Burgers Burgers Burgers! Part 2
Posted by Austios on January 25, 2011
If you’re just joining us, the following is Part 2 of my “Ode to Burgers”. You can read Part 1 here
We next move even further North to Portland. I had heard good things about the food in Portland and I had the opportunity to visit in May 2009, when my brother and sister in law were living there at the time. My 2 ½ days were filled with some good food, such as breakfast at Sanborn’s, pizza from Flying Pie, and the awesome sandwiches at Bunk Sandwiches, but this is a burger post after all! The one and only burger I had while I was up there was at a little small hole in the wall type place, called Giant Drive-In. The burger was pretty decent for a hole in the wall and reminded me of something I would get at a diner.
We finally head away from the West Coast and hit up Sin City, Las Vegas. In a city famous for its buffets, plethora of shows and concerts, and its fair share of quality fine dining and more upscale eateries, it still has plenty of places to get a burger. I am specifically talking about, and I had briefly mentioned it earlier, Chef Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar. Keller is known worldwide for his flagship restaurant, Fleur de Lys, in San Francisco, with a 2nd location in Las Vegas (which I happened to dine at 3 months after visiting Burger Bar). The restaurant itself, located in Mandalay Bay, is actually quite casual and looks like your typical classy sports bar or pub. I think the words I used in my Yelp review were “Daily Grill meets sports bar”. If you were to tell me Hubert Keller didn’t own this place, I would believed you. I liked it though.
On one side of the menu, they had a list of signature burgers, including one that used American Kobe beef and had truffles and foie gras, with a price tag of $60. On the other side, you have the option of building your own burger, with an array of different meats, including buffalo and turkey patties. Topping and condiment options were pretty standard, such as things like avocado, caramelized onions, and chipotle aioli, but a few had the Hubert Keller touch, such as seared foie gras, black truffles ($30 for 1/3 oz.), and red wine and shallot reduction.
I opted to get mine with Monterey Jack and provolone cheeses, caramelized onions, aioli, and proscuitto on an angus patty with a plain white bun. When it came out, it smelled and looked great, and fortunately, it tasted great as well. Probably not the most perfect topping combination, but still good nonetheless.
Our last destination before I return to LA is none other than Chicago. In a land of Chicago dogs and deep dish pizza (which I had there as well), there are still plenty of places to get a good burger.
The first place, while by no means is it “good” in any positive sense of the word, my first stop in Chicago, literally within an hour of landing on Friday evening, was to one of the many Whitecastle burgers in the region. I have the movie, Harold & Kumar Go to Whitecastle, to thank for that. (Did you know they chose Whitecastle because none of the other corporations such as McD’s or Burger King would agree to do the movie?)
Again, by no means is this burger really that good, so it was more of the cult following the movie got. And no, under any circumstances, do I do any marijuana or any other recreational drug for that matter. End of story. But I think between my friend and I, we got probably like 20 burgers and cheeseburgers? You count them…
The next burger we had in Chicago is the infamous Billy Goat Tavern. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, you can go Google it for details, but basically in 1945, the owner of the tavern was asked to leave a World Series game at Wrigley Field because his pet goat was causing a disturbance, in which he supposedly cursed the Chicago Cubs from ever winning another World Series game. While there have been moments of the curse seemingly about to be broken, the Cubs have never prevailed since. Anyway, about the Billy Goat Tavern and the burger. This place actually sits below Michigan Ave, and as soon as you walk in, before you can even reach the bottom of the mere 6 steps, the grill cook is yelling at you from across the room, “Double cheese?! Double cheese?!”, and if you agree, essentially starts cooking your burger before you even “order”.
The burger is pretty simple. No vegetables, just some mustard and there is a station off to the side in which you can add onions, pickles or relish. I liked the burger and it was really fresh. If we weren’t on our way to a couple of other spots to grab some bites, I probably would have ordered another burger. I may have to go there again should I ever find myself in Chicago again.
