Burgers Burgers Burgers! Part 1
Posted by Austios on January 24, 2011
For those of you who really know me, while I enjoy my fine dining, and a majority of my posts on here have featured fine dining establishments, I’m also simply a burgers and pizza kind of guy. I’m just as happy going down the street to a local joint as I am driving half way across town (and sometime through traffic) to dine at one of Los Angeles’ best restaurants. I mean, for crying out loud, my facebook profile picture is me with a burger.
One of my favorite foods, as you can probably already gather, is hamburgers. Yes, America’s food, the burger. Which is quite interesting because the hamburger was arguably not invented here in America, but rather in Hamburg Germany. But regardless of its origins, the point is that Americans have embraced the hamburger, as its national food. According to Fast Food Nation, Americans eat an estimated 13 BILLION hamburgers each year. Holy mother, that is A LOT of beef. I myself, on average, probably have 1-2 hamburgers per week. Probably closer to 1, but there have been times when I’ve had 2 or 3 in a week.
Why are burgers so good though? I mean, it’s simply ground meat between 2 pieces of bread. What else you choose to put in there is completely up to you, but the meat and the bun is the core. Some would say it’s the portability of a burger. It’s a lot like a sandwich. Having the ability to take it wherever you go and eat it with your hands and have a minimal mess makes the burger one of the most convenient things ever.
However, what makes a good burger great is a debate in itself. Factors include what kind of meat is used, the size of the patty, the cooking method, down to what other ingredients go onto the burger and even into the patty. People will argue about what kind of cheese to use, whether or not to use condiments, and which and if at all vegetables to add to your burger. Everybody, I personally believe, is entitled to their opinions and preferences, so don’t think I will sit here and try to convert you on how I like my burgers, nor do I want you to try to convert me on your preferences. I think the differences we have in that aspect help make this country great. I’m just saying.
Burgers, however, aren’t limited to just beef. Living in such a health conscious city (relatively) where everybody lives in the shadow of the glitz and glam of Hollywood and the plastic surgery filled area code 90210, there has been an ever increasing demand for non-beef alternatives, such as pork, chicken, turkey, and even vegetable burgers. Personally, as for that last one, you deserved to be flogged if you like or even order a veggie burger. It’s just wrong. Don’t argue with me, it just is.
Burgers also are no longer a fast food chain nor hole in the wall kind of food now. There are many chefs both here in LA and across this nation that have introduced a burger onto their menu and have taken their own version to a higher level. Here in LA, we have the likes of Govind Armstrong (8 oz. Burger Bar) and Eric Greenspan (Foundry) putting their own personal touches on a burger that is on their menu. In other cities, Hubert Keller, one of the world’s best chefs and owner of Fleur de Lys in both San Francisco and Las Vegas, has taken a more casual dining approach with Burger Bar, with locations in SF, Vegas, and St. Louis, MO. If I ever find myself in St. Louis, I know where I’m going. In several cities in the South, Chef Richard Blais, most notably of Top Chef Chicago, has a series of nostalgia-esque diners that goes by the name, Flip Burger. In Washington D.C., Spike Mendelsohn, also from Top Chef Chicago, has a “hamburger joint” called Good Stuff Eatery. In the Dallas area, Chef Tim Love’s Love Shack serves up burgers and other comfort American fare as the more casual experience of his handful of restaurants.
As you can probably gather, I LOVE burgers, of the meat variety of course. I may be Asian, and while I still love Asian food, as well as just about all ethnic food, I am still American deep down and as I said before, a burgers and pizza kind of guy. If it wasn’t going to kill me when I’m 35, I would eat burgers every day of my life. And if it wasn’t going to kill me, I would rapidly deteriorate every part of my physical and physiological body, as evidenced by Morgan Spurlock’s ludicrous 30 day McDonald’s binge in the movie, Supersize Me. I love burgers, but I’m not crazy enough to perform a stunt like that.
While I haven’t had every single burger there is to have in and around Los Angeles and other parts of this country, I still have had quite a few burgers both in LA and other cities around this country and on my travels. This post is to highlight those burgers and just simply a celebration of my love for the meaty creation.
Instead of beginning in my hometown of LA, I will actually end in LA, thus I will start just down the 5 freeway in Orange County. I actually have not had that many burgers in Orange County, that I can really remember anyway, but the 3 places that I do remember are actually in each of the 3 different categories I consider about 99% of burgers to be in: 1) Hole in the Wall Burger, 2) Casual Eats Burger and 3) Restaurant Burger.
Again, we begin in Orange County, well, North Orange County, in Anaheim Hills and Slaters 50/50, which I consider to be category #2: Casual Eats. I first had this burger at the Yelp OC Bacon Bash Elite event at the OC Fair, in which this place was one of vendors the OC Community Manager was able to book. Their signature burger is the 50/50 burger, a even mixture of ground beef and chopped bacon. Yes my friends, bacon. It is as they say, bacon makes everything better. Though to feed ravenous Yelpers, they cut their burgers into quarters, however that didn’t stop me from going back so many times I could have formed 1 ½ burgers. The first ¼ burger I had was like a stick of dynamite going off in my mouth. The bacon provided a slight textural contrast than if you had a normal 100% beef patty, and the guacamole, fried egg, and chipotle aioli all worked in harmony.
Many months later, I was able to visit the restaurant with a handful of friends. The place sells itself as a sports bar, in which when I went, they had 2 large flat panel televisions at the bar, but were in process of adding more TVs all around the restaurant, given away by a series of short length of white coaxial cable protruding from the wall at equally spaced spots. Among the other foods we ordered, I decided to get the 50/50 burger again.
