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Chego: Exhibit A

Chego: Exhibit A

Roy Choi, I love you. I’ve said it before, and I still mean it even though you’re crazy. Perhaps that little bit of eccentricity is what makes your food so phenomenal. Perhaps it’s just me (and a few others), and your wares are just fitting to my taste rather than immeasurably exceptional. Either way, I went to Chego recently, and urge you to read on for the next chapter in my book of love letters to you.

Chego is not a burger spot, nor should it be. Tucked into the center of an outdoor mini-mall in China Town, its tininess and picnic table seating in an open air walkway do not suggest that should you stop, your mind will be blown. However, they make the most staggeringly delicious rice bowls that $9 will buy (in this country anyway), and far be it from me to wish a change to that mission. They do have a burger though as all of Roy’s properties do (each is different, too), and predictably, it’s delightful. The Chego Burger, also known as “Exhibit A” is not particularly fancy, but is both unique and scrumptious. A half pound of grass fed ground chuck comes cooked to order, topped with melted cojack, mayo, arugula, thai basil, red chili sauce (tasted like Kogi’s signature salsa roja [spoiler: it is]), and a heap of caramelized shallots that I swear tasted more like fennel than any onion’s cousin ever has. The bun is just your standard sesame seed bun, available at not-so-fine diners all across this great nation. It’s a hearty burger, and lends itself to a messy consumption process. Roy’s cooks tend to be a little sauce-happy, and they should because the condiments he makes define the flavors of his food. The beef was well seasoned and the proportions of each topping’s flavor to the others was nearly perfect. My singular complaint is that the bun can’t handle the job. This burger fell apart by the end because the bread was not strong enough to contain the force of its contents.

Chego Burger Guts

Chego Burger Guts

The only real rub about this particular review is that, despite the burger being excellent, so is everything else. I would highly recommend this burger in nearly any context- it was delicious- but if you go to Chego and DON’T order a pork belly bowl, you’re blowing it. Just go the website and watch one be built in the banner across the top. It makes my mouth water every time. So, Chego’s burger gets a HB cosign, but Roy Choi’s food gets my heart. What’s most important to note is, whatever you order, just go there. It’s going to be great.

-Geoff Sawyer

Photo by Melissa S.

Photo by Melissa S.

One of my favorite things about Los Angeles’ burger scene is their ability to take traditional elements of any cuisine and create a gorgeous hybrid burger.  And I don’t mean sprinkle a little spice into an aioli and call it a day. I mean taking one of America’s beloved foods, breaking it into parts, and rebuilding it from the bun up.  The new Indian gastro pub, Badmaash (which means a person who is naughty or notorious in Hindi), has thrown its lamb burger into the ring and it’s a winner.

Located near City Hall in downtown Los Angeles on 2nd and Main, you can smell Badmaash before you can see it. As you walk down 2nd street, curried spices and sautéed onions beckon you into the restaurant.  It’s a tiny space that is awash in color. Bold stripes festoon the walls and the kitchen is so close you can hear the chefs yelling to one another.  As soon as you sit down and glance at the menu, you know you’re going to have a good time. Traditional Indian favorites with cheeky names line the bottom like Good Ol’ Saag Paneer and Ghost Chili Lamb Vindaloo. The more exciting pubby food is closer to the top with amazing creations like Chili Cheese Naan, Chicken Tikka Poutine, and samosas stuffed with short ribs, pineapple and cilantro.

Photo by Richard T.

Photo by Richard T.

The only item on the menu that is circled is the Spiced Lamb Burger. When a burger gets its own little section it’s usually a very good sign. It’s listed thusly “ground and spiced in house-with spiced mayo, onion, lettuce, tomato on a brioche bun.” However, when the burger was brought to the table, I quickly realized that the menu has done it a dreadful disservice. It was like having your friend describe their car as blue and then finding out it’s a Shelby Cobra. There were definitely details left out.  Like the beautiful tomato chutney on the side or the cilantro that gave it an extra punch.  The patty was delicately spiced but not so much so that you lost the earthiness of the lamb and was accompanied with a creamy curried aioli and the tomatoes were so red and ripe and luscious, they looked like they had just come out of the ground.

