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Adam Wilson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND-2.0
Adam Wilson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

25 Iconic Hamburger Spots You Have to Visit

Adam Wilson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND-2.0
Adam Wilson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

Hamburgers are ubiquitous on menus across the country, but not all restaurants treat burgers with the reverence they deserve. Whether you prefer simple beef patties, loaded bacon cheeseburgers, or plant-based veggie burgers, we've got something for you. From historic fast-food joints to fancy eateries, check out these 25 iconic hamburger spots you have to visit.

1. H&F BURGER // ATLANTA, GEORGIA

cheeseburger at H&F Burger
Wally Gobetz, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Originally, the H&F Burger was a special at Atlanta gastropub Holeman and Finch, served only after 10 p.m. Because the kitchen only made two dozen of the burgers each night, just a few customers got the chance to sink their teeth into the juicy, buttery burgers. Today, though, burger lovers can order the H&F Burger—two beef patties with American cheese, red onions, and house-made pickles and ketchup—any time of day at its own Ponce City Market location, without worrying about the kitchen running out of grub.

2. AMY'S DRIVE THRU // ROHNERT PARK, CALIFORNIA

Amy's Drive Thru
Tony Webster, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Located north of San Francisco near the 101 Freeway, Amy's Drive Thru serves organic, vegetarian fast food from scratch. Opened in 2015 by the owners of natural foods company Amy’s Kitchen, the drive-through has quickly become one of the most popular spots for veggie burgers. Try The Amy, a double veggie patty with cheese and secret sauce, and wash it down with an organic chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry milkshake.

3. THE OLDEST MCDONALD'S // DOWNEY, CALIFORNIA

Photo of the original McDonald's location in Downey, California.
Thomas Hawk, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Even burger elitists can’t deny the impact that McDonald’s has had on the international fast food scene. Located in Southern California, the oldest surviving McDonald's opened in the summer of 1953, almost a decade before Ray Kroc bought the company from the McDonald brothers. Because this location remained an independent restaurant until 1990, when Kroc finally acquired it, its exterior looks slightly different than a regular McDonald's (for example, there's only a single golden arch rather than the instantly recognizable double Golden Arches). But in terms of food, customers can order typical McDonald’s burgers and fries, as well as a deep-fried (rather than baked) apple pie. The store also has an impressive collection of McDonald’s ads, toys, and other memorabilia.

4. SHAKE SHACK // NEW YORK CITY

Burgers at Shake Shack in New York City
Lucas Richards, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you’ve walked through New York City’s Madison Square Park, you’ve no doubt noticed the long line of people waiting for burgers and frozen custard. In the early aughts, restaurateur Danny Meyer served hot dogs from a cart in the park before morphing his business into Shake Shack in 2004. Today, there are over 100 Shake Shack locations around the world, and hungry customers enjoy chomping down on the ShackBurger, a 100 percent all-natural Angus beef burger (sans hormones and antibiotics) on a non-GMO potato roll. Vegetarians usually order the 'Shroom Burger, an impressive heaping of portobello mushroom with melted cheddar and Muenster.

5. JIM'S DRIVE IN // LEWISBURG, WEST VIRGINIA

Cheeseburger with ranch dressing and fries.
iStock

At Jim’s Drive In, the no-frills décor and simple food facilitate time travel, as you step back to a simpler era when curb-side service and drive-in movies were common. Located on Route 60, the restaurant has satisfied West Virginians' stomachs and taste buds since the early 1950s. Today, you can order a variety of burgers such as the bacon cheeseburger, pizza burger, or Famous Ranch Burger.

6. TOWN TOPIC // KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

Town Topic Hamburgers in Kansas City, Missouri
Chris Murphy, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Back in 1937, Town Topic was a small diner in downtown Kansas City that sold burgers for just a nickel. Today, the restaurant honors its culinary history by making burgers the same way as when they started—beef patties, grilled onions, and steamed buns. And you can order a single hamburger for just shy of three dollars. Still a great deal.