To be completely honest, the burger was not as good as I remembered it. I am not sure what it was, but everything seemed to be the same, yet it wasn’t as good. I was unfortunately underwhelmed, yet it was by far not the worst burger I have ever had.
The next OC burger worth mentioning falls under the first category: Hole in the Wall. I’m talking about TK Burgers in Costa Mesa. A rather unsuspecting kind of place just across the street from The Lab and across the freeway from South Coast Plaza, this burger was actually not too bad considering the kind of place it was being served at. The burger is pretty standard, but its obviously good if I can actually remember it.
The final burger we see in Orange County was found at Sapphire Laguna Restaurant, in Laguna Beach. I was actually visiting a chocolatier shop next door, owned by someone my mom knows, and I wanted lunch beforehand. I was not aware there was a restaurant next door but as I was looking up places nearby, being next door made it quite convenient. The restaurant seemed like it was pretty popular lunch spot, as evidenced by a crowded outdoor patio. Of course when you’ve got a view of the Pacific Ocean, you want to take advantage of that. The dining room itself was not very crowded though. I sat down and while a lot of the dishes looked and sounded quite appetizing, I eventually ended up getting the burger, which was advertised as being an American Kobe beef burger. It was served with melted cheese, caramelized onions, tomato and arugula, on a brioche bun. The burger was pretty good and all of the elements worked well with each other. I’m not enough of a Kobe beef expert to tell if it really was Kobe beef, but I still liked it.
Our next city, we go further South to San Diego. I love it down there for its clean air, relatively light traffic, and the chill atmosphere. Plus, it’s not LA, and a brief change of scenery is nice once in awhile. Most of the times I went down there, we ended up going to Tadashi Sushi, and the rest of time, we wouldn’t really eat much of anything else. However, one time I went down there, my friends and I came across Hash House A Go Go on a whim. We had just come from Extraordinary Desserts just down the street and we were all experiencing a sugar high, so we were craving some salty. We just happened to drive past, as 5th Street is a one way street coming from ED, and decided to stop and give it a try. This place serves traditional American fare with large portions, including massive 2 patty-l pound burgers. As full as we were from the cakes we had at Extraordinary Desserts, the 4 of us decided to share one burger, making 4-1/4 lb burgers, which is ideally the amount of meat you want in a serving, but I’m not trying to be a health nut here.
I wish I had a picture of the enormous burger, but it was darn delicious. The one we ordered had guacamole and thick applewood smoked bacon. It was definitely a great burger and while it was the only burger I’ve had in all of the greater San Diego area, it is definitely my favorite down there. I definitely will go there next time I’m in San Diego as the last couple of times I’ve been down there, I haven’t been to Hash House. Their breakfast is also really good.
We next move up to Northern California and to, no, not San Francisco, but instead more inland to the state capitol of Sacramento. The first burger we start off with is at Ford’s Real Hamburgers. The place is your typical, run-of-the-mill window walk-up corner burger joint, and I ordered a standard cheeseburger, with onions, lettuce and tomato. This burger was supposedly voted best burger by the Sacramento newspaper, but apparently their food critic didn’t really know what a good burger is because the burger was just ok. The bun was a little dry. If I remember correctly, I enjoyed the steak fries more than my burger.
The next burger I had in Sacramento (on a separate trip), was at Jim Denny’s diner near Downtown Sacramento. This place was recently on Man v Food, but was featured for their breakfast. However, when my friend and I went, it was almost time for lunch and while we probably could have still ordered breakfast, we were in the mood for lunch. Plus, when I had gone, it was long before Adam Richman even had probably considered visiting Sacramento for the show, so I didn’t know they were known for their breakfast. The burger was a little better than what I had the previous year at Ford’s, but I still enjoyed it. The accompaniments were the same: caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, and pickle. One thing I liked about that place, despite the smallness of it, was the fact that you could smell everything coming out of the kitchen because it was just that small, and where my friend and I were sitting, we were just across from the flat top, essentially guaranteeing us a fresh burger because we were sitting right there.
The final burger destination we see in Sacramento is the famous Squeeze Inn. I first saw this place on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dive’s, and as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to have it. Luckily my friend I was staying with was kind enough to do what I wanted, and he even told me they had opened a 2nd and much larger location about 20 minutes away. I had heard the original location was pretty small, hence the name, so while going there would have probably been a more “authentic” experience, we opted to go to the larger location.
As for the burger itself, if you’re not familiar with the burgers at Squeeze Inn, what they’re known for is their large cheese skirt. A cheese skirt is the cheese that melts off the sides of the burger and gets slightly crispy on the griddle. It’s just about as good as cheesepaper if not better. This is achieved by a heaping amount of shredded cheese that is placed on the burger as its still cooking, then covered, so the cheese is allowed to melt and steam. The amount of cheese they use if definitely more than one needs, but again, how else will you achieve the cheeseskirt? Exactly.
The burger was really good and hot and juicy. The cheeseskirt is what I imagined it to be, but overall, I think I may have over-hyped the burger for myself. I mean, it was still good and ranks up there as one of the better burgers I’ve had, especially with a nice soft bun, but yes, I think I may have over-hyped it to the point that prevented a good burger to being a great burger.
Please come back tomorrow for Part 2, as we continue with visits to Portland, Las Vegas, Chicago, and here in Los Angeles!!!