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Monthly Archives: July 2012

There is a soft spot in my heart for late night fast food.  Some of my favorite memories take place around 3am in a parking lot with greasy burger wrappers covering the back seat of someone’s borrowed car, condensation from the milkshake dripping into what is fast becoming a lake of a cup holder. I have great respect for the delicate dance of balancing one’s burger in one hand while grabbing another fry with the other without getting ketchup stains on your party dress.  But the burgers in question were never good. Well no, scratch that, all burgers at 3am are good. They could be made out of an opossum that was run over by a semi truck three days ago and be tasty. However, most food that you settle for at 3am you would not be caught dead with in the harsh, rational glare of daylight.

This is why I rejoiced when I saw on Stout’s door that they’re open EVERY DAY until 4:30am. I think everyone has (or should have) a list in the back of their brains of late night, sit down restaurants that aren’t full of mediocre, greasy diner food.  This is high-class greasy food establishment with a bar, so I was predisposed to like them. Really it was going to take a lot for them to mess this up.

Located on the edge of a parking lot on Cahuenga St, Stout from afar looks like a lot of horrible Hollywood bars with flat screen TVs and people preening around hoping to be noticed. Once you get inside, however, it’s pretty comfy and the gourmet menu would tempt a saint (or a supermodel). There’s a diverse list of gourmet burgers, chicken burgers, and veggie burgers  all for ten bucks, so splitting the tab with your buddies is not complicated.  They also feature beer pairings with your burgers on the menu as a helpful suggestion and as expected, fries and dessert are also encouraged.

Overwhelmed by the ten different burgers on offer, I picked their signature. The Stout burger features a beef patty covered in blue cheese, Emmi gruyere, rosemary bacon, caramelized onions, horseradish cream, and roasted tomatoes on a brioche bun.  Immediately I was suspicious. What kind of burger would need two kinds of cheese? Especially two cheeses that have such distinct identities. What kind of feeling were they going for: the sharp tang of the blue cheese or the warm creamy reassurance of the gruyere? The answer it turns out was simple.

Neither! You could have put twenty cheeses on that sucker and it wouldn’t have mattered at all because all you could taste was the horseradish. Now I don’t want to sound disparaging. After all horseradish and beef go beautifully together. What is baffling is the amount of ingredients the chef decided to put on the burger in addition to it. The roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions gave the burger a slight sweetness against the wave of spice, but the bacon and cheese were completely lost. They were the equivalent of the flute section in a high school marching band.  If you couldn’t see them with your own eyes, you’d never know they were there.

My advice: get the burger. Ask them to hold the cheese and bacon.  (Probably the only time in history I’ve ever said that.) And by everything that is holy: GET THE ONION RINGS. They are the most delectably crispy, salt encrusted, golden delights I’ve ever had the good fortune of ordering. You won’t be sorry.

– Molly Bergen

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Goals, guilt, hamburgers, and people watching. These are a few of my favorite things. Everyone should have goals. Not the kind represented by a red dot on a power point slide delivered in a board room by a terrible tie and equally terrible coffee breath, but the kind that you pick for yourself, as a reference to what you want your life to be like. Goals are often quantifiable, but even when they aren’t it’s easy to tell if they are being reached, because of guilt; the ever-so-very handy little mental mechanism built right into you as a natural reminder that you can do better.  In my personal experience, guilt is an extremely consistent indicator of behavior that is in direct opposition to my goals. Hamburgers simply rule (though have the potential to inspire guilt in the proper context) and people watching is just the bees knees. People are awesome. Believe it.

One of my goals (albeit a very lazily pursued one) is to be in good shape. That whole eat-right-and-exercise-regularly thing. I have read too many books on both topics to claim ignorance on the subjects I’m afraid, so from time to time I just have to feel guilty about it. To be a boastful hamburger chugger is to accept to some degree that visible abs are out of the question, but I do still suffer the fleeting wonder of what they might be like. Where am I going with all of this you ask? To West Hollywood.

