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Double Double

March to the beat of your own drum. Generally, we talk about fancy-pants burgers, which makes sense because that’s what we like. There have and will continue to be exceptions to that rule not only because we see you burger-traditionalists, and we respect you, but also because not all delicious burgers need come topped with 27 syllables worth of cheese and exotic vegetation. Over the course of our handful of hat-tips to the simpler burgers out there we’ve even come to coin the phrase “California Style” which, if your memory fails is, lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, and Thousand-Island dressing. What we have managed to NOT do (until now anyway) is pay homage to the creator of that style. To give credit to the establishment who re-wrote the fast food bible that WackDonald’s imposed upon the world. To shout out the institution that is a culinary pillar of Southern California, and whose quality and consistency will keep them adorned in that accolade. Today friends, we are going to In ‘N Out.

Animal Fries

Animal Fries

This is a burger blog about Southern California’s offerings, and if you’re reading this (you are), you probably live in Southern California and you probably like burgers. If both of those things are true, I’d bet the farm that you don’t need me to tell you about In ‘N Out’s food. So, I won’t. It’s great. You know that. Sometimes I crave their food in a way that can only be cured by their food. You probably do too. In very few contexts, processed-pasteurized-American-cheese-food-product is pure joy and the greatest of those contexts is known as “Animal Fries.” None of this is news to you. However, you may not be rich with fun facts about the company that has become a staple to residents and a to-do list top-liner for everyone who visits Southern California. Let’s change that.

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If you haven’t read Fast Food Nation, you should; though it will probably have you questioning (and rightfully so) not only what you eat but also just how shameful you should feel about it. Though the whole book is informative,  the very beginning describes Southern California as the Fertile Crescent of hamburgers and how that came to pass, which, if you’re like me (fat), is simply fascinating. Ray Crock, the industrious entrepreneur who took McDonald’s from one popular restaurant to a National force, created a blueprint that nearly all other fast food chains modeled their businesses after: Prime convenient locations and plenty of them, profitability through extremely low costs of both food and labor, market saturation, and a franchise business structure. In N’ Out’s philosophy agrees with exactly zero of those things. They only have approximately 300 retail locations despite nearly 70 years in operation, are entirely privately owned by the family that started the business and have offered no franchises, take excellent care of their employees both financially and in terms of available benefits, and have higher food costs so as not to compromise the company’s quality standards. If that wasn’t enough differentiation, the diversity of the menu is nil (there are basically a total of 4 things: burgers, fries, shakes, sodas, though one has a couple of style options per category), every store looks identical, and the pro-Jesus culture is subtle but visible on the bottom of every cup. So according to the fast food model followed by most of their competitors, In ‘N Out does everything wrong. Somehow that doesn’t equate to failure. I implore anyone to find an uncrowded location at mealtime.
In ‘N Out is another solid example of “if you build it, they will come.” Uncompromising standards yield consistent quality, and that makes for consistently happy customers, who are loyal. This chain’s contribution to SoCal’s burger Mesopotamia is an important one, and one that I suspect will continue to enjoy slow and steady growth at whatever pace it chooses, as has been the case thus far. If it ain’t broke…
– Geoff Sawyer

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Number 1 at 25 Degrees            Have you ever been introduced to someone with whom you have shared a social circle for years, but managed to never encounter? You’ll be at some engagement speaking to a friend, this new person comes up, you introduce yourselves, and your mutual friend says something like “Wait, how can you two possibly not know each other?!?” You spend the remainder of the evening discovering that you have quite a lot in common, and in short order are friends as if you had been all along. Though some variation of this story has happened to me many times, only recently has it happened with a restaurant.

