Raymond’s Hamburgers sneaks up on the unsuspecting pedestrian a block and a half past California on Cermak. I have to watch my step as I hop up three outside stairs to the densely tiled interior. A series of signs, posted at eye level along all four walls, remind me not to talk on my cell phone while ordering, to pay in cash, and, of course, to feel welcome.
Raymond’s menu mixes Mexican, American, and pan-Western fast food. There are steak sandwiches and rib eye steak tacos, horchatas and branded energy drinks. According to Raymond’s founder Raymond Urbina, his three eponymous restaurants have blended Mexican and American food ever since the first one opened in 1973. Those were simply the items that sold well. On a cold and sunny day in late November, few things look tastier than the burgers, burritos, and bacon-based breakfast staples listed on Raymond’s wall.
It’s 10:30am, the witching hour between breakfast and brunch. But Raymond’s is hopping. A line of patrons leans along the front counter, ordering in a mix of English and Spanish. Torn between the early and late morning, I order a meal that doesn’t commit me to any stage of the day: a small coffee, onion rings, and a cheese quesadilla (served with iceberg lettuce and tomato). As a vegetarian, it’s hard for me to get the full-on Raymond’s experience, but, damn it, I try.
Two minutes later, Raymond’s has cooked up a meal to complement the atmosphere. The onion rings are cool enough to eat, especially after being slathered with ketchup. Green hot sauce from an unmarked plastic container kicks the thinly sliced cheese quesadilla into high gear. My Styrofoam cup of coffee is bubbling with bottom-of-the-pot particulate matter. I drown out the grounds with another plastic cuplet of half and half. And it tastes good.
It’s nice (in moderation) to eat purely caloric food. It’s a pleasure to watch the grill behind the counter sizzle along to the sounds of Top 40 radio. And on a Monday morning after a long weekend, one can take comfort in drinking a cup of coffee that doesn’t have any delusions of grandeur about its gastronomic purpose. It is energy–nothing more, nothing less. I scrape my pile of uneaten iceberg lettuce into the garbage and swear to myself that I’ll come back someday.