When I was going to Ventura High School, the best junk food in the known world was right across the street at the Foster's Freeze. They had these tacos (five for a buck) that were classics. You'd take a bite and the grease would run down your arm, then drip off your elbow and stain your wing tips. And the corn burritos? Oh man, 12 for a buck! You'd bite one of those dudes and the beans would squish out the other end and burn off your fingerprints. Of course, that was only if they remembered to remove the toothpicks. Ouch. Today, that place is a battery store. You figure it out.
Anyway, that was then and this is now; memories fade as waistlines grow, as all junk food fanatics well know. This piece will deal with some of the killer junk food places in these parts. This is not a scientific study. I don't care about calories and health food--no bran muffins and fruit logs--this is about hot and fast food full of cholesterol and grease, not to mention my personal favorite, monosodium glutamate, which is as all-American as hot dogs and hamburgers.
I'm not going to deal with fast-food chains--everyone knows what those places are like. Mostly, they're boring. The places in this piece are mostly one-of-a-kind establishments.
So what is junk food? Greasy, mostly. It's mostly fried, which is what it may do to your internal organs. Also, junk food has the shelf life of a wink--so it needs to be consumed rather quickly. Hey, that's why they make Rolaids.
OK, so what constitutes successful junk food? If the place is packed, that's a good sign. Also, if the cops eat there and the parking lot birds are fat, two more good signs. If the cook is fat, sure.
Much of this piece is devoted to Mexican food. Hey, Mexican food is great. Maybe it's what Bob Seger meant when he sang about "the fire down below."
Also, junk food establishments in the eastern portion of Ventura County are conspicuously absent. Little survives in the east county except for the usual suspects--the franchise junk food places.
There's plenty of great junk food on Ventura Avenue but east-end Ventura, much like the east part of the county, is a junk food wasteland.
Finally, there're doubtlessly places that were omitted for whatever reason. For example, I'm aware of Joannafina's down on the beach in Ventura--lots of people told me they have great food and killer tamales. But hey, the joint doesn't even open until 11 a.m., and then they close from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.--what is this place, some sort of burrito boutique for bankers? I heard numerous people use numerous words that The Times doesn't like upon finding the place closed.
Anyway, E Pluribus Junk!
Top Hat Burger Palace
299 Main St., Ventura
So what's the big deal with this Father Serra dude? All he did was build a bunch of tourist traps, those missions, big deal. Well, I suppose he did find work for the local Indians. He told them, "Listen, I need 10,000 adobe bricks by sundown, and you guys, we need water for the grapes, so dig me an aqueduct from Ojai, OK?"
Anyway, there's this big statue of Father Serra in front of City Hall in Ventura. If there was any justice at all, the statue would be of Charlotte Bell, owner of the Top Hat, perhaps holding a chili dog. She's done more for Ventura than Father Serra--she's fed generations of Venturans.
The Top Hat has the best chili dogs in the Western hemisphere. Even the blackbirds that hang out there hoping for an handout are fat. They don't chirp, they burp.
The chili dogs are so messy they come with a spoon. Ditto for the chili burgers--they should come with a bib. You can even get a whole bowl of chili for about a buck. And the cheeseburgers will send you into gastronomic ecstasy--they're greasy and great.
The place is packed at noontime, so before or after is better.
Recommended dosage: Chili dog, chili burger, double cheeseburger, two hours rest.
Great Central Steak & Hoagie Company
410 E. Thompson Blvd., Ventura
George McMaster, formerly of Philadelphia and now of Santa Paula, brings a touch of the East Coast to Ventura, not just with his accent, but with great food. The hoagie place has been there for 13 years and it's usually packed.
It's also a bargain. Broke and starving? For $1.30 you can get a meal in a bag--some of the best fries you've ever eaten, and plenty of them. Besides that, you get free peppers in your choice of three varieties--the mild cherry peppers, the in-between pepperincinis or the little ones that kill you.
The sandwiches cost a bit more, but they're excellent. There's a wide variety of hoagies plus all sorts of steak sandwiches and even veggie sandwiches. If the sandwiches cost a lot (about four bucks) they also do a lot. You won't be hungry again in an hour, guaranteed. You'll be lucky if you can even walk in an hour. The sandwiches are about a foot long and are mostly two-handers. They even have pizza, even Irish pizza with potatoes on it.