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.