7. THE CHERRY CRICKET // DENVER, COLORADO

burger at the cherry cricket, denver colorado
The Cherry Cricket

Opened in 1945, The Cherry Cricket has become so legendary that not even a major fire late last year could keep patrons away. After a temporary closure, the burger and beer spot reopened in April 2017, and happy customers could once again order the popular Cricket Burger. No insects are used, fortunately; rather, it’s a Black Angus chuck patty masterpiece, complete with bacon, an over-easy egg, American cheese, and sautéed onions. They also have build-your-own options, starting with a beef, turkey, bison, or black bean burger. Toppings include everything from cream cheese or peanut butter to candied bacon and jalapeño jelly.

8. SID'S DINER // EL RENO, OKLAHOMA

Sid's Diner
peggydavis66, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Located outside of Oklahoma City, Sid's Diner is famous for its Fried Onion Burger, a one-pound patty with caramelized onions cooked into the beef. The restaurant is known to make its own spatulas out of brick trowels (which are typically used to lay mortar between bricks). Sid's takes the wedged knife end of the trowel and fuses it to a spatula, allowing chefs to flatten the top of each beef patty and press a handful of thinly sliced Spanish onions down into the meat.

9. SCHUBERG'S BAR // BIG RAPIDS, MICHIGAN

Hamburger with barbecue sauce and onion rings.
iStock

In the late 19th century, Leonard (later renamed Big Rapids) was a town full of lumberjacks, thanks to the plentiful forests. Schuberg's Bar served drinks to the locals, and over a century later, it’s now an iconic spot for hamburgers. The original Schu-Burger is a 1/3-pound chargrilled patty, topped with cheese, onion, pickles, green olives, ketchup, and mustard. For a more tangy twist on the Schu-Burger, try the Cowboy Schu, which comes with barbecue sauce and onion rings.

10. THE APPLE PAN // LOS ANGELES

The Apple Pan in Los Angeles, California
Larry Gaynor, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

Los Angelinos craving authentic diner fare and a taste of old Hollywood head to The Apple Pan in West L.A. Since 1947, the restaurant has served simple hamburgers and classic pies to customers who sit in seats (there are only 26) around the small counter. A favorite of celebrities like Warren Beatty and the Jonas Brothers, The Apple Pan still serves its burgers wrapped in paper.

11. MALLIE'S SPORTS GRILL & BAR // SOUTHGATE, MICHIGAN

At Mallie's Sports Grill & Bar, bigger is always better. Although the restaurant serves regular half-pound burgers, their claim to fame is the 10-Pound Monster Burger. Brave customers who succeed in the Monster Challenge—eating the whole burger in under two hours—get $100 and their photo put on the restaurant’s wall of fame. Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

12. HUDSON'S HAMBURGERS // COEUR D'ALENE, IDAHO

Sign at Hudson's Hamburgers
aaron, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Founded in 1907, Hudson’s Hamburgers is a family-owned diner famous for its hamburgers and cheeseburgers. Hudson’s eschews culinary trends that call for adding avocado or other more esoteric ingredients to burgers. Why mess with perfection? Although the burgers are simple creations, they come with spicy sauces and, if you want, hand-sliced pickles. Pro tip? If you play your cards right, you could get a burger and a slice of French Silk Pie for under $5.

13. GO RAMEN GO LIFE // LONG ISLAND CITY, NEW YORK

The Original Ramen burger at go ramen go life
Yelp, Liz N.

Hybrid food lovers can enjoy the novel tastes and textures of sushi burritos, spaghetti doughnuts, and of course, ramen burgers. Japanese-American chef Keizo Shimamoto introduced the Original Ramen burger in 2013. Although there have been numerous copycats, you can find the original ramen burger—in all of its savory, salty, meaty glory—at Go Ramen Go Life. Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, the noodles are boiled and formed into buns, and a USDA Prime ground beef chuck patty along with vegetables, scallions, and a shoyu glaze round out the perfect burger.

