Explore My AZ: Chicago Hamburger Company in Phoenix

(reprinted from the Arizona Republic, Sept 21, 2012)

By Bill Goodykoontz

It’s often said that Phoenix is not very neighborly.

To some extent this is true. If you want proof, walk into your backyard and look at the 6-foot block wall that surrounds it. In other parts of the country you would likely find some less-isolating barrier that allows you to see and speak with the person next door from time to time.

The architecture and construction of backyards probably isn’t going to change anytime soon, if ever. But there are other ways to feel neighborly here. My favorite is a visit to the Chicago Hamburger Company on Indian School Road. I’ve been going there as long as I’ve lived here, more than 20 years, at various stages of my life. I wish I could say I was still a regular (about which more later), but no matter when I visit, I feel right at home.

That’s largely to do with owner Bob Pappanduros. I used to live close enough to the restaurant to become something of a regular. As with most people who come in frequently, Bob got to know me a bit. (Gluttony has advantages.) Despite lines out the door, he always said hi, always asked how things were going at the paper, always had time to chat. And not just with me. With everyone.

A word should be said about the food at this point. Frankly, the Chicago Hamburger Company could be the friendliest place in the world, but if the food weren’t any good I wouldn’t go back. Happily, I can say it’s terrific. Best Chicago dog in town. And, in a Chicago-themed restaurant, of course there are sliders. The wings are good, and I’ve always had good luck with the Philly cheese steak. I may have sampled a few milk shakes my kids have ordered from time to time, too.

Ah, kids. Them. After a few years I had a family and moved a little farther away. Visits were necessarily less frequent. But no matter how much time passed between them, Bob was always the same, just like before, as if I’d been in yesterday. Only now it was better. Now I dragged my children in with me. Milk shakes got added to the order. And, it turns out, the chili is excellent. French fries dipped in the chili? Better still.

So I’ve heard.

More kids, a bigger house, a longer drive and even less-frequent visits for the beloved Chicago dog. But there is a silver lining. My kids still go to the same pediatrician they’ve had since birth. And the pediatrician’s office is near the Chicago Hamburger Company. So if whatever they have isn’t contagious, and we’re driving right by anyway. …

Bob is just as friendly. Still asks about things down at the paper. But what’s best about going now is that all of those conversations take a back seat. He’s too busy talking to my kids. A lollipop, if approved, is a given. He has taken them behind the counter, let them check out what’s going on back there. Needless to say, they loved it. Any parent will tell you that anyone who is good to your children gets a free pass for life. Bob is particularly good with them.

This isn’t a restaurant review or a hero story. It’s just an observation about how easy it is to make people feel at home. Being friendly takes about 10 seconds. When I first moved to Arizona, it was to Kingman. My first exposure to the state was as a place where people move when they want to get away from somewhere else. You can call it fierce independence. Or you can call it misanthropy. Whatever the case, there are times when it really seems less inviting.

And then, as when I step inside the Chicago Hamburger Company, there are times when it seems friendly. Downright neighborly, you might say. And no matter where you live, there’s no place that couldn’t use more of that.