The 3rd and final burger I was able to get my hands and lips on, I actually had coincidentally seen on Food Network a few weeks before my trip to Chicago. Located in one of the cities’ many suburbs, Hackney’s on Harm has essentially an inside-out bacon cheeseburger, in which the cheese and chopped bacon in sandwiched inside 2-1/8 lb patties. It was a creation I maybe had never seen prior, and as soon as I did, I texted my friend and told him we had to go there. It was a little out of the way for us, but I’m grateful that we did. The burger apparently is not on the menu and I had to ask for it. When it came out, I sliced it in half and it looked and smelled pretty good. The burger with the oozing cheese and bacon bits was good, but I felt the bun wasn’t as soft as it could have or should have been. Maybe that’s just me talking.
Out of all burgers I’ve had in various cities across the US, I would probably have to say my favorite, if not one of my favorites, is the burger from Hash House A Go Go in San Diego (another location in Las Vegas), followed closely by the Squeeze burger at Squeeze Inn in Sacramento.
Other burger places across the country that I would like to try, and I have mentioned a few already, but places such as Crown Burger in Salt Lake City, Flip Burger in Georgia, Good Stuff Eatery in Washington DC, Love Shack in Texas, and Shake Shack in New York. If you have any other worthy suggestions, please feel free to let me know.
We finally arrive back in the City of Angels. I’ve got to say, overall, we really do have our good share of some of this countries’ best food. I don’t care what people will say about Los Angeles compared to other food cities in the US, we’ve got some dang good food. Burgers are definitely up there.
I first start off with a burger that I actually grew up on and had a lot going through high school and even junior high. I am talking about Islands. Yes, I know it’s a chain and I’ll admit I have a slight aversion to most chain restaurants, but Islands does their burgers pretty well. The other food is just ok, so I stick with the burgers. I would say out of the at least couple hundred times I’ve been to Islands in my life, 95% of the time, I always get the same thing: the Maui burger on white with American cheese (normally comes with Swiss). The Maui burger has guacamole, and for those of you who don’t know, I’m a little bit of a guacamole-phile. Not that I would rub it all over my person, that’s just a waste of perfectly edible guacamole, but I LOOOOOVE guacamole. It ranks right up there with ranch dressing in terms of the world’s all-time best condiments. Islands recently introduced a couple new burgers, sort of, by just basically slapping a couple pieces of bacon and giving it a different name. The Maui’s younger but sexier (because of the bacon) sister is called the Rincon. I’ve gotten that a couple times and yes, bacon still makes everything better.
Next place is a place that I (maybe ironically) frequented while I was in culinary school because it was right across the street and was cheaper than the food at the school café. I’m talking about The White Hut. While the place is not literally a hut, I think? the building is white, underneath all that ivy that has grown over it, but this place is quite small, with diner style counter seating for maybe 8 people inside and a couple of white plastic patio tables outside. For about $6.50, you could get a fresh cheeseburger, fries, and a soda. If you frequent this place enough, the owner will remember you and remember what you ordered last time and ask if you want the same thing. You really cannot go wrong with a super fresh and piping hot cheeseburger with all the fixings. Sadly, I have not been back since I finished culinary school in ’04. Writing this is making me want to go there. I think I’ll go this weekend.
UPDATE: I did not end up going to White Hut that weekend I wrote that… #FAIL
The next burger I’m quite fond of and have no problem going back again and again for is the ABC burger at B-Man’s Teriyaki & Burgers in Pasadena. Their teriyaki bowls are pretty good, as are their spam misubi and chicken curry fries (a meal in itself), but what I really love there, and have sometimes gotten two, is that ABC burger. A juicy beef patty with lettuce, tomato, onion, your choice of American or Swiss cheese, teriyaki sauce and avocado: it hits the spot every single time. It can get messy with the teriyaki sauce, but it’s just really good.
