Yesterday my neighborhood smelled terrific! The aromas of charcoal and grilled meat wafting down the block as the Memorial Day holiday unofficially ushered in summer. As the month of May winds down and our grills heat up…the following is a tribute to the mighty hamburger.
May is National Hamburger Month here in the United States. Coincidentally it is also National Barbeque Month (makes sense), National Salad Month (in case you feel guilty), and National Blood Pressure Month (so you don’t die).
Grilling is a way of life here in Southern California. Grill season runs from about February through November. But sometimes you just want a good burger without all the other hassles (read: clean-up) of DIY. And so, I present my Five Favorite Burgers in Los Angeles. First, a couple of ground rules:
-I haven’t tried every burger in LA, so this isn’t a comprehensive ranking–just my current favorite five, with an Eastside bias.
-Despite the burger’s lofty beginnings as a delicacy of minced meat, today it is food of the people. Therefore, you won’t find anything that costs more than $13 on this list.
-Rankings are determined not just by the quality of the meat or the presentation, but on the whole burger-eating experience.
5.The Oinkster (Eagle Rock): How can you not love a burger and pastrami joint with a name like this? Next week, The Oinkster will celebrate its annual “Burger Week: A Tribute to Classic American Hamburgers” (June 4-10) when chef Andre Guerrero creates his take on everything from McDonald’s and In-N-Out to the highest of high end fare. The everyday burger at The Oinkster is simple and quite delicious. For $6.25, it comes with the usual fixings (lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles), plus The Oinkster’s housemade 1000-island dressing and your choice of Gruyere, sharp cheddar, or American cheese. Step it up to a Royale and you get bacon, chili, and pastrami. As great as that sounds, I actually prefer The Oinkster’s veggie burger to the meat version. (Shh…don’t tell anyone!) At $5.25, it’s really hard to go wrong here. [Also get: Belgian fries with The Oinkster’s signature garlic aioli, a milk shake which is made with Fosselman’s ice cream.]
4. Dog Haus (Pasadena): When a friend told me the burgers here arrived among a quartet of King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls, I was at first incredulous. But this was the recommendation of a highly respected foodie–who also warned me that even though I’d likely be seduced by the many topping combos on the menu I should stick to the basic cheeseburger–so I gave it a shot. Naturally my friend was right. My wife got the cheeseburger (white American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, mustard, ketchup) and I got the “Holy Aioli” (white American cheese, caramelized onions, smoked bacon, garlic aioli). Both were delicious. Surprisingly the King’s Hawaiian bread didn’t get too soggy, although things do get pretty messy by the end. At $4.50 for the cheeseburger and $5.95 for the Holy Aioli you can afford to get two–even if you can’t finish the second one. [Also get: Tater-tots. And make sure to utilize the bounty of ketchup and sauces Dog Haus makes available. If you have a hankering, the hot dog menu is also highly recommended.]
3. Umami (Downtown, Los Feliz, Hollywood, West Hollywod, Santa Monica, North Hollywood, Hermosa Beach, Studio City, Thousand Oaks, Costa Mesa, San Francisco): This is certainly one of the most celebrated burger houses (beyond the mainstream fast food fare) in the LA-area. The first time I went here I didn’t understand what the hype was all about. That’s because I got the “Manly Burger,” ($11) an overwrought concoction with onion strings, beer cheddar, smoked salt, and pork lardons that just screams, “I’m trying too hard!” Once I discovered the Truffle Burger ($12) and the Port & Stilton Burger ($10) I was in heaven. [Also get: The Thin Fries here are some of the best in the city. The house pickles are totally worth the hefty $5 price tag. Ice cream sandwiches.]
2. In-N-Out (everywhere): If you have a problem with this pick, I’m sorry but, you’re wrong. Whether you just like the classic cheeseburger or are a devotee of the super-duper secret menu (Flying Dutchman 4 x 4 Animal Style, mustard grilled with chopped peppers, anyone?*), this is a SoCal classic. Any feeble argument you may try to make is invalid. I will go to my grave advocating for the glories of In-N-Out. [Also get: Grilled onions, sticker puzzles, root beer float, and for goodness sake, order your fries well-done. You’re welcome.]
*Okay, technically that’s not possible.
1. The York (Highland Park): It’s not that this burger has particularly special ingredients, it’s that those ingredients are so perfectly chosen and proportioned. A brioche bun with just the right amount of harissa-infused aioli, cheddar cheese, arugula (like the Brits, they call it “rocket”), and, instead of caramelized onions, they serve them pickled. At $13, this is the priciest burger of the bunch, but it’s always worth it. I keep thinking I’m bound to find a better option in this vast metropolis (and yes, I know all about Father’s Office and Comme Ça and The Counter and The Bucket and Fuku and Mom’s and all the others that you’ll tell me I’ve “forgotten”) but I every time I come back to The York I just think, “If this were the only burger on earth, I’d be okay with that.” [Also get: Fish & Chips, Truffle Grilled Cheese, and Fried Garbanzos. Oh…and…Kale! Emphatically, Kale!]