25 Degrees, found in the heart of Hollywood’s touristy shit-storm, is my new friend who I can’t believe I only just met. Located on Hollywood Blvd. between La Brea and Highland, 25 Degrees shares a building with the famed Roosevelt Hotel and is quite the oasis of quality in an otherwise overwhelmingly underwhelming pocket of Los Angeles. No more than a block away you can find struggling actors dressed as your favorite character from Pirates of the Caribbean shaming themselves for a shot at your one dollar bill, and right across the street is Madame Tussauds; where you can have your photo taken with life-sized wax statues of famous people (if you happen to think that that sounds more like fun than like creepy). Foot traffic is always heavy in this area, and made worse by the wealth of pedestrians pausing every 4 feet to capture images of the experience in that ‘they just don’t have stuff like this in South Dakota!!’ Perhaps it is no surprise that 25 Degrees and I managed to miss each other until now, because I clearly hate her neighborhood. The food however, has got me wanting to be besties.

Onion Rings 25 Degrees            Though they have a solid assortment of sandwiches, salads and sides, (in addition to a full breakfast menu during the hours that it would make sense to make such offerings) the burger is clearly the featured food media here. You can build your own via the broad but not off-putting list of toppings, cheeses and sauces, or you can go with any of their four pre-constructed formulas. I chose the Number 1, as I always go with the flagship/specialty/namesake of any place the first time I eat there. The Number 1 is: caramelized onion, crescenza, prelibato gorgonzola, bacon, arugula, thousand island. This tops a 6+ oz. beef patty, and comes on the best version of the pseudo-brioche I have ever had. There are no surprises, but the sum of the parts was just delightful. The gorgonzola was applied very sparingly so the strong flavor was quite subtle in context. Crescenza, a cheese of which, prior to this burger I was completely unaware, is mild and melty; as if mozzarella had twice the fat content but the same flavor. The bun is like many other places’ (The Park, Slater’s 50/50, Salt’s Cure, etc.) but unlike any of the others the inside was soft, flakey and malleable in exactly the right way. The patty was cooked a little more than the medium rare that I ordered but was still very flavorful and appropriately seasoned. French fries and onion rings (you can get half and half) accompanied this burger, and were as good as you can get anywhere. Having to pay an extra $2 for the sauce flight is a minor bummer, but on the upside they make all their condiments in house, and they were excellent. I’m a real sucker for house-made Ranch. Still not sold? They have a full bar and are open 24 hours. So next time you’re contemplating a post- Hollywood clubbin’ 4th meal, don’t you dare make that nice Uber dude take you to a drive through.

25 Degrees, let’s be friends. I’ll probably groan about having to come to your house because the area is lame, but I can already tell that every time I visit I’m going to be glad I did and wonder why we don’t spend more time together. I’m so happy we finally met.

-Geoff Sawyer

Number 1 Guts 25 Degrees

Grown ass cream soda 25 degrees

Interior 25 Degrees

Tiny cheeseburger goodness

Tiny cheeseburger goodness

Wedged between Delancey and Mission Cantina on Sunset Blvd is a new sliders joint called Twin Sliders. It is just an orange window.  Outside there are aluminum seating for four people and a lonely umbrella.  Their menu is very simple. They have two kinds of sliders cheeseburger or fried chicken and you can only order them in pairs of twos. (I assume this has something to do with the name.)  Other than that, they have three kinds of fries: plain, cheese, and “dirty” (code for Thousand Island dressing and cheese) and milkshakes. That’s it. But you know what? It’s genius.

Why? Location, location, location. If you’re running to a show at the Palladium or the Fonda up the street and you don’t have time to grab a bite at a nice restaurant, these are your guys. Gone are the days when Arbys was the only dismal option.  Just hop up to the counter and the kids in orange hats will be happy to assist you. Actually they will be more than happy. They were the most attentive burger staff I have ever been served by. I’m assuming that’s due to the fact that they’re stuck in a shoebox all day flipping burgers with only three other people to talk to, but let me tell you, they were incredibly sweet and were very interested in what I was ordering.