Next place I want to mention, and is among the array of places that allow you to create your own burger, is The Counter. The first time I had this was a few years ago in Irvine, back when The Counter had only a couple of locations and was still new. Hearing about the plethora of options you could make there, I was actually quite excited to try it. Unfortunately, because of the length of time it’s been, I cannot remember, for the life of me, what I had that afternoon. All I remember is the creation I came up with was actually quite fantastic and that I liked their sweet potato fries better than their regular fries. I have since been to different locations a couple of times, and the burgers have been good as well. I firmly believe you have to actually be careful as to what you put on your burger. A not so good combination can lead to a mediocre burger and prevent it from being an outstanding burger. Its nice to seem them offer a turkey burger and a veggie burger for those who are a little more “health conscious”
Next burger, which I first had at their Montana Ave. location, is the Office Burger at Father’s Office. I actually was questioning if it was worth our long drive from Pasadena. I will have to tell you, it definitely was worth the drive. The burger, which is actually a little oblong than a round patty, is incredibly tender and juicy (trust me, get it medium rare), and topped with balsamic caramelized onions, apple wood smoked bacon compote, gruyere and Maytag bleu cheese, arugula, on a French roll. That first time I had it, I devoured it faster than I should have for my own good. The other times I’ve had at their Culver City location, it’s been just as good. While the rest of the food there is just ok, I’m fine with that because you go to Father’s Office for the beer, not the food. The burger is just a delightful added bonus.
Moving along, next we have is 25 Degrees in Hollywood. I actually have been here twice. The first time, I built my own burger into what I dubbed an “Italian style bacon cheeseburger”, topping it with smoked mozzarella, proscuitto, caramelized onions, and arugula. Using 100% sirloin, the patty was a bit on the dry side, but overall still a solid burger. The 2nd time I went, however, the burger was actually quite a letdown. In the wake of having Slater’s 50/50 burger, I attempted in creating a burger with a similar flavor profile, once again building my own burger with bacon, avocado, a fried egg, and aioli. While I achieved the goal of creating a similar profile, as I mentioned, the burger itself was a letdown. The patty was overcooked (I hate sending food back unless it’s REALLY bad, especially with a large group of people, which we did) and the bun was not soft like the first time. It was definitely one of the very few times I’ve been disappointed by a burger like that.
Moving down our list, we come to a place with not one, but 2 notable burgers, and is also a restaurant I happened to work at recently. I am speaking of Westside Tavern in Los Angeles. The burger was consistently the number one selling dish of the evening and on weekends, would sell more than 100 just during dinner. The burger is relatively simple yet very delicious and I know used quality ingredients. Using a half pound all beef patty, topped with cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, arugula, and aioli, served on a toasted brioche bun. We would constantly snack on this while on the line during service. Though I was working pastry, I sometimes jumped in to help the grill cook to plate his sometimes 7 or 8 burgers. I think even once or twice, I cooked and sent out a burger all by myself. Easily one of my top 5, if not top 3, burgers in LA. The other burger on the menu was actually a salmon burger, using fresh ground salmon trimmings (we had a grilled salmon dish on the menu), mixed with quite a mix of ingredients including garlic powder and various other spices, chopped dill, Dijon mustard, and a few other ingredients I can’t recall (I may have helped make the patties once). Served a sun-dried tomato and caper vinaigrette, dill pickles, arugula, aioli, on a whole wheat bun, it was one of the more popular dishes on the menu as well. Both were delicious and is something I would order on return visits. Ironic though, in my time there, I never had the chance to have dinner there (though my family did a couple times), nor do I really have the urgency to now. Not because they are a former employer, but because being in West LA, I rarely am on that side of town to begin with and if I am ever out there, honestly Westside Tavern would not be my #1 dinner choice.
Continuing on, a burger that I actually liked, but unfortunately the restaurant is no longer, was the short rib burger from Blue Dahlia, which was in Little Tokyo. That burger was made from a combination of beef and tender short rib, giving it a texture unlike any other burger. I have since forgotten what else comes on the burger, but it was pretty good. I do kind of miss that place because it made for a quite date spot (not that I took a date there, just saying), but as they say, “c’est la vie”
This next burger, and definitely in my top 3, maybe top 2 burgers, is Ben Bailly’s truffle burger at Fraiche Restaurant in Culver City. I never had a chance to have this burger while he was at Petrossian in West Hollywood, as I only dined there once, but I definitely wanted to take advantage of it at Fraiche. I had even actually tweeted about it, and coincidentally, a few days later, he happened to invite me for dinner, in which he fed me very well. I did no ordering the entire evening, trusting him to send me out a wonderful progression of dishes. As for the finale, he sent the truffle burger, normally a lunch item only, that I had tweeted about just days prior. The burger was juicy and seasoned well, served with onion marmalade, boschetto, and truffle aioli. I devoured every single bit of it, despite being incredibly full by the time it arrived at my table.
