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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

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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.

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.

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.

I drew a picture of masculinity. Here it is.

Portrait of Masculinity

That’s a lie I didn’t draw it, I stole it off of SuperMachoMao’s flickr page, but the rest is true. That drawing is of Nick Offerman, and he is masculinity personified. When Nick is not making canoes with his hands, or shaving and growing a new mustache every 6 hours as he likes to do, you might find him collaborating with his favorite local restaurant, The Oinkster, on the ultimate mascu-meal: the burger.

American_Ham3

The “American Ham” as curated by Mr. Manliness himself is constructed as follows: 6-oz. ground chuck patty topped with shaved ham, two layers of gruyere cheese, hot sweet mustard, mayo, and house-made bread and butter pickles on a sourdough bun. If a Cuban sandwich bore a child fathered by a monster truck that runs on fireworks, you would have this burger. My bench press max went up 40 lbs after the first bite. All that cheese and warm smokey-sweet ham were meant to be together, and atop a meaty burger the match is truly heavenly. The healthy mound of house-made pickles aren’t terribly sugary and are brined with thin sliced onions, making for a little crunch and tartness that ties it all together. A sourdough bun trumps all other choices because if you don’t like it you’re obviously a vortex of testosterone. It’s a lot of meat. And cheese. And bread. And it’s fucking AWESOME. Awesome like “God Bless America” sang by a chorus of 50 bald eagles with perfect pitch as lead by Bruce Springsteen. It’s heavy and delicious and you’re going to love it because you’re a MAN (or at least you like to eat like one).

American_Ham2

All good things must come to an end and The American Ham is no exception. This triumph of nationalist cuisine is only available for the month of October, so if you hope to ever really be an American, get to Oinkster stat. While the burger itself will not be with us for long, mourn not, the chest hair you grow as a result of eating it will be with you forever. One nation, under this burger. God Bless Nick Offerman.

– Geoff Sawyer

– Photos by #BURGERLORDS

The most American of them all

Gonpachi Burger

Anticipation is an immeasurably powerful tool. The drawn delay of an inevitably terrifying movie moment, the build up to a first kiss, or a day spent mentally revving up for a post-dinner date with one’s favorite dessert, all lead to an eventual experience largely defined by the moments that preceded it. The wanting of the thing in some cases can even be as important as the getting it (if not more so), and when those expectations deliver, the results are spectacular. When they do not, you may have just eaten a burger at Gonpachi.

Well before this blog was launched, a co-worker brought me an unsolicited gift one afternoon, wrapped not so neatly in a small white paper box. “You’re gonna love this” he gleamed. Without the slightest clue what might be inside, I thanked him and promptly tore it open (which is not a very good example of allowing anticipation to work its magic). What I found was a formerly glorious and delightfully unique looking cheeseburger, that appeared to have spent at least the last day in that little box and though obviously well past it’s prime was no less intriguing. A black (the first I had seen) carbon brioche sandwiched a thick beef patty, aged white cheddar, applewood smoked bacon, peppercress, and the sweetest/tartest tomato compote of them all. I still remember it clearly, because I ate the whole luke-warm spent-the-last-4-hours-in-the-front-seat-of-a-truck thing right then and there and was absolutely consumed by the thought of how good this burger would have been had it been constructed recently. Humbled by the surprise present, I asked where it was from so that I may treat us both to a future round of burgers there. “Miyako. It’s a hotel!” was cataloged for future reference.

Gonpachi is actually the name of the restaurant in the Miyako Hotel in Torrance, and for whatever reason I took my sweet time making it back. Absence, for me, does in fact make the heart grow fonder though, so the time passed was not lost but rather spent getting me geared up for my next dance with this burger, one fond memory at a time. The menu described it exactly as I remembered, and my excitement magnified as the moment of reunion quickly approached. Upon ordering, the waiter directed me to a salad bar that is apparently free with any meal, the mediocrity of which came as quite a shock once I actually dug in. Its freeness garnered prompt forgiveness however, because my long awaited burger was soon to be mine.

Gonpachi Burger Plate

Then it came. And it was completely not at all what it was supposed to be. Not even close. I just looked at it. Moved it around. What’s the orange stuff? Wait is that mustard? What is this? The server assured me that this was the only burger they had. The menu still describes the old one, but what they serve now is this thing, which turned out to be a straight up, regular-ass, eighteen-dollar(!!) chili cheeseburger. I will say, the grind, seasoning, and flavor of the beef were impeccable, but the toppings were so confusing. Said delicious patty was dressed with white cheddar, tomato, diced white onion, yellow mustard, and chili that I am fairly certain was just canned Hormel ballpark-style hot dog chili that had been smoothed in a food processor. The (depressingly not black) bun felt like a potato roll but was so thick with the flavor of movie-theater popcorn feaux-butter that onions and chili actually had to compete with it. I moved my shoestring fries and mystery aioli around the large plate and wondered how my life might have been different had I come here a few months earlier.

The worst part is, this was probably one of the best chili cheeseburgers that I have ever had.  Had I gone into Gonpachi with an expectation of what I might actually get, or with no expectations at all, ‘lackluster’ would surely not be my first choice of adjective for the experience. Anticipation got the best of me though, and Gonpachi ultimately did not compare to my imagination.

-Geoff Sawyer

Gonpachi Burger Guts

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