Birth of the Cheeseburger

This is where the Cheeseburger was born — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

Birth of the Cheeseburger

Back in 1924 (or as early as 1923 or possibly as late as 1926), teenage cook Lionel Sternberger accidentally created the culinary staple we know today as the Cheeseburger at a roadside restaurant called the Rite Spot on Colorado Boulevard.

Los Angeles is a Burger Town. Southern California the birthplace of In-n-Out, Carl’s Jr., Tommy’s, and Fatburger. And while Los Angeles can’t make the claim that it’s where the hamburger was invented, it can — and does — make the claim that it’s the birthplace of the cheeseburger.

LAXG: Birth of the Cheeseburger
The plaque dedicated to Lionel Sternberger’s mistake at 1500 W. Colorado. Photo from the author’s collection.

According to lore, Lionel Sternberger (of course), a teenage line cook at a roadside joint known as The Rite Spot, wasn’t paying attention to the grill. As a result, one of the burgers he was cooking burned.To hide his grievous mistake, the wily Sternberger slapped a slice of cheese on top of the patty, called it the Aristocratic Burger, and sent it out to the customer.

The Rite Spot, circa 1937. Photo from the Los Angeles Library Photo Collection, Herman J Schultheis Collection.

The customer, of course, was delighted, and the cheeseburger was born. Shortly thereafter (maybe even the next day), the Aristocratic Burger showed up as a regular offering on The Rite Spot’s Menu. It cost 15 cents.

Today The Rite Spot is headquarters for FirefightersFirst Credit Union. Photo from the author’s collection.

The Rite Spot is long gone, but the Pasadena Museum of History (right down the road from where the cheeseburger was born) is said to feature a menu from The Rite Spot dated sometime in the 1920s featuring the Aristocratic Burger. The museum has been closed since the early days of the pandemic, so we can’t confirm this first-hand, but we’ll be checking it out as soon as we’re able.

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What’s interesting about Pasadena’s claim as the city that graced the world with the cheeseburger, 1500 West Colorado Boulevard — the spot where The Rite Spot stood — was once in Pasadena but is now just on the Eagle Rock side of the border between the two cities.

Birth of the Cheeseburger (formerly The Rite Spot)

  • 1500 W Colorado Boulevard, Eagle Rock
  • GPS Coordinates: 34.140797, -118.180828 [ Google Maps ]
  • what3words ///boring.fake.slick (an unfortunate selection, eh?)

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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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