Rounds Premium Burgers is located right by the corner of Santa Monica and San Vicente, in what feels like the dead center of WeHo, though that claim may not be geographically accurate. I’d have probably never found myself here on my own but I blindly bought a groupon (I buy them without reading a word if the photo is a cheeseburger, seriously), and remembered it while both hungry, and randomly nearby. Suffering from the tunnel vision that extreme hunger can cause, my dining companion and I parked, made a B-line for the door of this place, and thoughtfully ordered in the most precise of fashions. Not an extra word was muttered. Moments after I began to internally celebrate the burger that would soon be mine, and before we even found our seats, the fog began to lift and I took a hard look around, starting with the guy who just took my order a.k.a. Tyrese with incredibly long eyelashes. Maybe 2% bodyfat on this guy. Maybe. Not the kind of physical specimen you expect to be the one to hand you an 1800 calorie meal. A fluke perhaps.

We took our seats outside at a table on the broad sidewalk. Facing the street, our position was positively perfect for people-watching, which commenced promptly. I now took note of the steady thump of house music pounding away next door, as a couple eccentric looking old folks scuddled past. Sundays are for drinking in this neighborhood, and Rounds just so happens to be on the same block as a couple of the most overcrowded and action packed gay bars on the entire planet.

The same gent who took our order (the celebrity personal trainer moonlighting as restaurant cashier) also delivered our food. Near as I could tell he was the only guy working there, but still our service was fast and delightfully personable. I ordered the Executive, one of several of Rounds’ specialty burgers, all of which have no more than 3 toppings. Simplicity is beautiful. This particular burger is a 1/3rd lb fresh ground chuck patty, and nearly as much bacon, blue cheese and caramelized onions by weight. This thing is a monster, served up on a bun just like the Park’s- all prettied up to look like a brioche but inside it’s just white bread. The beef was cooked nearer to medium well than the medium rare I asked for, but aside from that the burger was everything I wanted it to be- juicy, flavorful, and just messy enough to be fun. The massive mound of hand cut fries that accompanied the Executive were equally enjoyable, in no small part due to the sauce selection (I’m a huge sucker for an aioli flight). Virtually everything about this meal was perfect… except the guilt.

For those of you who are not familiar with the neighborhood in which Rounds Premium Burgers is located, the population has an insanely high concentration of beautiful, beautiful men, and unbeknownst to me until last Sunday, a lot of them don’t bother to wear shirts. Even my dining partner on this particular day was a model, who has developed a flawless ability to look at a 3lb pile of gorgeous French fries and not touch them. She picked at her veggie burger like a hungry bird, but a bird nonetheless, while I’m busy making only moderate effort to keep blue cheese out of my hair. My point is, if you’re like me and actually benefit from a little diner’s guilt as it pertains to your waistline this is totally your place. Not only do they have excellent food, but stuffing it into your face while dude after dude with armpit muscles prances past you is likely to inspire you to take a little survey on your own goals. After your meal, head next door for a $32 mega margarita at Fiesta Cantina into which you can cry about being chubby. I’m starting a week long juice cleanse on Monday, and am officially now a black-belt in constructive self loathing.

-Geoff Sawyer

p.s. The veggie burger at Rounds is fantastic. I stole a couple bites. The patty is mostly bean and corn with strong Southwest flavor (cumin and ancho) so dress it accordingly.

The Art District downtown is a multifaceted ever changing thing. Moving neighborhood to neighborhood, street to street, people are always fighting over where it begins and ends, which warehouses are cool and which ones ain’t. It’s as nebulous as it is magical. Restaurants, galleries, lofts, and theaters are popping up all over the urban landscape in the most unlikely of places.  And burgers. Did I mention that? Gourmet burgers are popping up too.

