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Winter 2004 Bruin Walk

Illustration of man at theater
Illustration by Ryan Sanchez

Make mine with fries

The humble little burger shack — once a defining feature of postwar Los Angeles — has largely and lamentably disappeared from the Southern California landscape.

But right here in Westwood, in the middle of the cookie-cutter chain stores and chichi restaurants with maitre d’s and white tablecloths, sits a hole-in-the- wall burger-and-burrito joint that the bulldozers, franchise eateries and even inflation have oddly bypassed.

Owner Harry Nagieh calls his little restaurant the Grill Inn, but you’re better off looking for the faded orange façade where the pigeons perch at lunchtime. Here, penny-pinched students, hungry construction workers and budget-minded UCLA employees line up for a fist-size burrito or a triple burger with fries.

Most anybody who can scare up some loose change under the sofa cushions can afford a meal at Nagieh’s modest little restaurant. A buck twenty-five buys a burger, 50 cents more gets you a chicken wrap. Two soft-shell tacos with chips and salsa go for $1.95. An 8-inch chicken or beef burrito is $2.50, four bits more for a 12-inch.

The lunchtime crowd usually includes Rob Kennedy, 25, a graduate student in chemistry who favors tie-dye T-shirts and wears his long blond hair in a ponytail. Kennedy, from Leeds, England, tasted his first burrito at the Grill Inn. That was all it took.

“I come here pretty much every day,” Kennedy says sheepishly. “I get the same thing: veggie burrito, 8 inches, with extra avocado. It’s tasty, and it’s really cheap.”

Nagieh bought the Grill Inn about six years ago after running the submarine shop next door for several years. The tiny restaurant was called Subbies Roll-Inn, but the students all knew it as “Buck Fifty’s” because of its $1.50 chicken submarine. Nagieh, who is married with two children, concedes that he keeps prices low not so much to be a nice guy but because of simple economics.

“You raise prices a little and you lose customers, so you’re in the same place,” Nagieh says, shrugging.

by Anne Burke

2005 The Regents of the University of California