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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

Salts cure open faceMeat. I like it. Given that you’re reading this article, you probably do too. Unbeknownst to me until the day that the first post on this site was created, it does not have to be beef. Any meat at all as long as it’s ground, can be the star of a burger. The single defining characteristic that can take a sandwich to burger status, is the patty of ground meat. Variety of animal options aside, it would stand to reason then, that true burger heads place extreme value on the quality of that particular ingredient in their burgers, and that the same value be placed by those making said burgers. The phrase “all about the meat” has been thrown around a bit here at hoodburger over the course of our journey, and that is because some burger makers (though sadly not all) truly do recognize that the quality of their meat is of the utmost importance. Salt’s Cure, is one of those places.

Restaurants that source as much of their food locally as possible and change their menus according to seasonal availability are rapidly growing in number, which rules. Salt’s Cure finds itself not only among them but progressive among the progressives, in that they often purchase the animals they serve nearly whole and break them down in house. Just read their mission statement:

“We believe in sourcing better products. We buy our animals whole and directly from farmers and ranchers in California. Our seafood is caught in the Pacific Ocean by local fishermen who exercise sustainable practices. Our produce is sourced from farmers’ markets around the Los Angeles-area. Our award-winning wine list is 100% Californian, and produced biodynamically and/or organically by small producers. We carefully select each wine on our list to pair with our food. We make everything ourselves, from the ketchup to the bacon. We find complexity in simplicity, and showcase flavor through simple preparation.”

Salts cure burger Clearly the dedication to quality does not stop at the meat, but at least in the context of their burger, the meat is where it shows the most. Salt’s Cure’s dinner menu changes daily, and is written on a chalkboard- a photo of which is posted to facebook. The burger is rarely seen on it, but usually (though not always) they can make you one and though according to the definition it doesn’t have to be, this burger is most certainly beef. The toppings are not complex: butter or gem lettuce, red onion, mayonnaise, a mild Swiss cheese (tasted like alpine lace), and house cured bacon. As you should have guessed, it’s all about the meat. To my surprise, the bacon was less salty than any I have ever had, which allowed for its natural flavor to shine. It was like a thinly sliced pig steak perched atop a delicious course ground patty of perfectly seasoned beef. They don’t say this about it, but the richness and character of the patty’s flavor were that of dry aged. All of the burger’s modest dressings casually compliment the featured meats despite raw onion and Swiss cheese having power of their own (though to be fair, I did remove about half the onion from my burger). The pseudo-brioche (white bread bun with pretty/shiny outside) on which it is served is also merely a vehicle by which an amazing celebration of meat travels to one’s mouth.

Salts burger cross section Though the burger was fantastic, my meal was not without fault. My co-diner and I both ordered glasses of a totally mediocre tempranillo, and the pound cake we ended on was a bummer. Even still, the approach that these guys take to their position as food-makers makes my heart sing, and their burger is a delectable exercise in the art of ground beef sandwich construction. A hint: it’s all about the meat.

– Geoff Sawyer

ps I keep eating these burgers after dark, so again, if I stole your photos from the internet, thanks.

The Rosewood Burger

The Rosewood Burger

I’m pretty sure this situation happens quite a lot. You find someone who makes the perfect latte or martini or cuts your hair exactly the way you like it, and then one day you walk in to that establishment and they’re gone. Poof! No warning. Just gone. And because you never expressed your admiration for their work, you have no earthly idea where they disappeared to, but you would move heaven and earth just to find them again. You ask your friends if they’ve seen them. You start scouring local similar businesses in hopes that they were hired somewhere near. And if by some lucky chance you find them again, the overwhelming flood of joy reaches down into your finger tips. That rush is what my friend was looking for.