Fried Chicken Slider

Fried Chicken Slider

Actually it probably had a lot to do with the fact that I got straight down to business and ordered the Big One. I must confess that even though this is Hoodburger and not Hoodshake, the place piqued my interest only after I heard about the twenty you-got-to-be-kidding-me dollar milkshake. Named “The Big One” this 44oz beast contains fudge brownies, oreos, Captain Crunch cereal, graham crackers, M&M’s, Reese’s peanut butter cups, marshmallows, Cinammon Toast Crunch, butterfingers, cookie dough, and a whole twinkie. That’s right. An entire twinkie just floating in the middle of it like a little golden manatee in a sea of vanilla ice cream.

Now you’re probably thinking, unless there’s $17 floating in it too there is NO WAY a milkshake is worth $20. I felt the same way originally. I had a whole plan snootily total up all of the ingredients and then ask for change, but here’s the thing…it took them forever to make.  It took three teenagers probably around 20 minutes to make the whole thing. That’s a dollar a minute or 33 cents per person. Or if you look at the sheer magnitude of the thing, 44oz of milkshake is not a reasonable quantity by any standards to consume alone, so I divided it up amongst my three buddies. That’s 11oz of milkshake per person or $5 for a milkshake with all of the candy. That seems pretty reasonable.

The Big One

The Big One

 

The sheer magnitude of the Big One

But did it taste good? Uh…no, not really. I mean you can’t really go wrong with ice cream and candy, but with that much stuff, it was more like a game of Name That Ingredient than something enjoyable. There were just too many flavors fighting each other at one time. The result was a peanut butterish, oreo-esque, vanilla milkshake. The other result was the three kids who made it, sticking their heads out the window constantly asking if you liked it. Next time, I think I will go for date shake.

The article is supposed to be about sliders, isn’t it? Sorry. Let’s get down to those. The mini cheese burgers are lovely. They’re just like tiny In And Out burgers complete with special sauce. The fried chicken sliders are dressed up exactly the same although they are marinated in Cajun sauce giving them a slightly spicy kick. The fries were golden and hot and lovely, made even better with a liberal slapping of Thousand Island dressing and gooey American cheese.  Are they unique? No. Are they perfect snack food? Yes, indeed. In fact the main query is why on earth does this place close at 10pm? Why make perfect drunk food and then close before the bars do? It’s insane. They could make a killing if they were open past 2 am. I’m hoping they do, but until then, if you’re running late to a show and need a quick snack, this is the place to drop by.

-Molly Bergen

Dirty Fries vs. Plain

Dirty Fries vs. Plain

Our attentive burger staff

Our attentive burger staff

Street's Cheeseburger

Street’s Cheeseburger

One of the best things about traveling is the food. (Well okay, one of the best things about life is the food.) But there’s an unreachable joy in finding a dumpling stuffed with ingredients you never thought would possibly go together or a type of chicken kebab that has been marinated in a sauce that you can’t identify, but now feel the uncontrollable need to research. Some of the best discoveries don’t come from fancy restaurants, but from tiny street carts. Susan Feniger has built an entire restaurant on this idea. She has stocked her menu with dumplings, noodles, pizzas, and curries from all over the world. The kind of dishes that you can buy on a moonlit night strolling down a boulevard in some far off city after imbibing too much to drink. And yes, they have a burger too.

Well actually, they have two burgers: one proper cheese burger and one vegan spicy black bean burger. One of the really lovely things about this restaurant is that they cater to everyone. Vegan? No problem. Gluten free? That’s fine. Allergic to nuts? Gotcha covered. And in Los Angeles, where there is a huge population of fussy eaters, this is a huge plus. So it’s no surprise that they always have two burgers on the menu. Naturally, we had to try both.

Spicy Black Bean Veggie "Burger"

Spicy Black Bean Veggie “Burger”

The Street cheeseburger is has all the properties of a respectable burger. It’s got an organic beef patty that is cooked to your desired degree of tenderness, white cheddar melted on top, a brioche bun, lettuce, slices of heirloom tomatoes, and yuzu kosho mayonnaise, which gave it a light citrusy flavor. On the side was a sprinkling of homemade pickles that are both sharply sweet and satisfying. It’s a very nice burger, but I was a little disappointed. Perhaps it was unfair of me. Actually, I’m sure it was. But if you have all of the spices on this earth to play with, why would you make your burger so boring? I can only suppose it’s on the menu for people who have been dragged to the restaurant by their friends and aren’t adventurous at all. They see the cheeseburger on the menu and feel safe.

