Illustration by Ryan
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
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
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
“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
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