Photo by Eli G.

Photo by Eli G.

What happens when a super fancy chef decides he wants to open a little diner? Super fancy burgers, of course. Would he stock just any beef burgers? No, they would be wagyu burgers, of course. Chef Bruce Marder of Capo fame opened up a tiny café on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica right across the street from some enormous hotels.  I wandered inside one rainy day and was immediately charmed by its black and white tiled floors, wooden furniture, and the speakers which pumped out hits from Buddy Holly and Otis Redding. It’s exactly the kind of vibe you would want from a diner. Crowded, warm, and unpretentious.

Usually it’s incredibly crowded, but I lucked out and grabbed a table right away.  The menu was speckled with fancy ingredients in an otherwise traditional diner menu. Their bagels come with a side of burrata cream cheese. Their vegetable omelet has artichokes and tarragon. Instead of a tuna melt they have a fresh albacore tuna panino.  And of course, their burger is a wagyu “kobe” burger.

Photo by Brian S.

Photo by Brian S.

Now honestly I couldn’t give a damn whether my beef was wagyu or kobe or whatever. I don’t care if the cow was massaged during its life or not. I don’t care if it was born in Japan or Omaha. What I do care about is how it was raised, how it was fed, and whether it was killed humanely, but they never put those details on a menu, now do they? Occasionally they’ll put grass-fed (which is good in my book. It means the cow may have seen the sun.) And organic is always a plus although if you put a gun to my head and asked me what passes as organic meat these days, I would not be able to tell you.  I can only give you a list that I found on the Whole Foods website. 1. Must be raised organically on certified organic pastures. 2. Must be fed certified organic feed for their entire lives. 3. No drugs, antibiotics or growth hormones are allowed. 4. Must have year-round outdoor access. Those all seem like good things.

But you’re not interested in my feelings about organic meat. You want to know how this fancy burger actually was.  On top of a fresh bun with butter lettuce, slices of red tomato, red onion, and melted gooey cheddar cheese, it was very good. Well-seasoned and full of herbs the meaty patty stood out on its own against the traditional array of flavors. Here’s the thing, though. It was fourteen bucks. Fifteen dollars with the cheese, which wouldn’t have bothered me too much if they sides had not been so very dreadful. It came with a lump of the worst potato salad I’ve ever had. It tasted vaguely like sardines with just a hint of gasoline.  And the complimentary pickle was a cucumber with pretensions of grandeur. I don’t believe it had even touched brine. I think they just chopped up a cucumber, dunked it in water, and called it a day.

At that price point, I expect better. I expect my sides to be made with love and at least tried before they’re sent out. A decent side of fries, is that too much to ask? Otherwise, I’d just as soon go to the Hole in The Wall and spend ten bucks on a gorgeous gourmet burger in a paper bag.

 

Photo by Joan S.

Photo by Joan S.

Big Homie

Lions and tigers and burgers. OH MY. A reactionary phrase, generally reserved for encounters with intimidating stuff, be the subject predatory jungle cats, or just… big things. With regards to the latter, probably no restaurant has ever been more appropriately named than Oh My Burger. They most certainly make big things, including but not limited to their signature burger, known as the Big Homie.

Oh My Burger is located on Van Ness and El Segundo in Gardena in a modest stand-alone structure that is half kitchen, and which cozily seats about 16 people. Golden era west coast rap blasted through stereo (Tupac when we arrived, and Ice Cube as we walked out), which is definitely not lost on me. The interior is modest as well; this is much more of a neighborhood hearty lunch joint than any type of fancy restaurant, but the aspiration towards high design is evident though not at all yet realized. I’ve never been more sure than I was today: where hood meets bougie aspirational, I feel at home.

Oh My Burger comboSo the place is not fancy, but they have cool chairs, they play excellent music, and have incredible customer service. The only thing left to discuss is the food, and whether or not you are physically capable of internalizing as much as they give you. Oh My Burger does not half step when it comes to portions (also not lost on me) and as I said, they have earned their name. The Big Homie is a double cheese burger boasting two 1/3lb ground beef patties, bacon, cheddar cheese, grilled onion, pickle, lettuce, tomato, and their special sauce, which tasted like 1000 island with mustard where the ketchup should be, all on a toasted onion roll (Why they hell does nobody serve onion rolls? I totally forgot how awesome they are!). You order it and pick it up at the counter, and when you have your first look at this tower of food you just signed up to eat, well over half a foot tall, guess what you say? Oh. My. But then you go for it. Intimidation factor aside, this burger is void of gimmick. It’s simply good. There are no surprises, but each topping compliments the others just as they should and all work together to be a perfect bacon cheeseburger. You have to give it a dedicated smush before attempting to fit it in your mouth, but otherwise it wasn’t difficult to eat either. No substantial mess. Just eventual food coma. If you opt for a combo for another $2.50, the OMB fries come crusted with garlic seasoning and shaved parmesan, and the fried pickles (don’t you dare go there without ordering fried pickles) are the best I’ve had since being on the west coast. They not only came with ranch dressing (FINALLY someone knows how to serve fried pickles) but it was house-made ranch at that. A single diner is out the door for $12 too, which is half of what we end up spending at most of the gastropubs who don’t dare claim to evoke Oh My’s namesake reaction.