The spicy black bean veggie burger had the opposite problem. To call it a burger in the first place seems a stretch. It had no burger like qualities, which is not to say it wasn’t delicious.  Placed on two slices of toasted sourdough bread the patty was covered in Singapore sauce, topped with mashed avocado and pea shoots. A more accurate description of the “burger” would be the Spicy Black Bean Sandwich. It was quite lovely. The spiciness of the black bean patty was set off quite nicely by the creaminess of the avocado and the tang of the sourdough. The pea shoots as far as I could tell were completely useless. They were not crunchy nor did they taste like much. They just seemed to get stuck in your teeth. The only thing I would add was a bottle of hot sauce to the table, so people could adjust the spice. I could have done with a little more heat.

Kaya Toast

Kaya Toast

For sides, I decided to get curried fries and kaya toast. The kaya toast is pretty much the best thing to happen to toast. Tiny sandwiches of white bread slathered with coconut jam are stacked next to a runny egg drenched in soy sauce. It’s sweet and rich and incredibly messy. Do not miss this, no matter how full you are.

When the fries arrived, I was taken aback. It turns out that when it says curried fries, they were not kidding. It was a curry made out of yucca fries. Niramish coconut curry sauce drenched the little golden fingers of yucca with little picked tomatoes perched on top. It was not a side dish. It was a meal.

Curry Fries

Curry Fries

Despite being stuffed, I unbuttoned my pants and ordered dessert. There are only a handful of desserts that are required eating in my book and Street’s Turkish doughnuts are one of them.  Hot golden globes of fried dough wobble invitingly when they’re brought out, stacked on top of sour cream and rose hip jam. The secret is the combination of the unusual sweetness of the jam, the creamy, cold tang of the sour cream, and the heat of the doughnut. It cannot be beat. Sadly I ate them too fast to take a photo, BUT I did find a recipe for them here.  Lord knows if I could recreate them at home, but I’m game to try.

-Molly Bergen

Well, if you insist.

Well, if you insist.

As I suspect will eventually become a theme and possibly even mantra here at hoodburger, quality need not be complex. I’m not saying that smoked foie gras and exotic crossbred microgreens cannot be skillfully applied to a burger mind you, I’m simply saying that it is possible to really nail it in the quality department without the aid of a gimmick, and this week’s west side super star does just that.

The Golden State Café is not a burger spot, but rather a proper yet informal restaurant, with a full menu of good looking hearty sandwiches, sides, a solid beer selection and even scratch made ice cream from Scoops (which, if you don’t know about you are doing yourself a great disservice). Located just across the street from Canter’s Deli, Golden State enjoys a nice plot right in the middle of the hip drag of South Fairfax. Their burger is but one of many choices available, but I implore you to find any diner in that place eating anything else. Seriously, when you go, have a look around and what the other patrons are eating. In my experience, a pretty dependable 80% of the entire restaurant will be eating cheeseburgers, and with good cause.

As alluded to initially, the burger at Golden State is pretty simple, topped only with apple-wood smoked bacon, white cheddar cheese, arugula, aioli and ketchup. Seems too simple to be amazing right? WRONG. The beauty is in the execution. I have had this burger several times and the bacon is always perfectly crisped, the patty always skillfully seasoned and medium rare, the brioche bun always fresh, moist and sweet. The greens provide a nice complimentary sharpness and are plentiful but never overpowering, while the sweet familiar tang of ketchup functions just as it should on any burger. The proportions of each ingredient to the others is spectacular, as if these burgers are constructed with each component exactly measured to the fraction of a gram.