Little Bear is a gourmet Belgian bar that takes their pub food seriously. Created by the same awesome family that built Oinkster, one can only guess that is an homage to Belgian beer and their Belgian style French fries (I just made that up. Those fries are worth building a restaurant around regardless.) Nestled on Industrial St. between Mateo and Mill, the place is unmistakably inviting with its bright red door, which acts almost as if it’s taunting (the delicious) Church and State across the street with its flare. I was almost surprised there wasn’t a sign on the side of the building that read “Yo Church and State, do you serve burgers? I didn’t think so.”  (Church and State does not serve burgers. Why? I don’t know. It’s disappointing. They should, but I digress.  Back on topic.)

Inside the doors the place is spacious and modern, while remaining warm and inviting. Maps of Belgium line the walls and giant nets hang from the ceiling in aesthetically pleasing formations. It’s got the feel of a hip bar in Chicago or Minneapolis.  As advertised, there is an incredibly long beer list as well as some creative cocktails and pretty much anything else your heart desires.

The menu is full of gourmet things that are supremely bad for you and very tempting. (I’m looking at you grilled cheese list. I’ll come back for you another day.) In terms of burgers, they’ve got three: The Little Bear burger, the Classic burger, and the Veggie burger. I’m proud to announce I ate all three (not at the same time. I’m not that impressive). The Little Bear burger is an exercise in showing off. Fresh ground beef, truffle aioli, stilton cheese, mushrooms, arugula, crispy onions aka thinly sliced onion rings, and cherry gastrique on a brioche bun.  Or in other words how many fancy ingredients can you fit on a bun without going overboard?

The question was did it pay off? Yes and no. The truffle aioli overpowered any hint of stilton on the burger, which isn’t good. A good Stilton should be able to overpower anything be it man or beast or aioli. But the sweetness of the onions held their own against the earthy truffle flavor and the result was a damn fine burger. The cherry gastrique was completely lost on me until I read the menu later online. I had no idea that was on there, which means it should probably be taken off. It’s like when the dealership tries to talk you into putting fancy nitrogen air in your tires.  Let’s stop kidding ourselves. If you don’t notice, there’s no point.

The surprise of the night was the Classic burger. Whenever a “classic” burger is on a menu, I’ve always assumed it’s for the fussy eaters who want something that they recognize. It usually means American cheese, ketchup, iceberg lettuce, a slice of onion, a slice of tomato, and at best no effort from the chef (at worst disdain and probably some spit). At Little Bear it means the Oinkster burger which is a whole other story. Yes, it contains the usual suspects but the ingredients are fresh and the proportions are perfect: ground beef, heirloom tomatoes, raw onion, dill pickle, Thousand Island dressing, Bibb lettuce, and a brioche bun, and by God it beats the fancy pants burger by a mile. Blasphemy, I know. How is it possible that the Classic burger with its thousand island dressing could possibly beat out something covered in truffle aioli? I couldn’t tell you. Both are delicious, but for reasons only known to the chef, the Classic cannot be improved upon.

Footnote: You need to try again with your veggie burger. It is a hot, sloppy mess. It tastes like bean chili on a bun. I know you just put it on there to appease the vegans (because honestly who wouldn’t choose a grilled cheese?) but you can do better. I know you can.  Take out that old drawing board and have a do over.  Call me when you do. Love, Molly.

-Molly Bergen

 

Classic and Farro Burger Photos by Adam Carver.

As we’ve already discussed, and will hopefully continue to explore into infinity, LA is heavy on the fancy burgers, and I love it. However, there is an entire social order of educated burger munchers who scoff at foreign cheeses and couldn’t care less what makes a brioche a brioche. These folks are traditionalists, and while I am certainly not among them, I empathize. Thusfar we at Hoodburger have focused more on the classier of southern California’s burger restaurants, and will likely continue to do so, but just so you all know that a corner of our hearts remains reserved for the dumpy spots too, this post is for all you no-frills just-good team members.

