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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

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Grill em Art

Grill Em Art

If you build it, they will come. Sometimes the universe rewards crazy. In the case of one 1989 triumph of cinema starring a dreamboat-era Kevin Costner, he was crazy enough to build a baseball field on his farm land on the hope that the spirits of dead baseball stars would come a-running. Though the parallel might be a stretch, the boys of Grill ‘em All were crazy enough to think that they could build a restaurant in Alhambra that featured a far more comprehensive menu than what they serve on their truck (a menu that was already populated solely by crazy-ass burger concepts) and that people would flock to it. Well, fictitious late 80’s farm-boy stud and former Cleveland based heavy metal/burger gods collectively rejoice, because in both cases, they were right.

We’ve talked about Grill ‘em All before, not only in the context of their truck, but because they do a kitchen takeover day on Oinkster’s burger week, year after year. Everything they make is always not only head-scratchingly clever, but consistently delicious. The menu at the first brick and mortar location, located in the same quaint shopping center as Alhambra’s Edward’s Renaissance Imax theater, is made up of the truck menu’s greatest hits, a few retired specials that previously debuted at the truck, and a handful of gems that you can only get in the restaurant (I made it a point to try things only available at this location). You can probably guess that from here I’m simply going to gush about how good their burgers are, and you’re right, but what you might not know is that they have other foods that are also better than any other version that exists on this earth, namely chicken wings.

Duck fat chicken wings            At my insistence, Executive Chef Kenny Smith talked me through how these are made, after the first one I ate fell, literally fell, completely off the bone like a short rib that had been braised for 3 months. The wings are totally submerged in duck fat, and roasted at low temp. for 4 hours. They are then thrown in the fryer for just a few minutes to add color and crispness, and finally doused in a small lake of sweet, sweet chipotle sauce. House made blue cheese finishes them off, and if you’re a wing fan, don’t even waste time reading the rest of this- just go there right now. These dudes have changed the game. I never realized to what extent wings don’t like to come apart, until I found the ones that can’t stay together. I will never, NEVER go to this restaurant without ordering wings.

Trouble            Given that there were so many gorgeous things from which to choose on the menu, and being that I am an aspiring fat person, I got 2 perfectly seasoned burgers, each ½ lb 80/20 ground chuck lead out of the grinder and sliced so all the threads of beef run vertically (just like they do at Playground). The first, dubbed “Trouble” is a special of the month, so waste no time getting in there and eating this masterpiece- you’ve only got a couple weeks. It came adorned with Chicago style Italian thin sliced roast beef, grilled sweet Italian peppers, house made giardinera, and the most stunning jus imaginable. It’s a meaty, salty, warm drippy mess and it is pure joy. The locally sourced bun (from Wheatland bakery) gets soaked with the jus but the flavor is so luscious you will not care if even notice, and the giardinera provides the perfect amount of crunch, tartness and spice. I really hope they decide to make this one available until forever.

The Exciter            Burger number 2 was the “Exciter,” a full-time offering that tastes like everything you love about thanksgiving in a single burger bite. This one wore duck con fit, frise, arugula, truffled herby goat cheese and cranberry gastrique. The duck had the look and texture of perfectly smoked Carolina style pulled pork, but with the mild gamey richness of duck meat. The goat cheese was strong with rosemary, which when accenting the duck and complimented by the cranberry was truly so reminiscent of a traditional thanksgiving flavor palate it should easily be the meal of choice given an out of season craving for turkey and family drama. Saddled up next to an order of “high on fries” which are french-fries buried under buffalo chicken and blue cheese, the possibility of happily dying right then and there crossed my mind innumerable times.

High on Fries

Still got room to spare? Well you’re gross, but fret not, Grill ‘em All also has dessert. There is only one choice currently, but don’t be saddened by your lack of options, because if they had other choices and you ordered one of those instead of the deep fried rum/apple bread pudding with maple bacon glaze (I know. Just saying that feels like sex), then you’d have really screwed up. Bread pudding is never a thing that I feel like my life is missing. Or it wasn’t until I had this. So rich, so sweet. Every flavor present, none over powering. The bacon adds salt but is hardly recognizable as meat unless you get a big piece. The apple chunks are many but still feel like prizes. Perfect texture, perfect…everything. Perfect.