Big Homie guts

If I could fathom a complaint about this place it would be that they empowered me to run right through a 2,000-calorie meal without hesitation. I’m kidding of course, but truthfully, if you aren’t the type to eat 2lbs of food in a sitting, you may want to split your Big Homie with a homie, at which point the value for dollars spent is virtually unbeatable. Your only other options at that price are value menu trash chunks, and if you’re the type to enjoy a Mcpigbarf combo over quality independently produced food, then you’ve got too much to learn for me to teach you. Gardena has a crowned king of working man’s burgers, and you can find it at Oh My. Be prepared to say those words too, because it’s big, homie.

– Geoff Sawyer

Fried pickles

OMB Fries

GIANT Jolly Rancher juice pops :)

GIANT Jolly Rancher juice pops 🙂

VIP options.

VIP options.

Muddy Leek's slider

Muddy Leek’s slider

This is a story of moderation. Let’s be clear. Moderation in burgers is usually a very bad thing. Our waistlines might demand a turkey burger with no mayo, but by God, our hearts want the biggest, baddest, cheesiest behemoth that money can buy. Preferably with bacon. Right? Right. Which is why, when sliders are on the menu, I usually pass. Two or three dinky little burgers? No way, man. I want something I can barely hold in my hands that threatens to slip away from my greasy fingers with every bite.  But there are exceptions. One of these exceptions resides at Muddy Leek.

On the part of Washington Blvd in Culver City which is festooned with galleries and artsy coffee shops, you know, the hip part, is a very nondescript sign that reads Muddy Leek. Do not be fooled by its appearance. This place is CLASSY.  Their turkey club sandwich has fried shallots and apple butter on it. Their shrimp and grits has black kale in it. Every meal is served with fresh bread and sea salted butter. Their mustard is seedy and French. So when I found out they had sliders, naturally I had to investigate.

It's all in the sea salt.

It’s all in the sea salt.

Now on paper, the deal sounds terrible.  For fourteen dollars, you get two sliders.  That’s right, just two. Preposterous, right? Highway robbery! Who cares if they’re made of wagyu beef on homemade brioche buns with wasabi aioli and green onions? That is insane. And it would be too if it weren’t for just one tiny little detail. The soup. With your order of sliders you get a bowl of freshly made, piping hot, extremely delicious soup and a side of their freshly made bread. I chose the lentil with fried leeks on top. It was insanely tasty.  I could almost feel my mother giggling from far away. A burger place that made me eat my vegetables first and enjoy it? This was definitely a first.

By the time the sliders arrived with only four (!) sweet potato fries, I was pretty full. The spicy aioli was salty and greasy and everything those darling little patties needed to embellish their meaty flavor. The brioche added some sweetness and the greens gave it a little crunch. Would I have preferred that they had cheese? Of course. Would I rather they had bacon? You betcha. Do I feel like a responsible adult for eating moderately by accident? Sigh, yes, yes I do.

Lentil soup with fried leeks

Lentil soup with fried leeks

The kicker was a dark chocolate truffle in a champagne glass with the bill. You don’t get classier or more moderate than that. Would I preferred a box of truffles to gorge myself on? Naturally, but Muddy Leek is there to keep your wild urges in check. They’re very clever that way.  So if you want an indulgent lunch, but don’t want to regret it later, I highly recommend these sliders. They give you just enough, so you feel satisfied, but no more than that. They are the kings of balance.

Deceptively dinky.

Deceptively dinky

Delicious!

Delicious!

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.

photo (15)Granted,  not the most inspired name for a restaurant, but I need to confess to you something right off the bat, I love this place. I’ve been eating here ever since I moved to LA in 2008. All of their food is fresh and homemade. I love their soups. I love their salads. I love their pies. I love their sandwiches. Jesus, even their butterscotch pudding is wonderful. (Fans of Mozza’s butterscotch budino take note.)  The staff knows me by name. I get all of our office lunches catered here. I buy people birthday presents like Noble’s bourbon maple syrup or Sqirl jam or some of their homemade candy  from their display cases.  What I’m saying is, Food LA is my boyfriend.

So when I showed up on a rainy Tuesday evening right before they closed, I was nervous. Why? I had never had their burger before. Yeah, that’s right. Never. We’ve been together for almost six years and I’ve never had a burger there. Why? Honestly, I never have had the time. I usually rush in there and rush out without the time to wait for a burger.  Or maybe I was scared.

