Cheeseburgers are classic American fare, and almost as hot as the griddles they sizzle on is the battle for the title of creator.
Pasadena purports to be the home of the very first cheeseburger, and is celebrating with Cheeseburger Week.
The cheeseburger’s creation was serendipitous, according to city officials.
The appropriately-named Sternberger family operated a roadside snack shack on West Colorado Boulevard near the western edge of Pasadena where it borders Eagle Rock.
The Sternbergers turned the shack into a permanent restaurant, and what came next defined generations of palettes – allegedly.
Legend has it that in the mid-1920s, Lionel Sternberger invented the cheesy concoction while working at his father’s diner, The Rite Spot, then located on Colorado Boulevard.
Lionel’s nephew said his father claimed that Lionel just wanted to try something different, and slapped a slice of cheese on a steamy burger. Thus, the Aristocratic Burger was born.
This scenario may have some credibility, said Paul Little, president of Pasadena’s Chamber of Commerce.
After researching the local lore, Little said he discovered that Lionel weighed in at 425 pounds.
“He was not shy about eating,” Little said.
But a desire to shake up the norm isn’t the only theory attached to the tale.
One story paints a clumsy Lionel Sternberger, 17 years old and distracted while manning the grill.
According to this version of events, he burned the burger, and to make matters right, covered the charred patty with cheese and served it to a delighted customer.
Another scenario draws in a second character – a hobo who came into the restaurant looking to get the most from his 15-cent burger by requesting a slice of cheese, among other add-ons.
The history of America's staple food can be – like some of its incarnations – messy and heated. Numerous restaurants have claimed the creation as their own.
Pasadena’s cheeseburger could owe its existence partly to patty connoisseurs 3,000 miles east, where a Connecticut burger joint claims to have concocted the hamburger.
Although some Texans claim the Lone Star State is home to the hamburger, the Library of Congress sided with New Haven’s Louis' Lunch.
Pasadena has no plans to acquire official recognition of the creation that purportedly came to life within their city limits, citing a handful of evidence that’s good enough for them.
“I started looking and Wikipedia said yes, so I thought, ‘Okay, that’s good enough, we’ll go with that,’” Little said.
Further research into the matter turned up Lionel Sternberger’s obituary in Time Magazine, The Book of Firsts and a 1970s series by the Los Angeles Times – all of which pointed to Lionel.
Granted, there have been other claimants to the cheeseburger, but none of them as early as the mid-1920s, Little said.
“It’s sort of fun, and Pasadena has an interesting culinary history,” Little said. “Julia Child grew up here, and the cheeseburger was born here as well.”
So to honor this culinary achievement for the first time, more than 20 restaurants in Pasadena are framing their menus accordingly, including POP Champagne & Dessert Bar.
If the name sounds fancy, that’s because it is. They’re rolling out the red napkin for a Kobe beef burger that will only be in town for Cheeseburger Week.
Other restaurants are boasting duck sliders, an Armenian pita burger, a Greek feta burger, bison burgers, albacore burgers and a crepe version.
For a list of participating restaurants and their specials – some of which include20 percent off your order – click here.