Bread pudding            At 3:30p.m. on a Sunday afternoon (a decidedly non-meal time in any western diet), I sat shoveling very modestly presented and priced gourmet food into my eager face, in a PACKED dinning room filled with unanimous agreement that Grill ‘em All is doing everything right. Each vegetable in the giardinera on the burger of the month is cooked and pickled individually, but you would never know that unless you cornered one of the busy cooks and asked them. Do you know what a pain in the ass that is, for what essentially serves as a condiment? Those chicken wings are slow roasted in duck fat for hours, but you can’t find that written anywhere either. The point is not to brag, it is to deliver a quality product, and these fellas do it impeccably. You built it, and they came. I recommend doing the same thing 1,000 more times all over the world, because they will keep coming.

-Geoff Sawyer

Notice how all the threads run vertically.

Notice how all the threads run vertically.

Trouble guts

A band or two...

Inside

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

The Playground Burger

This week’s burger comes from the bustling metropolis of Santa Ana, which, as the less geographically challenged of you have probably already noted, is not Los Angeles. Is hoodburger taking over all of Southern California you ask? Absolutely! To eventually be followed by the rest of the universe of course. Thanks to a reader submission, this week I went to a little spot I had never before heard of called Playground deep in the guts of Orange County. The one thing I hope to bestow upon you by way of my following words is this: Playground don’t play.

This is not a burger joint by any means. As a matter of fact, there isn’t even a burger on the menu- you have to ask for it (not unlike Café Stella). Rather, playground has an eclectic variety of high quality single plates inspired by cuisine from all corners of the Earth, and upon being seated you are given a letter from the chef to you explaining why you should love them. The letter is perhaps unnecessary, but the food is not cheap and they don’t take special requests, so perhaps it usurps some of the “yeah but I hate shallots and if I’m gonna pay twenty four dollars for a…” that I’m sure they get, and for these guys’ sake I hope it does. It is extremely unlikely that you are qualified to tell them how a dish should be constructed, and after having eaten there once all I would have to say to them is “teach me.”

Fried Cauliflower

My meal began with fried cauliflower (with pickled onion, aji panca oil [I think], cashew puree and candied lime), and what a way to start. The pepper oil provides the slightest amount of spice, the cashew brought cream and smoothness, while the pickles and lime were very tart- the lime seemed dried but minimally sweetened if at all, and the cauliflower was fried hot enough to give it great flavor and color but still keep a bit of firmness. Excellent. Next up was a pork belly steam bun because I just can’t seem to go anywhere that serves these without eating one. No big surprises aside from a tartness to the bun (I think they steam with vinegar in the mix) but the pork belly was perfectly cooked, and who doesn’t like radish and guacamole? The stage was well set for the main event.

Pork Belly Steam Bun

Playground’s secret burger is an attempt at simplicity that is wildly successful without exactly achieving the stated goal. As the chef to whom I spoke put it, and I couldn’t agree more, it’s all about the meat. Steak trimmings are double ground to make their burgers, and on the second pass, rather than drop it in a bowl and hand press patties, these guys lead it from the grinder in a whole 5in. diameter meat wand that they ever so gently lay on plastic wrap, roll up, and slice, so that the patty’s texture is as delicate as physically possible, because all of the threads of ground beef run parallel and vertically. Then they season it perfectly, and drop it on a la plancha that is probably in the neighborhood of 70,000 degrees. The crust and char on the outside made this burger taste like none other I have ever eaten. Ever. I could easily and happily have eaten the patty by itself. Fortunately for everyone who orders one however, you also get: a house made bun (phenomenally moist) that is slathered with Playground’s 50/50 aioli/parmeasan spread on both sides and GRILLED, leaving you with the experience of eating browned butter that’s crunchy. It’s topped with maple-bourbon onion compote, fontina and Gruyere cheeses, ribboned iceberg lettuce, and a very liberal application of yellow mustard (about which I was as skeptical as you are right now but I assure you it was perfect). I’m going to go ahead and call this burger a work of art.

Note the browned parmesan aioli just under the top of the bun. Mmmm...