Photo by Ed K.

Photo by Ed K.

What if it was terrible? What if I then had to report that to the internet? How could I look them in the eye and say something like “You do everything perfectly, except for the burger, my favorite food in the whole world.” It could get awkward. However I started to relax when I was asked whether I wanted my cheese to be cheddar, blue, or Gruyere. All three of those cheese are statement cheeses. You don’t put those on there unless you’re confident in your burger. (In case you’re curious, the most insecure cheese of all is white American cheese. If they put that on your burger, you’re in trouble.  It’s got no taste. What is the point?)

When it arrived, though, I got really excited. On a brioche bun lay a hand crafted 4oz beef patty with gruyere cheese melted on top, sautéed onions, a thick slice of tomato and arugula. Next to it were five golden spicy potatoes covered in aioli.  One bite and I knew, all of my fears were completely unwarranted. The herbs and spices that were lovingly folded into that burger was something that I had only had in someone’s mother’s kitchen. There was no need for sauce or any kind of condiment. The herbs, cheese, and onions were enough to compliment the burger’s juicy flavor. I’m thinking about proposing to this place at New Years. Maybe a June wedding? Maybe August? Who knows. All I know is I’m going to put a ring on it.

 

– Molly Bergen

Barnburger

Apparently, you don’t have to have a cancerous tan, steroid induced bicep bloat, dreadlocks, the ability to juggle, an iguana on a leash, or any of the other numerous stereotypical attributes that I associated with this place, to hang out at Venice Beach. While finding one or many individuals in possession of any of the aforementioned qualities is not a tall order, there are plenty of plain-old, happy, boring folks such as myself, who like a good drink and a good meal. The other thing that I did not know is that Venice is very much a home to both.

Pacific Ave. and its beach front tributaries have a short but densely packed pocket of purveyors of vittles and libations, and if they are all as good or even comparable to my first Venice Beach dining experience, then what a lovely little pocket it is. Barnyard was opened in February of this year by Jesse Barber (the opening chef of Tasting Kitchen) and his wife Celia, and is by no means a burger restaurant, but they do however, like many of their contemporaries (Comme Ca, Rustic Canyon), have a damn good one. The menu is primarily local and seasonally driven, because the chefs who get it, know that the best food is made with those ingredients. Its offerings are rustic and fairly eclectic though not necessarily inspired by a particular culture’s cuisine, and the short list of small plates and mains hits all the necessary marks. They also have a great and affordable wine selection if that’s your bag. It’s certainly mine.

pretty grilled breads barnyard olives

My meal began with grilled breads, a meat plate (soppressata, picante, and wild boar), and warm castelvetrano olives- which were the closest thing to butter that I have ever eaten that was actually not in any way, butter. Who knew, all you have to do is make them hot? Next up was a panzanella salad, with prepared arugula, candied nuts, white raisins and monstrous semi-soft croutons, which, though are this dishes namesake ingredient, were sparse enough that it still felt like a salad. Oh and burrata. A huge, beautiful wad of creamy, mild mozzarella. I enjoyed all of this over the better part of a bottle of Bielsa Garnacha, which is a medium-full bodied Spanish wine not unlike a Tempranillo, and before I knew it I had already been drinking and nibbling for over an hour. Entrance of a time vortex is a pretty sure sign of a solid meal. Time for that burger.

Barnyard’s burger is, in a word, tart. Now don’t go thinking that that adjective is chosen critically, because it is absolutely delightful, but among those restaurants in the same lane in terms of price and quality, they all seem to strive for richness. Fatty grinds, high fat content cheeses, and an assortment of aiolis are standard fare when it comes to the $17 burgers of Los Angeles. Barnyard chose a different path and I salute them. This wonderfully seasoned, medium rare, coarsely and loosely ground patty came adorned with butter lettuce, house made pickles, stone ground mustard, aged sharp cheddar cheese, and a small smear of pickled pepper spread (the pepper type I am not sure but it wasn’t spicy at all), which all add up to one loudly flavorful burger. Buttered and grilled brioche housed all the acidic accoutrements, and in tandem with the richness of the beef was just enough to reign in all those sour elements.

Barnyard burger

A brief recap of things I learned this week: my sense that Venice is lame is just as wrong as my sense that you need fatty/salty things on your burger for it to be delicious. Both biases were undone in one spectacular evening, of which I expect to have many more. Barnyard is a place that you should just go. The burger is stellar but if you don’t get it, that’s fine. This is a great restaurant, period. Take friends, order a bottle of wine, course your meal out and be prepared for time to pass at an alarmingly brisk rate, as it is known to do when you’re having fun.

– Geoff Sawyer

p.s. It was too dark to take a decent photo by the time any of my food came, so if I stole your pics from Yelp, thanks.

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