But the Parisian burger of Linda's Drive-In stood out. Put it this way: if a local high schooler were to cut school in the 1960s and 1970s, there were two popular options — hit the beach or grab a Parisian burger at Linda's Drive-In.
Linda's Drive-In is long gone, demolished in about 1985 to make way for the Wolf Camera that exists now at Escuela Avenue and El Camino Real. But its beloved burger is being replicated at two local restaurants: Armadillo Willy's in Los Altos and Pezzella's Villa Napoli in Sunnyvale.
Recently, a Voice writer sat down with his uncle Geoff, who ate Parisian burgers regularly as a teenager in 1960s Mountain View, to see which version is truest to the original.
People who remember the Parisian burger agree that it was two beef patties, American cheese, a French roll bun (from a bakery called "Parisian," hence the name) and a glob of "special sauce" made from ketchup, mustard, dried onions, celery seed and pepper. Tater tots were served on the side. Still, those same people can disagree strongly about their favorite burger.
"Everybody remembers something different," said Pat Pezzella, who owns Pezella's with his brother Vince. "One guy said, 'The burger is great, but there's something wrong with the sauce.'"
"What is it?" Pat recalls asking him.
"It was yellow."
"It was never yellow, what's the matter with you?"
"Another guy said, 'I remember the bun, it was oval,' Pat continued. "Where do you guys come up with this stuff?"
The Pezzellas moved from Brooklyn in 1956 and attended Mountain View High School (then located downtown) in the late 1950s. Since the summer of 2008, they have been serving the Parisian at their 52-year-old restaurant, a fairly upscale place that looks like an Italian villa.
Meanwhile, in late 2008 John Berwald unveiled his own version of the Parisian at his Armadillo Willy's chain of restaurants. Already, he said, it's outselling any other new dish. At the Los Altos location, 104 Parisian burgers sold in the first day, while 2,300 sold in the first week across all nine locations.
Berwald says he used to eat the burger "practically every day for lunch, and sometimes go back for dinner" while attending Cubberly High School (class of 1966) just over the Mountain View border in Palo Alto. "I always remembered that taste," he says. He had his friend Rusty, the pickiest eater he knows, give the final seal of approval on the sauce.
The bun and the sauce are probably the trickiest parts to replicate. After many years of mystery, the sauce recipe is readily available now on the Internet, although the restaurant owners spent months perfecting theirs. Berwald had a sourdough bun custom made by Le Boulanger bakery, while Pezzella's uses the bakery they've used for years to cook the restaurant's bread.
A Parisian burger was purchased from both restaurants and placed side by side on the table. Armadillo Willy's charged $7.25, while Pezzella's charged $10.80.
Geoff started with the Pezzella's version.
"Except for the roll, it's good," he said, later explaining that the roll was more like an Italian Ciabatta roll than the crispy-shelled French roll he remembered. "A lot of it is the roll and the sauce," he said. "This is a light, fluffy bun — that's not what the Parisian Burger was at all."
"But it's good as far as burgers go," Geoff concluded, ranking Pezzella's over any other local burger, even Clarke's.
Then he tried the Armadillo Willy's version, which has a roll crispy enough to shine.
"That's more like it," he said. "Armadillo Willy's pretty much nailed it."
For Geoff, it was Armadillo Willy's by a nose. Though it had less meat (one patty instead of Pezzella's historically correct double patty), the bun was more like sourdough, and it had more sauce with a "heavier" and "spicier" flavor to it. It also came with crispier tater tots.
Armadillo Willy's was closer by price, too. After all, Linda's was far from fancy. One former restaurant supervisor remembers using his whole arm to mix large batches of the sauce in a vat the size of a garbage can.
But Armadillo Willy's is serving the burger for a "limited time only" and Pezzella's may keep it around for the long run. And there's not doubt Pezzella's makes it with a certain degree of appreciation for Mountain View. Chefs Ralph and Maria Pezzella are in their 40s now, but both remember the Parisian burger "distinctly."
"They do it with a little bit of love because they remember it," Pat Pezzella said.