximately 500 people were at the park around 4 p.m. A car show was taking place nearby. Los Angeles police believe the shooting “was a dispute between two parties.” Los Angeles Times

Latinos favored businessman outsider Rick Caruso over Karen Bass in the Los Angeles mayoral primary vote in areas where the population was at least 80% Latino, according to a Times analysis. Caruso finished with 34% of the vote in that primary in those regions, ahead of Bass (27%) and the lone Latino in the race, Kevin de León (24%). As of Sunday, De León had not endorsed Bass or Caruso and it’s not certain where those votes or those who voted for neither of the top two candidates will go. A UCLA statistical analysis had Caruso as the top Latino vote-getter with 34% of the vote, ahead of De León (29%) and Bass (20%). Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Dodgers have the biggest payroll in baseball. They own the best record in the game heading into Monday, will probably win their division once again and have the second-best odds of capturing a World Series of any team. If there’s a need for Los Angeles, perhaps it’s pitching depth. Yet, the Dodgers are a strong contender to trade for the Washington Nationals’ young superstar, Juan Soto. So do they need him? Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

GOP minority leader Kevin McCarthy is known on Capitol Hill for being a steadfast loyalist to former President Trump. Back home in the Central Valley, his conservative values and bona fides have come under question by voters in his realigned 20th District. Some wonder if he really is a “true conservative,” while others lump him into the “swamp.” These concerns, though, aren’t likely to hurt his reelection chances in an area described as “more west Texas than Texas.” Los Angeles Times

A former dean of Fremont’s California School of the Deaf is leading a petition to pressure the governor, state superintendent of public instruction and the California Department of Education to provide housing for teachers of the unique institution. One instructor sleeps in his vehicle, while others stay with roommates or family due to the area’s unaffordable housing. The petition is a way to stave off teachers leaving the school. Mercury News

CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING

A Black World War II veteran who was court-martialed and imprisoned in an English jail for two years during World War II has died at 101 in La Mirada. His crime was speaking in defense of another soldier being verbally abused by a white commanding officer known for his racial slurs. The Army eventually released Bernard Benedict James from jail in 1947 and changed his discharge to honorable. The Army, however, never apologized and did not fully correct his record, maintaining he was AWOL for 704 days — the time he spent in jail. James left the Army, went back to school, eventually graduated from Harvard University and moved into the aerospace industry. He designed capsules that carried astronauts on the Apollo and Mercury space missions. Los Angeles Times

An Oakland resident has been charged with human trafficking, pimping, pandering and illegally owning a firearm. The human trafficking charge stems from allegations he transported a 14-year-old girl from Fresno around San Francisco, Vallejo and Los Angeles as part of his “team of prostitutes.” Mercury News

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

A burning structure

A home burns as the Oak fire moves through the area on Saturday near Mariposa. The fast moving Oak Fire burning outside of Yosemite National Park has forced evacuations, charred thousands of acres and has destroyed several homes since starting on Friday afternoon.

(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

The season’s largest fire is ripping through the Sierra Nevada foothills west of Yosemite National Park. The Oak fire, which began Friday near Midpines, destroyed at least 10 structures and led to the evacuation of several thousand people. As of Sunday morning, more than 14,000 acres were scorched. More than 2,000 firefighters have been battling the fire with no end to the burning in sight. Los Angeles Times

Why does inland California hit its hottest days of the year in mid-August, while areas closer to the California coastline reach annual peaks in late August and early September? Why do coastal areas north of Point Conception not hit their warmest points until later? A persistent marine layer and the distance from the ocean are the reasons. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Miles away from metro Los Angeles, Black and Latino transplants from South Los Angeles, Long Beach and other crowded urban areas have found “peace” in the often besmirched Inland Empire. Here, the population of 4.6 million folks who make up Riverside and San Bernardino counties are nearly 70% people of color. It’s not all about affordable housing, though. There is a quietness, tranquility and nostalgia in an area that identifies with the Old West and where “Let’s Go Brandon!” flags proudly fly. Los Angeles Times

Nonprofit Open Books, which has donated more than 15,000 LGBTQ-affirming books to 1,000 schools mostly throughout California, ran into resistance in Solana Beach. Some parents and community members learned of a donation to the city’s school district, at the request of a teacher, and fought back via social media and direct complaints to the district. So the books now sit in limbo as teachers review them one by one. San Diego Union-Tribune

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: 80, partly cloudy. San Diego: 72, partly cloudy. San Francisco: 65, partly cloudy. San Jose: 81, partly cloudy. Fresno: 104, sunny. Sacramento: 96, sunny.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory is from Andrew Masset:

My dream in prep school in upstate New York was to attend USC. Arriving in Los Angeles by car from San Francisco, I was astounded at the absolute beauty of Highway 1 and the coastline. The redwoods, Carmel, SLO, and all points in between. It truly is ‘Gods final touch.’

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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