There seem to be two distinct camps when it comes to iconic South Pas eatery Hi-Life Hamburgers: those who say something like, "Is that the place on Fair Oaks near the middle school? What's the big deal? It's a burger joint like any other, right?" And those who equate Hi-Life with every happy memory from childhood wrapped around the very heart of the small town American dream and worthy of placement on the historic register. Even those who don't rave about Hi-Life food will raise hackles at the idea of not having it as a dining option. For locals, Hi-Life is a vital part of the Southern California -- kinda like the Lakers, the Hollywood sign and the Santa Monica pier. (Only better.)
It certainly is a slice out of the past. The red and white tile inside is part fifties diner/part psychedelic carnival. It's real-deal retro, not orchestrated. Where else can you get Orange Bang and Cherry Fanta? You can ask for "A suicide" and receive a wicked combination of every soft drink, swirling in icy goodness, enough to please your inner 8th grader. Oh, and you'll see plenty of actual 8th graders in the afternoon-- the Middle School is nearby. Later, you might find some glassy-eyed teens saying something along the lines of, "Hi-life... get it, dude?" like characters out of a Kevin Smith movie.
The burgers are delish -- huge, savory, drippy -- and the breakfasts are like the ones you remember from Grandma's house -- lots of crispy bacon and butter. The fries are truly outstanding -- that perfect blend of crunch on the outside, steam on the inside. (A small is more than enough to share.) And if you talk to any Hi-Life fan about there being better chili cheese fries anywhere on planet earth, be prepared for a fight. Heck, the place even got a shout-out in a rap song. (Eat Street, by People Under the Stairs.)
Oh, there are those who don't get it. Bottom line: if when you think of cheeseburgers you think of medium rare ostrich with gorgonzola cheese and a side of chipotle-infused sweet potato fries ... that sounds great. Just don't go to Hi-Life. But if you want a piece of locally-owned greasy goodness in a setting that would give Quentin Tarantino inspiration to write another screenplay, go to Hi-Life. (Bring cash -- no credit cards accepted.)