This Death Metal Burger Joint Is Grilled Meat Valhalla on Earth
LA's Grill ‘Em All has become a site of pilgrimage for metalheads of all sub-genres, crust punks, hardcore, and Powerviolence fans from around the world. Their flavorful burgers are as heavy as all of these musical styles combined.
All photos by David Lopez
Grill 'Em All's "Dee Snider" is a bacon burger layered with thickly spread creamy peanut butter, grape jelly, and sriracha sauce. It is not a gimmick, nor is it a novelty food item. It wasn't created for shits and giggles or to become a prop for duck-faced selfies. The same goes for Grill 'Em All's "Behemoth," a half-pound cheeseburger that demands the use of two entire grilled cheese sandwiches instead of hamburger buns, concocted in honor of one of the heaviest Polish black metal bands of all time.
These two burgers—along with the rest of Grill 'Em All's burger army—represent a way of life.
It's been seven years since metalheads Ryan Harkins and Matt Chernus first thought of creating burgers in tribute to their lifelong metal heroes out of a food truck in Los Angeles. And what started as a way to maximize outdoor party time with friends in the land of eternal summers for two native Clevelanders has grown to a full-blown cultural phenomenon as big as some of the bands the two idolize.
Their storefront in the San Gabriel Valley has become a site of pilgrimage for metalheads of all sub-genres, crust punks, hardcore, and Powerviolence fans from around the world. It's also a popular destination to mingle with the actual metal artists after whom the burgers are named—bands like Obituary, Black Dahlia Murder, and even Dee Snider himself have made appearances. (It is not unheard of for any these guys to drop really loud acoustic sets inside the restaurant on a whim, too.) During the Ozzfest festival last month, the medium-sized restaurant overflowed with tattooed, heavyset, longhaired showgoers who all came to pregame for the event that was located 50 miles away.
Harkins, a cook, and Chernus, a bartender, moved to LA a decade ago in hopes of pursuing a career in their stoner metal band, but it didn't quite work out as they hoped. According to Chernus, they've known each other since first grade but didn't talk to each other until their eighth-grade Winter Formal. "Ryan was wearing Vans and I was wearing a Pantera shirt with a huge weed leaf on it. We were the kindred spirits who were dateless nerds and have been best friends since then."
During one wildly drunken night at a barbecue, while trying to decide what piece of meat to grill next, Chernus uttered the magic words that would change both their lives forever: "Grill 'Em All, man." They laughed at the corny Metallica pun at first, but then Harkins came back a few days later with a tattoo of the makeshift slogan in Metallica's signature font. That was when everything changed. They spent both of their life savings on a food truck and rode LA's first wave of food truck fever from 2010 to 2012. That was when they decided to go full brick-and-mortar. They used their prize money earned after winning season one of Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race to fund the transition. Harkins assured me that the food truck was given a proper "glorious Viking funeral" before it was laid to rest. The brick-and-mortar is nicknamed "burger Valhalla" in its honor.
Harkins is proud of the fact that the restaurant is strictly intended to "fuck you up and get you full." Their "Paul Baloff" is a New York-style pastrami sandwich with a fried egg. The "Pig Champion" is a burger smothered with a Champagne hollandaise, Canadian bacon, and a fried egg. Their "Napalm Death" has pepper jack, pickled jalapeño, cream cheese, jalapeño poppers, and habanero aioli.
There is also a new burger special every month. This month, it's one made in tribute to a local hardcore band, Xibalba (Mayan for "underworld"), and prepared like a Mexico City pambazo: guajillo chile-grilled buns, Mexican chorizo, potatoes, salsa verde, pickled red onion, and cotija cheese. Everything is made in-house, with the exception of their spongy burger buns that they source from the a family bakery in the San Fernando Valley. Their "Hawk Wings," which are chicken wings braised in duck fat, fall off the bone and are proof that Grill 'Em All is not all just food and metal puns. They are currently looking to open another burger valhalla in Long Beach sometime soon. When asked about the best way to tackle their monstrous burgers, Harkins told me: "Just take it to the face and don't stop until you're done, man."
On a Monday evening, a steady crowd of people starts to show up for a meet and greet with hardcore band Ringworm. Almost everyone who step foot inside the restaurant stops to admire the mural on one of the walls that reads, "DEATH TO FALSE BURGERS," before ordering the one-night-only menu created in the band's honor. There is brutal grindcore blasting in the background and some vintage horror movies selected by the band playing on the restaurant's television.
If you are a fan of any kind of hard, loud, and fast music, Grill 'Em All might just be the happiest place on earth.