T.K. Burger has 8 locations scattered about LA and Orange counties, and one of them is conveniently located right across the street from the DMV of Costa Mesa. Convenient for me anyway, since there are few things besides good food that can alleviate the soul-strain of a 3 hour chill sesh with some of California’s most pleasant and well adjusted state employees (sarcasm alert). I had never even heard of this place, and its extremely unassuming facade led me to surprise when the young lady behind the counter told me there were 7 more of them. Old beach records decorate the walls and low ceiling, interrupted occasionally by the awkward lamp and photo of a sick tube (my attempt at bro-speak for “big wave”). With the exception of myself, the clientele dining in seemed evenly divided between flip flopped, tousled, potentially professional surfers and fruit-patterned linen adorned, probable-professional Jimmy Buffet fans.  There was seating for perhaps 20, and most of it was occupied at noon.

T.K. doesn’t have a “house” or “signature” burger, which in hindsight is no surprise. These guys don’t get particularly creative with their interpretations- they just keep it simple and do it really well. I went with the “Big Bargain Special” being the cheeseburger and fries combo which is top billed on the menu board by a long shot if you rank based on font size, and is reportedly “the thing that everybody gets” in lieu of a burger that T.K. claims as its own. I’m beginning to think that there is a ‘California style’ burger (though I have never heard it referred to as such) resulting from In-n-Out nailing the formula really early on, and everyone else whose intention was not to step way outside the box simply accepting that the code had been cracked and following suit. For those of you who STILL don’t know, that means lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions (red in T.K.’s case), American cheese if any, and Thousand Island dressing. Not particularly inventive even if you were the first to do it, but consistently delicious from day 1. According to the menu, all burgers come on a signature egg roll, which I found to be like a less chewy version of potato bread. The flavor of the bun was great but it was huge, and had a little too much presence in each bite proportionally. The beef patty was fine ground and cooked just short of well done, neither of which I typically support but this burger was not only very juicy despite being thin but had incredible flame grilled flavor. I’ve heard that Burger King actually sprinkles charcoal dust on its patties to achieve said flavor (anybody?) and they still fail miserably. BK should take cues from T.K. instead, because whatever their specific method is to make the beef taste so distinctly grilled is working better than anyone else’s means. All the veggies were cool, crisp, ripe and fresh, making this burger functionally a clinic on how to keep it basic and still be awesome.

So to all the burger purists out there in case you had not heard, T.K. definitely get’s a green light. As a certain obnoxious (though nearly always correct) television personality may have informed you, there is no shortage of diners or dives out there, and many of them have great burgers. My advice is go to T.K.’s before Mr. Terrible Hair shows up with the cameras, because he will, and you’ll regret having missed the era of no line around the block.

When the idea for this website was conceived, the intention was to only make glowing reviews about burgers that totally rule, and simply not include the places that I cannot recommend highly. Being that there are so many great burgers to be had in the greater Los Angeles area, excluding the bad and mediocre ones seemed like a sensible protocol. Today is the day I must break that rule.

The newly founded premium offering by the gents who brought you The Habit Burger, Hook Burger (not to be confused with Hood Burger, ever) is nestled in the North East outskirts of Americaland (also known as Pasadena). Just on the other side of a conglomeration of international super-chains brought together by a parking lot large and well lit enough to simultaneously accommodate several professional sporting events as well as be seen from space, perhaps this location was chosen on the hope that once shoppers had had their fill of Bed Bath & Beyond/Dick’s/Ross/Pet Smart/Best Buy/Old Navy/etc./etc./etc. that they would be in need of a hearty snack. Stands to reason. I felt exhausted after just driving by.

Hook Burger’s exterior is clean and well designed, with stained wood and concrete dominating the establishment’s color and texture palate. The inside, looks like the nicest McDonalds you can imagine, complete with leather booths, more stained hardwood tables, walls and visible beams, and a delightfully charming young woman whose primary purpose appeared to be to herd confused first-timers such as myself to the counter where one’s order is placed. The menu is precise rather than lengthy, and the happy helper who saw me to the counter kindly followed along to make sure I knew about their signature burger, which I ordered.

