Many Americans think of Los Angeles as a fast-paced metropolis dominated by drivers and their cars. While some Angelenos would disagree with this characterization, the evidence of LA’s love for car culture is visible in the city’s long obsession with fast food, especially its convenient and affordable drive-throughs. From the country’s first McDonald’s to the newest experiments in healthy fast food, LA has always been the epicenter of America’s fast-food trends.
The idea of fast food as we know it today began in 1948, when both McDonald’s and In-N-Out Burger opened their doors in LA. California was also the birthplace of many other prominent chains, including Taco Bell (first opened in Downey in 1962) and Panda Express (established in 1973 in Pasadena). While gourmands may try to insist on the primacy of fine-dining establishments, the truth is that chains like Original Tommy’s Hamburgers, Fatburger, or The Hat are more popular with residents and tourists alike. The undisputed king of fast food in LA remains In-N-Out Burger. Everyone from Iron Chef America’s Alton Brown to famed chef Thomas Keller agrees that In-N-Out’s delicious hamburgers constitute what may be the quintessential American meal.
However, despite LA’s continued love for greasy roadside fare, the city’s fast-food culture is slowly changing. In 2008, in an attempt to curb the rise of obesity, the City Council forbade new fast-food chain restaurants from opening in South Los Angeles. Regulations such as these have created small changes in the practices of traditional fast-food establishments, but they have also spiked a growth in new, healthier fast-food restaurants. Chains like Lyfe Kitchen and Veggie Grill, for example, are seeking to make delicious food that also contains healthy and fresh ingredients. If history is any guide, Americans from the Pacific to the Atlantic will soon be eschewing burgers and fries for kale-spiked smoothies and bowls of flavorful quinoa stir-fry.