14. DB BISTRO MODERNE // MIAMI, FLORIDA

Gourmet burgers are a specialty at this bistro in the JW Marriott Marquis hotel (there are also locations in Manhattan and Singapore). The Original db Burger will set you back $35, but it's worth every penny. First, the chef braises short ribs for six to eight hours in red wine, stuffs them inside a sirloin burger composed of seven different cuts of meat, and lines a layer of foie gras in the burger. Then, he adds half a plump tomato, grated horseradish, and chicory. Finally, he spreads Dijon mustard on the bottom bun, which is finished with cheddar and onion seeds. Absolutely decadent and delicious.

15. THE PANTRY // SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO

Sign at The Pantry in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Tadson Bussey, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

This family-owned restaurant has made Southwestern-inspired American diner food since 1948. The Pantry is legendary for its Tortilla Burger, which includes a chargrilled burger patty and pinto beans wrapped in a flour tortilla. Melted cheese and a pureed red chili sauce top it off, so grab plenty of napkins.

16. LOUIS' LUNCH // NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT

Louis' Lunch exterior in New Haven, Connecticut
Adam Jones, Flickr // CC BY SA-2.0

Louis Lassen opened Louis' Lunch in 1895, and his great-grandson continues to enchant customers with the famous hamburger sandwich. The patties, a mixture of five types of meat, are hand-rolled and cooked in cast-iron, 1890s grills. Cheese, onion, and tomato round out the burger—you can truly taste history in each bite.

17. MATT'S BAR // MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA

Why put cheese on top of a burger when you can put it inside? Minneapolis residents know all about the Juicy Lucy, a hamburger with gooey cheese conveniently stuffed inside the beef patty. Matt's Bar is one of the restaurants that claim to have invented the cheesy burgers—theirs is spelled Jucy Lucy. Order one and you’re in for a seriously liquidy, savory treat.

18. THE GRIDDLE // WINNEMUCCA, NEVADA

Sign for The Griddle restaurant
Roadsidepictures, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

A big blue neon sign greets customers who drive up to The Griddle. Inside, wood paneling and comfy green booths create the ideal vibe to enjoy some seriously good burgers. Although tons of people flock there for breakfast, The Griddle's burger selection is seriously impressive. Options include the Jamaican Jerk Burger, a ground chuck patty with chipotle mayo, and the Quinoa Burger, a quinoa patty with Swiss cheese and maple caramelized onions.

19. IN-N-OUT BURGER // BALDWIN PARK, CALIFORNIA

In N Out Burger
Adam Wilson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

In 1948, when Harry Snyder opened the first In-N-Out location in the San Gabriel Valley, he unknowingly started a burger revolution. The drive-thru hamburger stand differentiated itself from the competition by serving fresh meat and produce, made to order and made by hand. Snyder also introduced the two-way speaker box, allowing customers to order food without exiting their cars. Although there are now hundreds of In-N-Out stores across the southwest and west coast, you can visit a replica of the first restaurant in Baldwin Park. After you look at photos and learn about the legendary fast food company’s history, head down the street to another In-N-Out, where you can chow down on a Double-Double and animal style fries.

20. DYER'S BURGERS // MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

Inside of Dyer's Burgers
Memphis CVB, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Located across from Handy Park, Dyer's Burgers has been a legendary burger spot since it opened in 1912. Beef patties are fried in a top-secret cooking grease, which imparts a rich flavor and pleasant juiciness to the burger. Order Dyer’s Triple Triple, a burger composed of three patties, three slices of cheese, onions, pickle, and mustard.

21. MATT'S PLACE DRIVE-IN // BUTTE, MONTANA

Hamburger with peanut butter on top.
iStock

Back in 1930, Matt Korn opened a drive-in that he named, straightforwardly, Matt's Place. In 1943, Korn sold his drive-in to a former carhop employee and her husband. Today, their daughter and her husband run the restaurant and stay true to its roots, with a soda fountain and authentic '50s Coca-Cola machine on display. Their most famous burger, the Nutburger, is a beef patty topped with a spread of—wait for it—crushed peanuts and Miracle Whip. Once you try it, you’ll immediately understand its appeal.

22. THE PLANT // SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

Veggie burger at The Plant.