So we sallied forth to see if her bartender was at the Rosewood Tavern. It turns out he wasn’t working that day, but he does work there! Hooray for minor victories. Rosewood Tavern is just down the street from two burger giants Animal and Golden State, so it had never appeared on my radar, but on entering the place, I realized that it should have. With incredibly high wooden ceilings and exposed iron beams, the tavern had the feeling of a Wild West saloon. It was dark and cool on a hot summer’s day and by the liquor menu it was clear that they took their drinking very seriously.  All of the whiskeys were divided up by region and the beer list went on for days.

rosewood3

Their pub menu was equally well thought out. It was typical pub food with gourmet twists.  They had everything from candied bacon to tandoori spiced chicken wings to spicy fried green tomatoes with burrata. Their burgers were no different. The Rosewood Tavern burger had house made Thousand Island dressing with a great kick to it, melted cheddar cheese, onions, lettuce, and tomato on a pretzel bun. It was a very beautiful burger to look at and tasted pretty much the way you would expect it to. The flavors were balanced and the quality of ingredients was good, but it wasn’t anything to write home about.

Their second burger the Seoul Man Burger, was not a glamorous thing to behold.  The bun flopped sadly on the plate and everything seemed to droop. However, one bite and you instantly knew that this ugly duckling was actually a swan. Layered with bulgogi, spicy aioli, and daikon and Napa cabbage kimchi slaw this burger was the perfect fusion of Korean bbq and a hamburger. The crunch tartness of the kimchi was perfectly balanced against the sweetness of the bulgogi, but the flavors didn’t overwhelm the gorgeous flavors of the beef patty. It was absolutely unforgettable. So if you’re on Fairfax and you want to do some hard drinking, but are in the mood for a spicy burger, the Seoul Man has your back.

The Seoul Man Burger

The Seoul Man Burger

Photo by Tony C.

Photo by Tony C.

I’m gonna try and write this, but man oh man friends it’s been a hard week. As we speak there’s a full on manhunt in the city of Boston for a Chechen man who may or may not have set the bombs at the Boston marathon. His brother was shot last night. There were explosives being thrown out of vehicles, a shootout, and their relatives have been on the radio all morning denouncing their nephews.  A cop at MIT was shot and killed.  Young men who had nothing to do with the bombings have been targeted because of irresponsible reporting and Reddit. My cousins are under lockdown in their apartments. All of this has happened in less than 24 hours. It’s a lot to process.  I probably should have written this review last week when my heart was not sick with worry. But I didn’t.  So bear with me.

In Los Angeles, the police have been blowing up every suspicious package in sight. CicLAvia is going forward as planned on Sunday as is Coachella, but everyone is on edge. Seems like a good a time as any to talk about burgers because after this week we ALL need one. (With fries, extra cheese, bacon, and a spiked chocolate malt.)

Last week I headed to Comme Ca, a fancy French brasserie in West Hollywood. I knew this was going to be one of the big ones.  It’s a burger that is named dropped in most of the discussions I have with strangers about my favorite burger. It usually goes like this, “Yes, but have you tried the Comme Ca burger? OH you HAVEN’T?” *purses lips* “I see…” It’s one of those burgers that completely destroys your burger Los Angeles aficionado status when people find out you haven’t had it.

comme ca chalk board

Comme Ca is one of those odd places that are supposed to make you feel at home and fails to do so. They have lovely wooden floors, chalkboard walls with specials written on them, framed French themed sketches on the walls, exceptionally handsome waiters in pressed Ben Sherman checked shirts, low lighting, and white tablecloths. It’s supposed to feel like a bistro in Paris, but ends up feeling overdone. It’s a little too exact. It reminds me of a brand pair of jeans that you put on for the first time. It’s a wonderful color and fits you well, but still smells foreign and is a bit stiff.  It hasn’t formed to your body yet.  That’s how Comme Ca feels, not lived in yet.

The menu had a variety of gorgeous things from house cured salmon gravlax to roasted beef marrow and oxtail jam with toast, but I was there on a mission. Their burger has its own little section on the menu with a cow next to it (in case you were confused about what was in it?) It’s listed as a special blend of certified Angus beef, Vermont cheddar, and pomme frites. When it arrives however, the first thing you’ll notice about it is the giant scoop of coleslaw on top of it. Why it’s not mentioned in the description is beyond me. It’s like describing Charlie Chaplin without mentioning his mustache. It’s right there, people.  It is a wonderful sloppy mess.  The creamy coleslaw has a satisfying crunch that counters the juicy beef patty draped in cheese in the middle. It’s very hard to hold on to.

