Up-and-down the lower stretch of Pacific Coast Highway in Dana Point, there are a handful of chain fast food restaurants. All of them could satisfy any local traveler for a quick buck.
However, none of them have endeared themselves in the way that the little building with the yellow sign across from Doheny Beach has for more than 50 years.
A’s Burgers has been the go-to stop for warm-you-up breakfast burritos and fill-you-up burgers and fries since late founder Angelo Vardakostas started the business in the early 1970s. And for the fourth consecutive year and seventh time overall, A’s Burgers has been named Best Burger in the People’s Choice Best of Dana Point Lantern Awards.
“I think that we have developed a product, a meal, that fits the needs of everybody that comes here, some for recreation, some for work,” says George Vardakostas, owner and operator of A’s Burgers along with brother Alex.
“For your surfers that are coming through, they just want a hot burrito, chips and salsa,” he adds. “We get a lot of blue-collar servicemen, and they’re coming in for lunch, and they just want a bacon cheeseburger and fries. We have honed that product over the years to just be exactly what they’re looking for.”
In the 15 years of the Dana Point Times’ Lantern Awards, A’s Burgers has earned either Gold or Silver Lanterns all 15 years. A’s has also earned all eight gold medals for Best Breakfast Burrito in the eight years that particular award has been a category.
“It’s simple,” Vardakostas says, “but simple is good.”
The Silver Lantern winner for Best Burger in 2022 was, for the first time, Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern near Dana Point Harbor, which features thick Mishima Wagyu beef patties. For silver in Best Breakfast Burrito, Lupe’s Mexican Eatery took its sixth consecutive Lantern Award.
At A’s Burgers, it’s pretty straightforward when it comes to burgers.
“It’s lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles and mayonnaise and meat. That works!” says Vardakostas “We’ve been using the same meat supplier for decades, and we don’t change too much with our burgers. Cheese is American cheese. We shred our lettuce. Onions, tomato, mayo. Toasted bun, obviously, you want that. There’s nothing real secret to it.”
While the construction is simple, there’s two things that particularly set A’s Burgers apart from its competition on PCH.
First, it’s the ingredients. As Vardakostas mentions, they’ve been using the same suppliers for decades, and anything they can do from scratch, such as cutting up their own onion rings, peeling their own potatoes or chopping up fresh salsa every single day, they make from scratch.
“Whatever we can do in-house, we do, and that shows up in our food quality,” says Vardakostas. “It’s not something we buy from a big food supplier and just put it on the griddle and cook it.”
With the help of their general manager, Garrett Fenton, those ingredients come in-house, and those beautifully constructed burgers are then grilled up by kitchen supervisor Gerardo Lopez. It’s that charbroiling on the grill that is the second thing to set A’s Burgers apart, according to Vardakostas.
On the breakfast burrito front, it’s the same approach with freshly grated and mixed blocks of jack and cheddar cheese to pair with real eggs and the from-scratch potatoes.
It’s all part of a family legacy held up across both A’s Burgers locations in Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano.
The Dana Point location is the original A’s spot, where Angelo set up shop taking over the former Flake Bros. Burgers building in the early 1970s. In about 1980, George and Alex’s mother, Maheen, began working at A’s Burgers before falling in love and marrying Angelo. According to George, it was Maheen who added salads, as well as mahi mahi and fried cod to the menu for some healthier options at the burger joint.
Maheen ran A’s fully after Angelo’s death and did so until her own passing in 2019. Since then, it’s been George and Alex Vardakostas owning and operating the Dana Point location. George and Alex’s half-siblings from Angelo’s first marriage—Lia, Nicola and Chris—operate the San Juan Capistrano location.
“It’s an honor,” George says of operating the business with his dad’s initials still emblazoned on it. “I hope that we continue to carry on (Angelo’s legacy) and live up to what he started. It seems like we are. It’s tough to say. I can’t be the judge of that.”
When it comes to the People’s Choice Lantern Awards, the judges have rendered their ruling and keep coming back for the simply satisfying taste of A’s Burgers.
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