There are multiple locations of The Plant around San Fran, and that’s a very good thing. The organic café serves delicious organic food, and the Plant Burger might just convince carnivores to consider opting for a more plant-based diet. The veggie burger looks purple thanks to a mixture of beets, lentils, mushrooms, cashews, and bulgur wheat. Seasonal local produce (lettuce, tomato, and onions) top the patty, and gluten-free bread is available upon request.

23. ALL-AMERICAN DRIVE-IN // MASSAPEQUA, NEW YORK

All American Drive In in Massapequa
Yelp, Tyler D.

Opened in 1963, this old-fashioned drive-in hamburger stand on Long Island serves classic, simple American fare. Hometown favorites Jerry Seinfeld and the Baldwin family visit the stand regularly for the savory double cheeseburgers and homemade French fries, but a simple hamburger will set you back just $1.40. Save room for dessert at the neighboring Marshall’s Ice Cream Bar, which has both soft serve and old-fashioned ice cream.

24. THE CHICAGO DINER // CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

Vegan burgers at the Chicago Diner.
Beth Granter, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Vegetarians and carnivores alike love the veggie burgers at The Chicago Diner, a restaurant with locations in Logan Square and Halsted that’s been proudly "meat free since '83." As you sip a vegan milkshake, decide whether you want to order the Cajun Black Bean Burger or Buddha’s Karma Burger, a curried sweet potato-tofu patty. The burgers come with unusual toppings such as grilled pineapple, chimichurri, and fried jalapeño. For an extra buck, you can add avocado to any burger.

25. JG MELON // NEW YORK, NEW YORK

Burger slider.
iStock

This casual, small bar on Manhattan's Upper East Side is beloved for the rich, meaty burgers it serves. Fans of JG Melon’s cheeseburger include everyone from Bobby Flay to former mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the spot is often crowded as hungry customers vie for a seat amidst the watermelon artwork on the walls (expect plenty of crowding when they open their recently announced Upper West Side location too). If you visit during happy hour, from 5-7 p.m., order the Nacho Libre sliders, which are served with avocado, jalapeño, Monterey Jack, and pico de gallo.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

Buy on ThinkGeek.

4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

Buy on Amazon.

5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

Buy on Amazon.

6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
Cost Plus World Market

This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

Buy at Cost Plus World Market.

8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

Buy on Amazon.

9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

Buy on Amazon.

11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

Buy on Amazon.

12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

Buy on Amazon.

13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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14 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Hollywood Food Stylists
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Hollywood food stylists are little short of magicians—only instead of pulling rabbits out of hats, they’re turning piles of mashed potatoes into ice cream sundaes. Indeed, making food (or food-like products) appear photogenic and appetizing onscreen is a job for a true illusionist. Mental Floss spoke to a few food stylists working in TV, film, and commercials—from Game of Thrones to Taco Bell—to bring you the tricks of their magical trade.

1. MOST OF THE FOOD BEING FILMED IS REAL.

While food stylists are well-versed in the old-school swap tricks—using a pint of white glue to impersonate a glass of milk, for example—those are being phased out. Now, directors want actors to interact with their food, and high-definition camera lenses have made the fake stuff much more obvious. Plastic food props only appear in the background of scenes today, where they're less visible and susceptible to scrutiny.

“I only deal with real food,” says Chris Oliver, who has styled food for movies including Gone Girl (2014) and TV shows such as Seinfeld and Big Little Lies. “You also have to think about how a character would cook something or put a plate together. Realistic food is not all beautiful and perfect. I make ugly food and burnt food, too.”

There’s a trend in commercial food styling to present dishes that are less-than-perfect, too. Shellie Anderson, who styles food ads for clients including Burger King and Ragù, says it’s the consumers who are demanding food look more realistic and therefore more approachable.

“People are tired of seeing something in a TV commercial and then ordering it in a restaurant and it doesn't look the same,” she says. “You don’t want it to look staged anymore. You want a burger to look like the cheese naturally dripped off and landed on the plate.”

