In 1900, Louis Lassen, owner of Louis’ Lunch (est. 1895), invented the hamburger. Asked to make something to eat on the go, Lassen slapped some ground meat between two pieces of toast and inadvertently created an American icon. Although this piece of oral history could potentially be contested, the quality of Louis’ Lunch cannot.
Walking in, one immediately notices the size of the establishment; Louis’ Lunch is tiny, with a few wooden tables and a counter. Every wooden surface in the place teems with graffiti as old as the furniture itself. Layers upon layers of inscribed history give Louis’ Lunch historical legitimacy; if this burger joint was good enough to inspire deeply carved inscriptions in the seventies, then it must be good.
The menu is simple: Ham Works, or Cheese Works. There are simple ingredients: Hamburger and toast, and simple condiments: cheese, tomato, and onion. You can get any permutation of condiments… out of those three. Luckily, no more are needed.
The first thing to notice about the burger is the bun, or lack of bun. Rather, a patty sits between slices of toast, not crispy and crumbly, but a nice golden brown. The burger itself is juicy, fatty, and well, the essence of hamburger. The cheese melts nicely, and the onion and tomato complement the meat but do not make the toast soggy. The burger needs nothing else, no lettuce, or mushrooms or guacamole, just the sandwich on the paper plate. Not too big, one sandwich would seem skimpy for a hungry athlete. These are no white castle sliders though either, so one is plenty for a normal, casual lunch.
The only problem with Louis’ Lunch is space. At lunch hour, if you go with more than two people don’t expect to find seats, take the burger to go. Also, the line can get a bit long at peak times, but if you want a real burger, the wait is worth it. Go to Louis’ Lunch once for the experience of a New Haven landmark. Go again for the food.
261-263 Crown Street
New Haven, CT 06511-6611
263 Crown St, New Haven, CT 06511