Note the browned parmesan aioli just under the top of the bun. Mmmm…

My sincerest thanks to our Instagram (@hoodburger) followers for bringing me to yet another positively stellar meal. Despite having only eaten at Playground once, my guess is that I fully cosign this place; not just the one item that has not even earned menu real estate. Playground’s burger might not be for the culinary novice, as it’s served a la carte, is $14, and at a glance is confusingly constructed- the dichotomy of involved process and a couple incredibly plain toppings seems an odd choice, until you taste it. However, if you eat burgers because the flavor of skillfully handled ground beef is near to your heart, I beg you, do not skip this one. I can’t wait to eat it again.

-Geoff Sawyer

The letter

Menu

The Bell Beefer

What a week. The Oinkster has delivered again on it’s 3rd annual promise to bring the good people of Los Angeles seven consecutive days of awe inspiring burgers, be they homages to long-time staples, or original creations. The turnout of loyal burgerlords put last year’s attendance to shame, with some customers waiting 2 hours to place their order multiple nights in a row. 235 people successfully completed the challenge, meaning ate every burger on the week’s menu, one day at a time; myself included (duh). Though there were no real lowlights, there were a couple burgers at the head of the pack and one in particular was a clear favorite for me.

The Oink-o-Nator

Monday kicked off with the Oink-O-Nator, a shout to Wendy’s Baconator: 2 patties, cheddar, ketchup, mayo and a ton of bacon on a Kaiser roll. As is always the case when Oinkster does a tribute burger, the quality of the ingredients blew the doors off the original. That being said, there wasn’t much to this one- just simple and heavy. I was glad to get the meatiest task out of the way early. Tuesday was a Bob’s Big Boy recreation, and while like the previous day this burger did not boast frills, they nailed it, and blew the original away. Batting 1000 so far.

big boy

Burger Lord of the Rings

Day 3 was the Burgerlord of the rings, an original creation named after the theme of its toppings. Served on a bagel, this burger had grilled onions, a panko breaded fried pineapple ring, truffle Gorgonzola cream cheese, arugula, and chipotle bacon ketchup. Wild indeed, but in the bites heavy with bleu cheese, the sweetness of that pineapple was delightfully subdued and your 4-second flavor journey commences. My burger could have used more of that cream cheese overall, so my sincere hope is that this one will reappear as a burger of the month in the future giving me many more chances to decide just how highly it ranks on my love meter.

Weedeater (Grill Em All)

McRibster            The Grill Em All takeover day was predictably excellent, just as it was last year. Pulled pork, Jalapeno bacon, and Funyuns topped their burger, because they obviously know how to get baked and think of awesome shit. Day 7’s McRibster was great too, and again no surprise. From now on a half rack of de-boned baby back ribs is the only acceptable filler for a “rib” sandwich. The Bell Beefer was a bit more special, and required much higher levels of ingenuity. Taco Bell doesn’t make burgers, so there was some room for translation on this one. Oinkster’s solution was a Dorito crusted patty (I think they fried it), shredded cheese, lettuce and tomatoes, ranch dressing, and Tapatio. Why or how those things add up to taste exactly like a Taco Bell taco, I cannot speak to, but rest assured, they do. While it wouldn’t be the first burger I’d order from the week’s lineup, the Bell Beefer was perhaps the most impressive offering of the week (photo at the top of the page).

If you followed this blog last year when we covered burger week, you may recall my face melting off at the taste of the single original creation on the week’s menu, the adobo burger. Much to my dismay, the exact same thing happened this year, and the burger to leave burger week 2013 with the crown is none other than the menu’s misfit: The Thrilla from Manila. A lumpia style patty made from ground pork, shrimp and mushroom is wrapped and deep fried, then topped with pork belly, papaya relish, sweet Thai sauce on Pan de Sal. It was the least impressive looking, and the least photogenic burger all week, but with every bite I sat in stunned silence as to how so much flavor could possibly fit into so little space. Perhaps the fact that my palate is far less developed when it comes to Filipino flavors than more traditional American burger dressings makes me more susceptible to the elation experienced every time chef Andre Guerrero (owner) reaches into his motherland’s bag of culinary tricks, but I couldn’t care less. Each of the two times that he has made a burger that challenges what I think a burger is/should be, my world has forever changed. Let’s keep our fingers even more tightly crossed that this one shows up for a month in the near future, because anyone who missed it deserves a second chance.

The unassuming holy grail of burger week.

The unassuming holy grail of burger week.