2. THEY GO THROUGH A LOT OF FOOD ...

Bowl of strawberry ice cream
iStock

If a food stylist needs one sprig of parsley for a shoot, they’ll often order 10 bunches. They never know what the condition of the parsley is going to be when it arrives from the produce vendor, or if the shoot is going to require more than they originally planned for. Carving a turkey in a scene? That may require two dozen birds if an actor keeps flubbing his line.

“It really depends on how much of a story point the food is and how important the scene is for the director,” Oliver says.

Food stylists usually have relationships with produce vendors, who can look for products with the specific size, shape, and color that stylists need. No bruises or dents, and no frozen lettuce! But stylists can hide those things if they have to.

Ice cream is infamously hard to keep intact because it melts so quickly. Food stylists have been known to replace the scoops with dollops of meringue, which don’t melt, or butter rolled in sugar. Oliver makes her sundaes the day before and sticks them in the freezer, spoons and straws and all. If they freeze rock hard overnight, they can last a few hours on set the next day before being replaced with another sundae lined up in the deep-freeze. Anderson sprays her ice cream with cold spray, an aerosol can of super-chilled gas used for cooling electronics.

3. ... BUT THE FOOD RARELY GOES TO WASTE.

On film and TV shoots, there are rarely leftovers. In fact, good food stylists often compete with the caterers: Actors usually have to eat the food during their scenes, and the crew finishes off the scraps. While shooting a Chinese New Year scene for the show Fresh Off the Boat recently, actress Lucille Soong told Oliver, who was styling that episode, that she was going to skip lunch because she wanted to enjoy eating her food on camera. “That was pretty freaking flattering!” Oliver says.

Because Oliver works on multiple TV shows in a single day, if an item doesn’t get used on set and never comes out of her cooler, she can just take it back to her shop and recycle it for use on another show. If something can’t be used again, she’ll take it home and make salsa or jam. “When it gets really old, I'll just stick it in vodka,” she says.

Commercial shoots tend to have more unused food. Anderson says anything that’s still edible will be given to a food pantry. “I once donated an entire swordfish when we did a commercial for a fish restaurant,” she says. “We never even used it. So I kept it on ice and took it to a men's homeless shelter. They were thrilled to have it.”

4. THEY VALUE FOOD SAFETY.

Another reason food stylists swap out on-camera food so much is because of safety concerns—hot and cold foods need to be kept at certain temperatures that may not be practical on-set. Sushi-grade tuna may be replaced with watermelon, for example, because the fish spoils so easily.

Oliver requires all of her employees to have a food handler’s license. She also only works out of commercial kitchens (including the one on her fully-equipped food styling truck). But not every food styling team does; some prepare food in their homes. “The reason that I get so much work is that everybody knows I'm a chef and I have a real kitchen,” Oliver says. “People trust my food. I’ve done a bunch of movies with Reese [Witherspoon] because she knows that if I’m on set, the food is safe to eat.”

5. WOMEN DOMINATE THE FIELD.

woman styling food
iStock

While there are a few well-known male food stylists, for the most part the key food stylists in the U.S. are women. (Both of Anderson’s daughters are food stylists, too.) The reason for this dates back decades.

Before food styling became its own career in the 1990s, it was up to network employees with home economics degrees (almost always women) to cook on-camera food. Then props departments became responsible. “But props guys can’t even make spaghetti,” Oliver says, laughing. So according to her, these guys would go home and ask their girlfriends or wives to make whatever food was required for the next day’s scene. “Eventually they would just hire their girlfriends or wives to do it; keep the money in the family,” she says. “I know five food stylists who at one time were in relationships with prop masters.”

Also in the 1990s, networks began making more multi-camera TV shows. A lot more food began appearing on screen, and actors openly discussed their dietary restrictions. They were vegan, sugar-free, and low-carb all of a sudden. Oliver trained at the Culinary Institute of America and had worked in restaurants and catering jobs before stumbling into this career. “Because I was a chef, and I understood how food works, I knew how to feed people and make food last on set,” she says. “And I could charge anything I wanted to.”