“The Prime Burger” is Hook’s de-facto house burger, a simple no-frills take on the classic food medium we all know and love. A 5oz. Prime ground chuck patty comes dressed in lettuce, tomato, bourbon caramelized onions, and house made honey Dijon mayo for a very fair $4.95. I opted for the addition of cheddar cheese for another $0.75. On the plate it was flanked by 2 huge dill pickle chips, which also made their way to my burger and were perhaps its saving grace. The patty was skillfully cooked at a nice medium rare, but was a little too lean for my taste and could have been better seasoned. The sauce was terrific. Not too sweet, not to funky (as Dijon spreads can often be when liberally applied) so that it can be safely slathered, which somewhat made up for the fact that the burger wasn’t very fatty. Pickles were thick and crisp, with flavor and texture quite similar to the brand Claussen. I sided up with shoestring fries and coleslaw, the first of which were pretty good if you like canned potato sticks (they were very much like a fresh tasting version of those) and the latter being simple, fresh and dependable. The slaw was not a bold expression in any sense, but slaw needn’t be.

Overall the meal was fine though certainly lackluster. You won’t be mad if you eat there, and on the upside the customer service was incredible. Everyone was polite, engaging, and smiling constantly. Quality service is clearly a part of the company’s culture; no restaurant just gets lucky with its staff to such a degree. Frankly, this place has national chain written all over it. My surprise would be minimal if these guys enjoy incredible growth and success over the next 10 years based on their penchant for design (it totally feels like an upscale Chipotle) and choosing locations that are accessible to the appropriate demographic (i.e. shoppers attracted to destinations like the supermall described earlier), not to mention the success of the 10 or so locations that Habit Burger currently boasts. At Hook the food is priced slightly high for fast food but affordably as a “premium” alternative, and Hook’s mission includes a lot of well intentioned (and trendy) bullets such as using locally sourced produce and breads, naturally raised meats, and only biodegradable and/or recycled materials in their packaging- all of which I strongly support. The reality is that Hook Burger deserves to win, I have just apparently finally crossed forever over into burger snobbery. So be it.

-Geoff Sawyer

All photos in this post by Fredrick Guerrero.

In this world of ever changing burger menus, you can generally tell whether or not you’re gonna get a winner by the ingredients. Granted, you could have a burger piled high with exotic hams, fancy French cheeses, and an onion jam compote made by the chef’s mother and still strike out if the burger is poorly cooked,  over-seasoned or just made with plain poor quality beef. But most burgerheads (Yes, that’s a word. Starting when? Starting now) will tell you if you look at a menu if there’s something with the words “truffle” and “burger” on it, that won’t let you down.

It is no surprise therefore that the truffle burger at Umami Burger is scrumptious.  The burger itself is a very simple affair. Resting on their signature bun is a patty glazed in truffle sauce and covered in their home made truffle cheese. There are no vegetables, no frills, no bells, no whistles, and no distractions, and the result is an extremely satisfying earthy experience. Vegetarian? No sweat. You can almost have the same experience with their truffle cheese fries which, if you were concerned that your breath wasn’t powerful enough to knock over your date at three paces, come with a side of garlic aioli.  Heath nut? (Why the hell are you in a burger joint? Did you lose a bet?) Even then they’ve got you covered. Umami makes a great beet salad covered in truffled ricotta, smoked almonds, wild baby arugula, truffle dressing, which is almost as good as the fries.  What I’m saying is, if there was any chance I could swim in a vat of their house made truffle sauce…I would.

This burger blog is not just about the safe bets, though. It’s about exploring menus and finding things that would otherwise go unnoticed. Umami is one of those institutions though where taking risks pays off in a big way. They make things that in other restaurants would be the last thing we’d order like a tuna burger. Tuna burgers in general are sad affairs.  Usually they come in two varieties. Either they’re  dry hunks of tuna covered in god-awful tartar sauce layered with iceburg lettuce and a slice of tomato or they’re pieces of sashimi drenched in vinaigrette and mercilessly wedged in the center of a hamburger bun.  Both are depressing and neither really qualifies as a burger.

