Mr Pete’s Burgers has existed within the borders of Downey in one form or another for nearly 40 years. In that time, it has become a staple in the upbringing of many residents. But does the food served up by the establishment and its enigmatic namesake merit such praise, or does nostalgia conceal painfully so-so burgers?
A simple question likely rears its head to first time patrons of the restaurant: who is Mr. Pete? Who was the restaurateur who founded a chain whose tendrils extend beyond the borders of Downey into Seal Beach, Long Beach, and South Gate?
While that query may seem simple enough, extensive research proved otherwise. After multiple phone calls to the chain’s different locations that were met with either indifference or the dial tone of death, all hope of unearthing this mystery seemed lost.
But with the help of online databases and a few strokes of luck, contact was made with the seemingly only man who holds the answer: George Stavros, current owner of both Downey Pete’s locations. Befitting his elusive aura, Mr. Pete proved to ultimately be a fast-food Keyser Söze, a deep-fried Tyler Durden, a specter conjured by grease and golden fries.
“There was never a Mr. Pete or Pete,” current Downey Pete’s baron George Stavros says over text. “They used the name because it was short and easy to remember.”
Stavros also proved useful in charting the establishment’s recent history, having played a part in it since his purchase of the Firestone patio location 30 years ago from the since-passed George Panagakos.
“I purchased [Mr. Pete’s] in 1993,” Stavros said. “I continued with [the name] when I opened the one on Woodruff in 2008.”
That Woodruff location occupies the building that was once home to Frisco’s. The 1950s-themed restaurant was erected in 1981 and that business has since migrated to Whittier, but the structure itself has remained a local fixture.
The interior of Mr Pete’s is distinctly 80s-born 50s-themed kitsch (like a latter episode of “Happy Days” well beyond the jumped shark). Visitors get a double dose of retro, as the vestiges of 80s modernity stick out just as much as the cruising culture throwbacks of its faux carhop past.
Though this mausoleum of fast-foods passed may trouble patrons who stare too deeply into the passé black-and-white checkered tile that adorn its walls and floors, the burgermeisters in question prove unphased by any potential ghosts in the grill.
At its heart, Mr. Pete’s is a simple restaurant that is primarily interested in serving the classics. Variety may be the spice of life, but sometimes you just want to find comfort in a reliable favorite. This is where Mr. Pete excels.
The menu runs the gambit of quintessential American comfort food, like burgers and shakes, to Mexican-American delectables like asada burritos and chile tamales. You’ll even find a few leftovers from earlier Greek ownership including a chicken gyro.
The hallmark of diners and greasy spoons everywhere, the cheeseburger combo, proves an apt introduction to the Mr. Pete’s catalog. Topped off with thousand island dressing and served with paprika seasoned fries, it provides a distinct, if not especially spectacular meal. Despite that ubiquity, the meal does well to latch its hooks into your taste buds and encourages one to try some of the more notable items on the menu.
The location’s fried zucchini fries have proven to be a favorite among customers, and for good reason. Paired with ranch dressing, they prove a satisfying alternative from the standard french fries.
The establishment’s recent addition of a spicy chicken sandwich to the menu also proves to be a worthwhile add-on to your lunchtime to-do list. A decidedly small meal to be sure, it nevertheless proves sufficiently tasty and does so without leaving behind the bloat commonly associated with other fast-food chicken sandwiches.
The breakfast burrito (not a meal known for its integrity) will begin to disassemble when cut in half. But its crispy hash browns and melted cheese, topped with a delicious salsa verde, is an undeniably tasty break to any nightly fast.
The club sandwich, while missing a longed-for addition of ham, is nicely built with avocado slices included without an added surcharge and bacon that is crispy without being burnt. We suggest an Orange Bang pairing.
Standards like these make it a solid spot for an impromptu bite, but for many Downey residents, it has proven to be so much more.
When the bell is rung and students from Downey High School shuffle off campus, many desire high caloric offerings to resolve a day of learning (or lack thereof). Several of these students will find themselves making their way to Pete’s.
One of these students is Downey High School senior Ivan Reyes, who has been a faithful patron of the restaurant for almost as long as he can remember.
“I remember eating there a lot when I was really young,” Reyes said. “But I rediscovered it in my freshman year of high school. It’s good food for cheap, a great spot to spend time with friends.”
The restaurants persist even in the hearts of Downey’s wayward sons. Zachary Torrobla spent most of his high school experience in Bakersfield after a lifetime in Downey. But any visit to his old stomping ground is not complete without a stop at one of his favorite haunts.
“It was a fantastic place to meet up with friends, and grab something to eat for a reasonable price,” Torrobla said. “It has always been a place to revisit because of the great conversations and even hilarious memories I’ve had there”
Mr. Pete’s has little interest in flash, and it is that clarity which is simultaneously its biggest strength and weakness. It ensures there is nothing but solid food within, but its lack of honey fails to catch as many of the proverbial flies as it might otherwise. But don’t be fooled, Mr. Pete’s is one of Downey’s better dining experiences, and it is more than deserving of your patronage.
Should you wish to come in and enjoy an economical meal by which to reel in the years, the chain’s two Downey restaurants are located at 12050 Woodruff Avenue and 7811 Firestone Boulevard.