Battle of the burgers

Amadillo Willy's, Pezzella's unveil competing versions of a Mountain View classic: Linda's Parisian Burger

There were other Mountain View drive-in burgers that people remember, such as the Cadillac burger at Spivey's, and the pre-McDonald's Big Mac at Johnny Mac's.

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.

The verdict

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.

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3 people like this
Posted by oldschgrl
a resident of North Whisman
on Mar 13, 2009 at 2:30 pm

i tried Armadillo Willy's and it was good as was the tri-tip i had the week before. Tri-tip Tuesday is the best for lunch!
In 1973, $1.05 could get you a Parasian, tater tots and a
great tasting RC cola at Linda's.

3 people like this
Posted by SD
a resident of North Whisman
on Mar 14, 2009 at 8:05 am

Is there an old employee that used to make the burgers?

Where are you???

Tell us what you remember.

3 people like this
Posted by Susan
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2009 at 11:04 am

I took a friend to try the Parisian Burger at Armadillo Willy's. We grew up in Palo Alto and Linda's was our destination at lunch time almost everyday. After ordering she told me she would take half home to her husband to try, after one bite she said forget it, she was eating it all. Armadillo Willy's had hit it right on. She plans on bringing her husband down memory lane on Saturday to enjoy the thrill of that delicious burger himself.
I have had both Parisian burgers and must say both were very good. The bread is what brings the full taste of the Parisian burger from the old days back and AW has it.

3 people like this
Posted by Bryan Barton
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2009 at 7:17 pm

I worked at Linda's in 1984. If i remember right there was celery salt and garlic powder in the sauce. The sauce was added to the cooking beef patties (ground by Linda's employee's that morning), the sourdough rolls
were also grilled. It was a great high school job, I do remember meeting Linda, but the place was run by her mother and sister.
p.s. the steaksand was my favorite and the milkshakes were great.

3 people like this
Posted by BT
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Bryan...Thanks for the reminder on the steak sandwiches. They were my favorite as well, although the burgers were hard to beat.

I think time does make things seem a bit better than they were in reality, so perhaps there is a tendency to be a little harsh on the recreations being attempted.

3 people like this
Posted by Marsha
a resident of Jackson Park
on Mar 16, 2009 at 3:12 pm

When I saw the Parisian burger advertised, my mouth immediately watered for the Linda's of old. Armadillo Willy's is quite close to that mouth watering experience. Definitely not to be compared to a MacD's; however, not a carbon copy either but worth the $$.

5 people like this
Posted by Evelyn
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 28, 2009 at 2:55 pm

I loved those tator tots and the Parisian Burger, omg the shakes too! I used to ride my bicycle to the record store to buy an ALBUM and had to stop at Linda's - I miss it! Do you guys remember Loyola Corners and the ice cream shop with the yummie burgers? They had homemade Ice cream.

6 people like this
Posted by Linda
a resident of Sylvan Park
on May 30, 2009 at 12:12 am

Ok, since we're going down memory lane, how about a few more blasts from the past!

Remember these stores which were across El Camino from Linda's:

Wherehouse Records (now a Kragen Auto Parts and Petco)

Shaw's Ice Cream & Candies (now a Togos)

Hubbard & Johnson (now a strip mall with a Longs)

And just around the corner from Shaw's was The Akron (now an Office Depot). That was a funky store!

Going farther down El Camino was the beloved Camino Bowl (now condos), Joe Bockman's Chevrolet (now an office building), and the Red Barn at the corner on Rengstorff (now a Country Gourmet restaurant).

I also have fond memories of The Menu Tree in San Antonio shopping center with that huge Cuckoo clock! I'm not sure what's there now since that mall had so many drastic changes.

And who could forget Mayfield Mall! Too bad it turned into an HP!

3 people like this
Posted by Tod
a resident of another community
on Jun 24, 2009 at 3:03 pm

@ Evelyn: That place at Loyola Corners was originally a grocery store run by Andy Ardito and Ed Longden way back in the 40s and 50s. They retired and it became Don's. Don had an ice cream shop just up Fremont near the old hardware store and he moved into the old grocery, adding a grill for hamburgers and other cooked foods to his inventory of yummy ice cream. Poor Don made great food but couldn't spell worth a darn: I remember this old sign: "Miners - No Smokeing" with two misspellings. Smartass kids would use pencils to correct it.

3 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2009 at 3:05 am

I didn't know about Linda's but I remember getting burgers at the Red Barn. Across from the Red Barn, the wine store at Rengstorff and El Camino Real had small bottles of cold Ripple for 39 cents in the seventies. What was the name of the record store in Palo Alto that looked like a big wood record crate. One day I stopped in there and they were playing a new song by Carly Simon. It was: "That's The Way I've Always Heard It Should Be" and they were featuring her new album which contained that song. I bought that album and I never forgot the song or the album. Great Times - Great Music!

3 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 21, 2010 at 4:09 pm

The record store was Banana Records

3 people like this
Posted by Bob MacLean
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jul 29, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Do you remember Chez Yvonne on El Camino just south of Linda's? Our French class went there from Graham Jr High, probably 1962, for a French experience. About 9 years later I was a night manager for the Red Barn on Rengstorf. One day the place was robbed, the 2 idiots went across the street to the Chevy dealer and bought a car with cash, they were easily found. It was an inside job. I asked the MV police to escort me to make the bank drop at night after that.

I heard a place near Evelyn in SV made a copied Parisian burger for years and of course by the time I heard about it, it was no longer there. That was about 1990.

But the best memory of all was Linda's Parisian burger, MAN am I glad my mom liked taking us there. The sauce was awesome. I wish we could get those things catered at a high school reunion.

3 people like this
Posted by John Brignani Jr.
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 26, 2011 at 6:04 am

Well, there always has to be a different opinion,,,and here it is. I was born in 1941, raised at 506 Mt View ave., about 2 1/2 blocks from Johnny Macs Drive In. I'd bet that my folks took me for the first time to Johnny Macs when I was around 7 or 8 YO. As I became older, myself and many freinds would go to Johnny Macs for the Big Mac Burger all the way thru our teens and so on. The Big Mac burger and SAUCE and special way the burger was built was and still is the very best tasting burger we ever had. LOL, My buddies and I to this day say Johnny Macs Big Mac burger was the far and above the best burger ever. From the mid 40's, 50's and early 60's. John Brignani Jr.,, PS. WHAT WAS IN THAT SAUCE? i WISH I KNEW

3 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Dec 14, 2013 at 6:49 am

my sister worked there, use to bring home the leftover tater tots every night,

they taste better when you let them sit and then re heat them in the broiler,

Parisian burgers did not age well, if you let them sit for 20 minutes then you wish you had gone to Don's Ice Cream,

Don was an A's fan, he always had the game on the radio when you went in, way before that started winning big,

got the meat from the butcher shop next door, Kirks was the best, they used to have a mini playground in the yard,

3 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Dec 14, 2013 at 6:54 am

forgot a few things,

Linda's was owned by the Riggs family,

Kirks secret ingredient is tomato soup, mixed into the beef before grilling,

3 people like this
Posted by rolo8ab
a resident of North Whisman
on Dec 19, 2013 at 10:08 am

I remember everything being mentioned here and so much more...
Lindas tater tots were addicting..!
I have a notion to experiment w/ tomateo soup/beef..

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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