Daily Breeze - National Cheeseburger Day: How Southern California’s greatest contribution was invented

Los Angeles holds bragging rights to a lot of things: The Hollywood Sign. The movie business. The 405 Freeway.

And, according to some historians, the cheeseburger.

So perhaps nowhere should today’s National Cheeseburger Day be celebrated more passionately than in Southern California, the place where beef allegedly first met cheese and forevermore became our chief regional cuisine.

There are competing origin stories, but the generally accepted one goes like this: It was 1924 at a restaurant called The Rite Spot in Pasadena when a 17-year-old cook named Lionel Sternberger decided — and nobody knows quite knows why — to slap a slice of cheese on a burger. He called it “The Aristocratic Burger” and added it to the menu.

“One story is that he burned one side of the burger and rather than throw it away, he flipped it over and put a slice of cheese on it,” said Pasadena Chamber of Commerce President Paul Little, who is so proud of Pasadena’s cheeseburgers that he created the town’s annual “Cheeseburger Week,” which takes place every January.

“Pasadena is known for white suits and the Rose Parade and things like that,” Little said, “but to also be the home of everybody’s messy food at the same time is fun.”

To hamburger historians (yes, they exist), it comes as no surprise that Southern California forged its way into the culinary history books via the burger. As it turns out, the City of Angels and the hamburger are kind of a thing.

“Certainly, the hamburger industry started in Southern California,” said Andrew Smith, professor of Food Studies at the New School in New York City and author of “Hamburger: A Global History.”

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