To get a job as a food stylist today, it helps to know someone already in the industry and have a culinary background. Everyone starts as an intern, and then may be able to work their way up to being an assistant and then a stylist. “Not everybody can be a food stylist,” Anderson says. “You have to be able to cook, but you still have to be creative. And you have to be able to work fast and under pressure.”

6. THEY LIVE OUTSIDE OF LOS ANGELES NOW.

Now that movies and TV shows are frequently filmed all over the world, instead of just on sets in Los Angeles, food stylists can be based anywhere. There is a concentration of stylists who live in Vancouver, British Columbia, for example, because that's where many shows are now filmed. Labor laws also often require production crews to hire locally, so residing outside of L.A. can be a real advantage.

Some commercial food stylists, like Anderson, are flown in for shoots. “Food stylists can make or break a commercial,” she says. “And if you have trouble and you don't know what you're doing, it can be a real problem for production.” This is especially true on out-of-the-country shoots, when stylists don't have the resources that they’re used to. So clients who know her and her skill level, such as Taco Bell, will fly her to wherever they're filming.

7. THEY TALK LIKE CHEFS AND FILMMAKERS.

hand styling pancakes
iStock

Food stylists use a mix of back-of-the-house kitchen lingo and film jargon. Some examples: The “hero” is the food that is written into the script, is being shot, and must appear in front of the actor. “Bite and smile” is when an actor takes a bite of food and pretends to like it. “All day” is the total number of items needed; if they needed five turkeys on a set, they would say “five all day.”

8. NOT EVERYONE WANTS TO BE IN THE MOVIES.

Food stylists usually specialize in different media: film, TV, commercials, or print editorial. Stylists often prefer one over the other. Print editorial is shot in a controlled studio and tends to have more leeway for creativity. Commercials are tied to a brand’s specifications. Film and TV shoots on location are in unpredictable settings and can be physically demanding. But everyone tends to work long, 12- to 14-hour days. For commercials, it can often take three days to shoot one 30-second spot.

When working on a movie or TV show, the actors’ demands usually take precedence over the food needs. After working on one film, Anderson had had enough and dedicated herself to commercial work. “When I do commercials, the food is the star,” she says. “So [the directors] want to make sure I have everything I need. On a movie, they could care less about you.”

9. FOOD STYLISTS DON’T JUST MAKE FOOD.

Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford, Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter on Hannibal
NBC

Sometimes food stylists are expected to create sci-fi props—what would a person eat in the year 3000?—or fantasy items that they have no experience with. While working on the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Oliver made gooey, edible slime from her imagination. “I also had to roll with the [actors’] different dietary needs,” she says. “I had to be able to make vegan slime, sugar-free slime, gluten-free slime, gelatin-free slime … Slime, any way you want it.”

Oliver also has to make items that you don’t really want to put in your mouth. While filming the TV show Big Little Lies, she made green-colored vomit for actress Reese Witherspoon of cucumbers and parsley. She says it was tasty, like green gazpacho. For a war film, she had to make 400 pounds of “dirt” for a group of prisoners of war to eat. She got Pakistani soil shipped to California so she could match it exactly. (Her recipe: ground-up Oreos and graham crackers, mixed with brown sugar and white sugar.)

Janice Poon, the food stylist behind the cannibal-centric TV show Hannibal, had a more challenging obstacle: how to make dishes that resembled human flesh. She refused to do research on cannibalism websites, she told HopesAndFears.com, but she studied a lot of anatomy books. “I’m just like Dr. Frankenstein,” Poon said. “I’m always stitching things, exchanging, putting one kind of meat on a different bone, patching stuff together. ... The key is to let the viewer’s imagination do more of your work.” She transformed veal shanks into human legs, and used prosciutto slices to mimic slivers of a human arm.

10. THEY PACK SOME SERIOUS GEAR.

When shooting, stylists need to be prepared for anything. They carry tools including tweezers, scissors, paint brushes, knives, offset spatulas, wet wipes, syringes, rulers, Q-tips, and spritz bottles.