Most people fail to make a tuna burger because they either want to treat it like a beef patty or a fried fish sandwich and it is neither. A nice piece of tuna deserves respect. This is why Umami’s burger is so damn revolutionary. It doesn’t try and turn the tuna into something it’s not.  Their burger has hand-chopped ahi tuna, crushed avocado, pickled ginger, sprouts, wasabi tartar spread.  The sandwich is built on traditional flavors that work with tuna: avocado, pickled ginger, and wasabi. The chefs have managed to find a harmony in this burger that most burger joints don’t bother to figure out.  So if you’re asking me which burger I enjoyed more…I just couldn’t tell you.  You’ll have to try them both and decide for yourself.

-Molly Bergen

Thanks to John and Serge for the photos.

Los Angeles’s burger scene is as vast as it is eclectic, hence our desire to create this website. Though the places to go get a great burger are seemingly innumerable, there are definitely a few spots whose names are repeated just as countlessly in response to the question “what’s the best burger in L.A?” Umami is definitely among them. With 9 locations in Southern California (made 10 by Umamicatessen) each boasting ever-so-slightly different menus, Umami truly has claimed its post atop the pantheon of local burger joints. The interior design of each location is unique unto itself, but in all cases sleek and curated, leaving no doubt in the customers mind that this is no divey greasy spoon, but rather an establishment that demands respect.

Umami is a burger restaurant. Though there are numerous creatively constructed options (usually about 10 staples and 3 or 4 specials on any given day) and several outstanding sides on the menu, the only entrée they offer is a burger. If you’re the type to order a chicken caesar salad and watch your friends indulge in the enjoyable food from across the table, you’ll need to eat before you come. These guys don’t waste any menu real estate with non-burger dishes, to their credit.  I nearly always find myself at the Los Feliz location, purely due to its close proximity to my home. That particular venue has 11 regular menu burgers, always a few specials, and more often than not the ingredients necessary to create a past special or former menu item if you know to ask for it. (Secret menu = me feeling special. Win). It also has a great selection of craft brewed beers, affordable wines, and fancy non-alcoholic sodas if those are more your speed. No detail has been overlooked. Should it still remain unclear, I LOVE this place, not only due to the consistent quality of the food, but to the aforementioned creative construction. Their flavor combinations are definitely atypical, and the result is phenomenal.

Umami’s signature burger (the Umami Burger) is far more interestingly assembled than it is named. All of their burgers begin with a course ground, well seasoned, hand formed patty cooked medium-rare unless otherwise requested (don’t you dare ask for it well done) on a very soft sweet bun that reminds me quite a bit of the pandesal that The Oinkster used for its Pork Adobo Burger during burger week (which still visits me in my most pleasant dreams). It is then topped with shitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, oven-roasted tomatoes, a parmesan crisp, and house made ketchup (which is extra think and has a healthy hint of white truffle). Everything about this combination of flavors is perfect. There is so much tartness from the tomato, ketchup and parmesan, but the meatiness of the shitakes and the juicy crumbly beef bring it right back into sublime equilibrium. The bun is thick but very soft and malleable, and its sweetness is the finish on each bite. Accompanied by tempura battered onion rings, or the most amazing hand rolled cheese tots you will ever have in your life (those are on the secret menu, so don’t forget to ask, and be prepared to impress your friends) I can say with some confidence that should I ever find myself in a situation wherein I get to choose my last supper, this is what it would be. Perhaps that’s a bit dark but this burger is that good, and as I discovered while scouring the internet for photos to steal for this post, apparently GQ feels almost as strongly as I do about this meaty masterpiece.

If you’ve never been to Umami before, go. If you feel overwhelmed, go with one of their pairings that has a burger, side, and adult beverage all picked out for you. Try additional sauces with your side, because they make them all in house. And then think about how awesome it is to have a fine meal out at a nice restaurant and still get to eat a cheeseburger, because that is most definitely awesome.

-Geoff Sawyer