Next restaurant, which has arguably my favorite burger in all of LA, are the burgers at Umami Burger, with several locations throughout the city. I have only been to the original location on La Brea Blvd, so I cannot comment on any of the other locations. I’ve had the Manly burger, which is basically a glorified bacon cheeseburger, the triple pork burger, with the patty made from ground pork, bacon, and chorizo, and the truffle burger. The truffle burger was really good and I can’t really compare it to the one at Fraiche. Out of the ones I’ve had, my favorite has probably been the triple pork burger. Only further affirming the recent realization that I may love pork more than beef, it was just incredibly flavorful and full of awesomeness. Below is a picture of the truffle burger
Next, which I know some people will say this and that about, is none other than In N Out Burger. I practically grew up on these burgers as well, first having one probably back in Junior High School. There’s not many things better than a piping hot double double with whole grilled onions (or sometimes Animal style), with fries, and a drink. For the longest time, I used to get 2 double doubles. Yes, I think I was trying to shorten my life. I can’t even count how many different locations I’ve been to and how many double doubles I’ve had in my lifetime, but probably more than I should have. However, I will continue to devour In N Out for the rest of my life and make sure to get my future kids addicted to it as much as I am. Yes, I think I’m diabolical like that sometimes.
Moving along, there were a few burgers I, unfortunately, were not at all impressed with. The first worth mentioning is the burger I had at 8 oz. Burger Bar in Mid City. Now, I think Govind Armstrong, though relatively under the radar in LA, is a great chef and I wish I had a chance to eat at Table 8 before converting it to its current form, but this burger was underwhelming. I got the burger with sautéed mushrooms, grilled red onion, bel paese cheese, and roasted garlic aioli. While the toppings helped save the burger, the bun was near burnt and the patty was overcooked. Even if the burger was cooked to my liking, it might have been a decent burger at best, but as well could have still been an underwhelming burger. Sorry Chef Armstrong.
Next underwhelmer was a burger from a sport bar in Hollywood by the name of Stout. I had a burger they call the “Six Weeker”, which has brie, fig jam, arugula, and caramelized onions. I ordered it because while the fig jam was an interesting thing to have in a burger, I knew it would pair well with the brie cheese. However, when the burger arrived, it lost major points on presentation. It was plainly served on a single piece of butcher paper on a school cafeteria style plastic plate. The burger wasn’t much better. The bun was a little dry, the patty itself was ok, but I could hardly tell there was any brie. The saving grace was what they call an “Island Hopper”, which is one of their ground chicken burger. It had smoked mozzarella, artichoke spread, arugula, and tomatoes on a toasted wheat bun. This was much better.
Lastly, and probably the most underwhelming burger I’ve recently had, and I think coincidentally the most recent of the 3, was Apple Pan, in West LA. It just… incredibly underwhelming I almost wanted to walk out. I mean, it was so underwhelming that it was mind-boggling to me as to why and how this was supposed to be a Los Angeles institution. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the ingredients were fresh, but overall, it just didn’t do it for me. Agreeing with what someone recently said on Twitter about this place, I would rather have Johnny Rockets than Apple Pan. And for you Apple Pan fans out there, I apologize.
As we end our journey, I just briefly want to mention some burgers I have heard of around town that, for the life of me, have not been able to try yet. These burgers include Comme Ca, The Golden State, and Five Guys Burger & Fries. I’m sure there are others out there that I can’t think of off the top of my head right now. For sure there are many other burgers I’ve tried around in the area, but if I were to include every single one, I might as well write a full length book (not that I seemingly already haven’t). Plus these that I have written about above are the noteworthy ones.
If you have any other suggestions as to where to get a killer burger around town, I am all ears.