“Think about your kitchen: all of your mixing bowls and utensils … I have that times 10 in my kit,” Anderson says. She also has a torch on hand for quick-cooking burgers and cold spray for extending the life of ice cream. Other stylists may have glycerin for adding shine or Kitchen Bouquet sauce for adding color. Poon often uses a white ceramic knife so she can see what she's doing on dark sets and work more quietly, so as not to disturb the acting process.

Food stylists sometimes work in erratic environments. Oliver brings her own 17-foot, cab-over truck to shoots. “It has a lift gate and everything's on wheels, so I can take everything out and have a kitchen in the middle of the desert, if I want,” she says. Inside, she has a full commercial kitchen: a six-burner stove, refrigerator, microwave, grill, freezer, prep tables, storage, TV, and a generator.

11. THEY’RE SKILLED AT IMPROV.

When production starts, the prop team sends memos to actors or their reps asking about food allergies and dietary restrictions. As trained chefs, most food stylists are happy to accommodate such limitations, cooking convincing swap-outs. “I find out what they will eat and make it happen,” Oliver says.

For example, Poon once made a convincing vegan “raw meat” on Hannibal using only grains. “I made lamb tongues out of bulgur and water,” Poon told HopesAndFears.com. “It’s like making a Lebanese kibbeh. You mix cracked wheat with water and it makes a kind of mush that holds together. The texture is a little 'nubbly,' so I added a pink food coloring, made little tongues out of kibbeh dough, steamed them up, and they were my little lambs’ tongues.”

Sometimes a director changes his or her mind at the last minute, and what was supposed to be a spaghetti dinner, for example, is now a breakfast spread. So the food stylist will squish down the meatballs and turn them into sausage patties. In an interview with NPR, food stylist Melissa McSorley recalled a time when a movie director suddenly decided to cut open a birthday cake she had made. The problem: It wasn’t real.

“So we had to cut the cake that was made out of Styrofoam, and I had to use a saw in order to do it because none of my knives could get through it,” McSorley said. “And then we had to layer in cake so it did look like it was real and then we had to send people scurrying to many markets to find white layer cake so it looked like people in the background could be actually be eating the cake.”

12. THERE’S ALWAYS THE SPIT BUCKET OPTION.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, David Bradley in Game of Thrones
HBO

Professional actors will often pick at the food in front of them, but not eat it because they know their scenes are going to require a lot of takes; they could be eating birthday cake for eight hours straight. Others dive right in. For a scene in The Guilt Trip (2012), actress Barbra Streisand had to pretend she was in a steak-eating contest. Oliver says they went through more than 300 pounds of meat for that scene’s three-day shoot and Streisand was totally game.

“But there’s a part towards the end where she has to eat really quickly and do a line without, you know, choking and dying,” Oliver says. “So I switched out the steak with seared watermelon. She took one bite and it sort of dissolved in her mouth, so she could do her line. If you watch it, and you really listen, you can hear the crunch of the watermelon.”

Sometimes, though, the spit bucket is the only option. In season one of Game of Thrones, the character Daenerys Targaryen had to eat a whole horse heart. But the actress who plays her, Emilia Clarke, actually had to eat 28. They were made of solidified jam, which tasted like “bleach and raw pasta,” she told The Mirror. “It was very helpful to be given something so truly disgusting to eat, so there wasn’t much acting required. Fortunately, they gave me a spit bucket because I was vomiting in it quite often.”

13. SOMETIMES THEY’RE SURPRISED BY THE FINAL PRODUCT.

Food stylists who work on multiple projects at a time, like Oliver, can’t always stick around to see how their food will be used. They may later find out that a gorgeous spread was relegated to the background, or worse. For a scene in Seinfeld, Oliver was once asked to prepare a perfect, glistening turkey. “Later I was home watching the episode and they had put the turkey on Kramer!” she says. “I was literally crying I was laughing so hard. Never in a million years did I think my turkey was going to end up with a guy’s head.”

14. THEY THROW EPIC DINNER PARTIES.

Food stylist preparing vegetables
iStock

You’d think that being around food all day would make food stylists tired of making things look nice. But most food stylists love to cook, and on the days they aren’t working, they love to throw parties. “People always expect to have beautiful food,” Anderson says. “And I don't disappoint.”

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