Was I disappointed it came on a brioche bun and not naan? A little, but I understood why that decision had been made as soon as I picked it up.  Juice ran from every crevice of that thing. Even on a traditional bun, that thing was impossible to put down and extremely hard to wield.  I could imagine that placing that sucker between two pieces of floppy naan would be disastrous.  As for fries, I played it safe and got the masala fries not the Chicken Tikka poutine. Epic mistake. The masala fries were not very exciting at all. They somehow managed to be both over spiced and under salted, which is odd. It was really strange that a place that had gotten all of the elements so right for something as complex as a burger, just failed at something as simple as French fries. BUT maybe their poutine is excellent and I just ordered the wrong thing. Maybe the chef put all of his love into the more complicated dishes and couldn’t be bothered with the less exciting ones. Totally possible. I will have to go back and find out.

The Bistro Burger

Since Hoodburger began there has been a process of steady revelation for us that there is a frequently recurring style of burger in Southern California, which I have (for lack of a more clever name) dubbed SoCal style. Made famous by In n’ Out, who appear to have just added tomato to the toppings of a Big Mac, SoCal style is lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, American cheese (usually), and Thousand Island dressing. Several places employ this formula, and some of them are excellent (see Oinkster’s Classic Burger). What I did not realize though until this week, is that there is a second formula at work in this region’s burger scene, and it is responsible for some of the best and also most famed burgers around. I am not sure who did it first though I would not be surprised to find out that Father’s Office can claim the fame. Los Angeles’ second burger archetype is as follows: Patty with 1 or 2 kinds of melted cheese (usually a blue and sharp cheddar), strong bouillon flavored caramelized onions, arugula, and some sort of aioli (in most cases, though Father’s Office uses no condiment). This week, I went to 6th St. Tavern in DTLA, who just so happens to have both of Southern California’s burgers on its menu.

The Classic Burger

Catty-cornered from the Standard Hotel, 6th St. Tavern invites any passerby who might find joy in its modern décor and craft cocktails. On a Saturday afternoon they were busy but not crowded, and the vibe was mellow without being fully subdued. You order at the bar, and in my case the food came very quickly. As mentioned, these guys make 2 burgers, and each accurately represents a very similar list of ingredients to those of its competitors. The “Classic Burger” (it’s even named the same as the one at The Oinkster), is classic indeed: double patty, lettuce, tomato, grilled onion, American cheese, 1000 Island and pickles (though they came on the side). Perfectly good in every way you’d imagine, and feel free to openly refer to it as Animal Style, because it is. I mean, if it ain’t broke…

Inside the Bistro Burger

The other Burger 6th St. offers is the “Bistro Burger” featuring a collective group of components that I have yet to nick-name, but much like Father’s Office and King’s Row, this burger comes dressed in Port Salut cheese (like a higher fat muenster- melty and mild), Worcestershire onion compote, arugula, and aioli. For my taste, this was a clear winner of the two, but in that the burger is constructed in the image of the King’s Burger at King’s Row (my favorite in LA), The Bistro Burger wearing the 6th St. Tavern burger crown comes as no surprise. The strength of the flavor of the onions and the excellent seasoning of the meat made this one the standout, bite after bite. And did I mention they have duck fat fries? The have duck fat fries.

Duck Fat Fries(!!!)

So the steady revelation continues. A talented few have thus far determined two failsafe means of assembling a burger, and intelligent burger peddlers are following suit. The good folks at 6th St. are doing at least as good a job as any one else in the same lane. If you’re looking for something amazingly unique or culinarily challenging you may want to look elsewhere, but if you’re in the market for superb quality pub food, be sure to add 6th St. Tavern to your list. As if the eats weren’t enough, the beer and whiskey selections are stellar too. Definite hoodburger green light.

-Geoff Sawyer

Classic Burger Guts

The Bistro Burger