Having survived another burger week challenge and lived to wear the shirt, I tip my hat yet again to the boys of Oinkster. I saw first hand this week that their following is a cult. The genuine joy and camaraderie present in that 90 minute line to order a hamburger is rarely seen ANYWHERE, much less a scenario that sounds awful if you don’t know it to be otherwise. If you were there, you get it. Oinkster is building a brotherhood- visible in the twinkle of every glance exchanged between a proud “burger week survivor” T-shirt wearer and each passing person who knows what that means. To quote a completely insane but surprisingly eloquent lady who cornered me on the way to my car on day 3: “Everybody loves something. For the lucky ones, it’s food.”

-Geoff Sawyer

Burger Week 2013 Line Up

One year ago today, Hoodburger was born. On the commencement of The Oinkster’s 2nd annual burger week, Molly and I began our quest by covering the week’s wild happenings at one of my very favorite neighborhood restaurants. We’ve since gone on to eat at over 50 more of Los Angeles’s finest (and a few not so fine) burger joints so that we can tell you the tales. Look for a soon-to-come highlight reel of our year in burgers, as it has been a great one.

This week however is not really about us, it is about burgers, and it is about Oinkster. They have concocted another stellar line-up of fast food homages and original creations this year, each of which has my interest piqued and appetite in hulk-mode. Unlike last year, there will not be a daily review of the previous day’s burger because it seems mean to rub in your faces that which you can no longer have each and every day. I will however be there every night affirming my title of burgerlord (peep this tumblr if you don’t already know about it) and talking amazing burgers with any and all of you whilst the bread breaks. Come say hi.

-Geoff Sawyer

The Cash Burger

If you find yourself to be among those individuals who have never wandered into a beach adjacent liquor store and ordered a mind bogglingly delicious Korean-fusion western bacon cheeseburger that you were made to eat in the parking lot (don’t be shy, I was among you until very recently), you do not have to remain in this group any longer, should you desire to make the change. All you have to do is head to Redondo Beach, to The Standing Room; perhaps the most aptly named restaurant of all time.

Outside

Korean Fusion food is my jam. If you happen to not remember my espousing my very real man-crush on Kogi Godfather Roy Choi, allow me to share with you the fact that my next culinary goal is to build my own menu of Korean inspired Soul Food dishes, just to have in my catalog when entertaining guests at home. Korean BBQ is my favorite restaurant genre of all time. So when I showed up at The Standing Room without knowing that Korean flavors in the contexts of burgers and sandwiches was their shtick, you can imagine my stokedness upon this discovery.  Unfortunately I went alone, so I did not get a chance to taste more than one burger (they all have 8oz patties, I just couldn’t do two), but the one I got made me totally sure that I will return.

Design palate

As The Standing Room, like many others, does not have a signature burger, I just asked what their top sellers are and chose what sounded the most interesting. The “Cash” according to the menu comes dressed in: bacon, hoisin BBQ, shishito peppers, crispy pepper onion, and cheddar- and is their version of the bacon western cheeseburger. Now I didn’t grab a to-go menu, and my phone ate my notes, but I swear mine also had American cheese and “Korean aioli” which looked and tasted like Siracha mayo but it wasn’t spicy at all somehow. Rich and messy, in 2 words, but boy was it great. The patty was pretty well seasoned but that got a little lost under the salt of the bacon and that gigantic magical onion ring. I would bet good money that the batter they make those onion rings out of starts with chili cheese Fritos in a food processor. If not, that is EXACTLY what they taste like, and in the best possible way. The bacon was chunks rather than strips, held in place by lots of melted cheddar and American. The shishitos were hardly cooked at all and maintained a freshness and texture that really stood out. Non-spicy Siracha aioli can go on everything I ever eat as soon as someone besides these guys figures out how to make it, and that sweet hoisin BBQ sauce very well may be my new favorite condiment.  Pretty much the only catch is- it’s a liquor store, and you eat in the parking lot- so there is nowhere to wash those sticky fingers once you’re all done.

Cash open face

Redondo Beach is virtually uncharted territory to me other than my most recent burger adventure, which would have never happened had I not stumbled across a gorgeous photo of the Standing Room’s wares while perusing for burger porn on Instagram. (Follow us if you don’t, by the way). I wouldn’t make much of an ambassador to the area, but I can say with much confidence, if you need to grab a bottle of liquor and lunch, there is only one place you should be considering.

-Geoff Sawyer

Pickup window

The whole place Welcome