But is it worth its fame? No. Why? Because it’s eighteen freaking dollars.  That’s right. Eighteen.  A burger that costs that much should throw you into ecstasies.  After consuming such a burger, you should be weeping with joy. It should make you feel that if you keeled over and expired afterwards, you could die happy. The Comme Ca burger is a very good burger, but the price is absolutely unreasonable.  I don’t care how “special” their Angus beef blend is. At the end of the day it’s just a burger.

Comme Ca

 

 

Hype is a powerful thing. As citizens of earth in the present day, we are positively inundated with information, and tend to tune quite a bit of it out. The bits that break through are those that glisten of familiarity; when you hear about something for the sixth time, you google it. This built-in info-filter can be a double-edged sword, because the possibility of a familiar source delivering a mediocre product that people pay attention to while unfamiliar products of higher quality slip past is very real, and unfortunate. (Exhibit A: FM radio). This weeks burger I approached skeptically, due to having heard mixed reviews, and fearing that this very well may be a situation wherein the folks in charge were standing on their names rather than blowing minds with food. I was indeed pleasantly surprised.

Short Order is the joint collaboration of baker/author/restaurateur Nancy Silverton (who owns Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza, which are both positively fantastic restaurants) and the late Amy Pressman, who founded The Old Town Bakery in Pasadena as well as played a vital role in the opening of several other Los Angeles eateries. If you’re up on the LA food scene, you have almost assuredly heard both of these names before. The opening of this restaurant, which is nestled in the corner of the West Hollywood Farmer’s Market on 3rd and Fairfax, got about as much press coverage as the Kennedy assassination. I was tired of hearing about this place months before I ever ate there, and a look at the burger menu revealed a few choices that look fine but certainly do not push any culinary boundaries. So like I said, I figured these two successful chefs had simply picked a popular location, paired it with a popular food, and used their pre-existing local clout to drive traffic. Perhaps that IS what they did, but what is extremely important to note is that they make a damn fine burger.

With the exception of the upstairs bar, which is partially opened, all the dining areas are outside and furnished with rustic-comfort meets modern-design style seating (which appears to have also inspired the restaurant’s decorations, and entire menu). The beer and specialty cocktail lists are small but excellent in their offerings, and the bartender that I spoke with seemed incredibly knowledgeable about the drinks she was serving (you know I’m a total sucker for good service). My meal began by tasting a couple draft beers before settling on a blonde, and feasting on some short order “spuds,” which are chunky cut russet potatoes fried golden and served, in my case, with black truffle aioli (it’s an extra $2.25, but money well spent).

The venue’s namesake dish, the Short Order Burger, seemed an obvious choice for my first time. A course ground but somehow perfectly formed and PERFECTLY seasoned grass fed angus patty came on a brioche bun topped with Morbier cheese, grilled mushrooms, bibb lettuce and “mustardy mayo,” as the menu puts it. Looking at a photo of this burger had me terrified that all I would taste is mustard, because the burger comes absolutely slathered in it and it looks like a sharp tasting stone ground variety. Couldn’t be farther from the truth. The sauce was mild as can be, and helped the total package be delightfully sloppy- pushing the line of unmanageable without ever crossing it. Morbier (possibly my new favorite cheese) melts well, is sharp but mild, and was chewy in a way that really helped the burger’s texture. The mushrooms were seasoned heavily with fresh thyme, which really worked in context. Overall an excellent burger, even for its $12 price tag. I really do wish to know what they use to form the patties though because it looked like a machine had to have been responsible. It was too perfect, and also made me realize as I ate that I despise it when people do not salt a burger as it cooks. This will stand out in my mind as one of the better seasoned patties I’ve eaten since starting this site.

So apparently quality begets hype in this case, and all the talk about short order is warranted. The ladies responsible are certainly recognizable names in the LA food scene, but for once I’m going to hang my jadedness at the door and admit that the reason they get the attention is because they deserve it. The food at Short Order is terrific and I look forward to my next meal there.

-Geoff Sawyer

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.

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.