Bob’s return is not quite legendary but still worthwhile

You’ve almost certainly seen him before. With his slicked hair, red-and-white checkerboard overalls and ear-to-ear grin, he is an irrepressible figure who has long stood for quality product at reasonable prices. He is an icon, a piece of Americana, a freakishly large kid triumphantly holding a hamburger on a plate over his head.

That’s right, it’s the Big Boy. And he’s back in the LBC.

Granted, Bob’s Big Boy is currently not nearly as prominent in California as it was during its heyday as a beloved haven of hamburger bliss. However, Big Boy International LLC has planned to aggressively expand back into California by opening nearly 60 restaurants in the state over the next decade.

In the wake of recent openings in Torrance and Barstow, Big Boy has unveiled its newest restaurant, located at 1898 Willow St. in Signal Hill (near the intersection of Willow and Cherry).

So far, the response from the local community about the return of Bob’s Big Boy has been largely positive, according to restaurant manager Jerry Gonzalez.

“The older crowd is happy to see Bob’s back in town,” Gonzalez said.

Not surprisingly, this latest incarnation of Bob’s Big Boy bears virtually no resemblance to the coffee shop-styled layout of its ancestors. Instead, with its beyond-bland exterior and cheap-looking interior filled with faux-retro tables and pictures of food on both the menus and the walls (so you can see what you’re about to eat, one could supposedly reason), the joint looks like the bastard child of a Denny’s and a Ruby’s-type place that can’t afford to splurge on its 1950s-style atmospheric trappings.

Of course, considering how well loved Bob’s has long been in the area, nostalgia is the aim here. Not only are there pictures of vintage Big Boy advertising and menus included on the aforementioned food-emblazoned walls, but the famous Big Boy statute has been restored to its rightful place near the entrance, even though the statue is smaller than the ones that welcomed visitors during the chain’s glory days.

Then again, I admit that I was only five when I had last eaten at a Bob’s, so maybe the statues just seemed a lot bigger back then.

Bob’s also sells a reasonable array of merchandise featuring the Big Boy’s rosy-cheeked face, including bobblehead dolls, coffee mugs and coin banks. If you’re into collecting these sorts of things, you know where to go.

All of these nostalgia-tinged touches are designed to stir fuzzy feelings in those who fondly remember the Big Boy from its first go-round.

Of course, what really matters here is the food itself. Does it live up to the legacy? Or has Bob’s become a pathetic shell of its former self?

The answer honestly lies somewhere in between. Those who fondly remember the chain may be disappointed with the offerings here, and I admit there are many places in Long Beach that offer better burgers. At the same time, though, the food here is actually somewhat decent.

For those not in the know, Bob’s Big Boy features diner-style items such as burgers (of course), sandwiches, soups and salads. However, Bob’s has updated its menu by including items such as stir-fry dishes and ciabatta sandwiches. Most of these dishes are priced between $6 and $12.

I decided to go with Bob’s old standby, the Big Boy Combo. This meal includes the chain’s signature Big Boy burger (a double-deckered burger with cheese, lettuce and Bob’s trademark “secret sauce”), fries and an optional salad. Although the patties were a bit well done near the edges, I thoroughly enjoyed my Big Boy burger and found it to be decent-sized.

However, since this was my first time eating a Big Boy, I had a nagging suspicion that what I had just eaten was not the Big Boy at its best or perhaps not even near prime form. Yeah, I enjoyed my burger, but I wouldn’t quite say that it’s completely worthy of its seemingly near-mythical status.

The fries were hot enough but lacked flavor, although a bit (OK, more than a bit) of Bob’s famous seasoning salt helped things here. If you become addicted, the salt is sold with the merchandise near the entrance.

After finishing my burger, only one thing remained: dessert. Even though Bob’s offers a variety of pies, shakes and other goodies, I knew I had to try the legendary hot fudge ice cream cake I had long heard about.

Fortunately, this sucker did not disappoint me. With its layers of chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream covered with hot fudge and whipped cream (and capped off with a cherry, no less), this rich treat is delightful with a capital “D.” The wide variety of pies prominently featured in the display case also looked quite tasty, but I am glad that I decided to go with the hot fudge cake instead.

Overall, if you can look past the tacky-looking surroundings, Bob’s Big Boy is a decent spot for unabashedly greasy grub. However, longtime fans of the Big Boy may find that the food isn’t quite as tasty as they remembered it being.

On second thought, maybe we should all just be glad that Bob’s is at this location instead of yet another Denny’s.

Bob’s Big Boy is open Sunday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 6 a.m. to midnight.

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