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Hotbox Burgers: Made For The Community By The Community

Double cheeseburger from Hotbox Burgers.

[dropcap size=big]B[/dropcap]ack when blogging was a thing, I saw a friend’s entry about Hawkins House of Burgers in Watts. “THE LEANING TOWER OF WATTS” the post read and pictured was a behemoth of a burger with bacon, several thick burger patties, pastrami, onion rings, hot links, and eggs, all held together with wooden skewers. I was astounded, it felt like a spectacle, like a landmark. Shit, for all I knew it was the actual Leaning Tower of Pisa, but better, because I could eat this one.

The burgers at Hawkins have so much intention, you can taste the love, hard work, and perhaps most importantly the generosity that goes into each burger. As ex-LA Times critic Patricia Escárcega put it: “The massive portions are not only for novelty, although there’s a whiff of that. They reflect a commitment to plenitude and value.” Beautifully said.

I figured that I would work my way up to the Leaning Tower but I didn’t get past the cheeseburger (to this day, I still haven’t tried the tower). Beyond the tasty burgers, they represented a destination for a kid from Southeast L.A. who was tired of burgers from Tam’s. These days I don’t see Hawkins just a great burger joint, I see them as a service to their community.

So what does Hawkins have to do with the recently opened brick and mortar Hotbox Burgers in South L.A.? Nothing directly, but the first bite of their cheeseburger took me back to the day I first tried Hawkins.

Double cheeseburger with ketchup (how the author of this story eats it)

The cheeseburgers at Hotbox inspired a similar feeling, you can taste the dedication to serving quality and freshness to the community. They aren’t concerned with keeping up with competing parts of L.A. possessed by the smash burger. Instead, the beef burgers at Hotbox are more in line with the hood’s favorite burger: the charbroiled burger.

The burger patties are freshly formed every day so they have a heft to them. You won’t find any thin frozen burger patties at Hotbox. Each burger is dressed with the usual suspects of mayo, mustard, onion, tomato, pickles and lettuce. They don’t skimp on the beef, Hotbox uses angus beef that makes all the difference. Each bite of the burger has a seasoned beefy presence that doesn’t get overshadowed by the toppings.

Hotbox Burgers started in 2019 as a trailer lonchera in South L.A. that wanted to provide fresh burgers to their community. In March 2021, they opened the doors to a storefront in a plaza on King Blvd and Vermont Ave, steps away from the southwest corner of Exposition Park near the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Hotbox was started by a husband and wife team, Brend and G, who asked for some anonymity but hope that their product speaks for itself.

The name actually came from a suggestion from their daughter who commented that "hotboxing" (smoking weed in a car or an inclosed area) was a favorite pastime in the neighborhood. “I don’t smoke weed but everyone else in my community does,” explains Brend. “She’s like ‘it’s very catchy.’” The conspicuous name has marketing built right into it, welcoming stoners or high USC students who are stressed from finals.

Double cheeseburger on a plate next to a couple of hot peppers.

The team behind Hotbox has a deeper connection to South L.A. that factors into their mission. “We live in an area where we don’t have a lot of fresh quality food,” Brend explains. “We’re surrounded by fast food giants, I would call them.” She’s referring to the various fast food options that are highly processed, like Carl’s Jr., Louisiana Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Yoshinoya, and Subway—all of which are a short walk away. “That was part of our mission, to bring back some quality in our neighborhood.”

Part of the service to the community is offering alternatives to beef like turkey burgers and Impossible meat for their vegetarian and vegan customer base. Additionally, they have a list of add-ons if you want to make your own Leaning Tower, like pastrami, bacon, fried eggs, or avocado. Along with diverse proteins, Hotbox has affordable prices; a cheeseburger combo is less than ten bucks.

Another part of Hotbox’s community work involves providing meals to the growing number of unhoused residents in the neighborhood. According to the most recent homeless count, Council District 9, where Hotbox is located is home to the second largest unhoused population in the entire city. “Everyday after work, we prepare some meals and pass them out daily,” says Brend. “If I can at least give them a meal and who knows if they’re going through a hard time and weren’t expecting that burger, it just fills my heart.”

Hotbox and Hawkins service different parts of L.A., but they share the same passion for providing affordable fresh burgers to their respective communities. In other words, Hotbox makes burgers for the community by the community.

Visit Hotbox Burgers @ 1030 West Martin Luther King Jr Blvd LA, CA 90037  (Mon-Sat 10:30 AM - 7:00 PM)

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