The difference between a nearly perfect burger and a nearly perfect meal is all about the accompaniment, and The Golden State delivers in this department as well. Their French Fries and sweet potato fries are both delicious though predictably so, and the jalepeno cole slaw is out of this world. Everything about the slaw is so subtle, with the exception of how fresh it is. Either I always get lucky and show up right when the it has just been made, or they make it twice a day everyday, because it always tastes like it was grown let alone prepped only hours before. Not too much mayo, not too much vinegar, sugar or salt, just fresh mild flavors and a little spice from the raw peppers. It almost eats like a salad. I recommend it highly not only because it is a joy to consume, but also because the slaw sticks out as (what at least feels like) a responsible dietary decision among many choices that are less so.

The Golden State is a favorite spot of mine and generally my default for a quick meal if I’m in the neighborhood and I am not alone. Upon eating there recently for the purpose of this review, I showed up at noon right when the doors opened, and watched the place fill up entirely in 15 minutes. Despite the secret being out, the wait is never long and the service always good. Ask questions too- every staff member with whom I have interacted is not only knowledgeable but obviously really into food. So, next time you’re shopping for streetwear, or the prospect of a swarm of adorable 12-year old skater kids whizzing past you at way-too-fast-to-be-on-the-sidewalk speeds sounds appealing, make sure to pop into Golden State for what really is one of the best burgers in Los Angeles. Until further notice this place is definitely on my personal top 5. They have instant iced tea, which to me is a sin, but I have never eaten a bite prepared by the Golden State that I would describe as anything less than scrumptious. They even have a veggie burger that’s not half bad if your date happens to not understand that deep down, all cows truly desire to be eaten.

– Geoff Sawyer

p.s. On this visit they were playing Outkast: “Aquemini” (one of the greatest rap records of all time) from start to finish, further solidifying my opinion that these guys FULLY get it.

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

Walking through the doors of Oaks Gourmet Market, I found it hard to breathe. There was so much stuff. It was as if a foodie pack rat had decided to horde all of his favorite things about Los Angeles in one store. Rows and rows of obscure hot sauces, beer, fancy cheese, organic olive oil, fonuts (gluten free donuts), ice cream bars from Milk, homemade smoothies, a giant steam punk coffee roaster, and walls of wine lined the tiny shop. It was impossible to absorb all at once. I had to sit down for a minute and tried to figure out where the hell I was supposed to order a burger.

Fortunately a blonde lady at the middle register took pity on me and handed me a menu. It all looked lovely. It’s easy to see why this market inspires such devotion. Nestled between UCB and Gelson’s on Franklin it is open every day until midnight. Need a round of pink Himalayan sea salt at 11pm on a Sunday? No problem. Need a Zuberfizz cream soda at 10am? No sweat. And they build baskets for the Hollywood bowl.  Need them to deliver? Sure thing.  It’s hands down the fanciest convenience mart I’ve ever been to.

Their burger is a special point of pride, although there is scarcely space to eat it. One metal table wedged between the display cases of mojito mix makes for very close quarters.  There are a few tiny tables outside, but even there eavesdropping isn’t a possibility- it’s as inevitable as is viciously fighting for elbow space. So pray that you’re not stuck next to people sorting out their relationship problems, or worse, their acting reels.

The burger itself is relatively simple.  It’s got Black Forest bacon, tomatoes, Taleggio cheese, arugula, red onions, and a grilled brioche bun, but what makes it special is the jalapeno-pineapple compote. Not enough people pay attention to the sauce on a burger. It truly can make or break a sandwich. Just ketchup or mustard is fine if you’re playing it safe, but to make something really stand out, pay attention to the sauce. This softball sized, two-handed affair meant there was no chance of a side dish for me. All my concentration had to be focused on not dropping the deliciously greasy thing all over my (ill-advised) white shirt.  Next time I’m standing in line for UCB I will definitely grab this burger (and a bib) for sidewalk munching.

– Molly Bergen