When the idea for this website was conceived, the intention was to only make glowing reviews about burgers that totally rule, and simply not include the places that I cannot recommend highly. Being that there are so many great burgers to be had in the greater Los Angeles area, excluding the bad and mediocre ones seemed like a sensible protocol. Today is the day I must break that rule.
The newly founded premium offering by the gents who brought you The Habit Burger, Hook Burger (not to be confused with Hood Burger, ever) is nestled in the North East outskirts of Americaland (also known as Pasadena). Just on the other side of a conglomeration of international super-chains brought together by a parking lot large and well lit enough to simultaneously accommodate several professional sporting events as well as be seen from space, perhaps this location was chosen on the hope that once shoppers had had their fill of Bed Bath & Beyond/Dick’s/Ross/Pet Smart/Best Buy/Old Navy/etc./etc./etc. that they would be in need of a hearty snack. Stands to reason. I felt exhausted after just driving by.
Hook Burger’s exterior is clean and well designed, with stained wood and concrete dominating the establishment’s color and texture palate. The inside, looks like the nicest McDonalds you can imagine, complete with leather booths, more stained hardwood tables, walls and visible beams, and a delightfully charming young woman whose primary purpose appeared to be to herd confused first-timers such as myself to the counter where one’s order is placed. The menu is precise rather than lengthy, and the happy helper who saw me to the counter kindly followed along to make sure I knew about their signature burger, which I ordered.
“The Prime Burger” is Hook’s de-facto house burger, a simple no-frills take on the classic food medium we all know and love. A 5oz. Prime ground chuck patty comes dressed in lettuce, tomato, bourbon caramelized onions, and house made honey Dijon mayo for a very fair $4.95. I opted for the addition of cheddar cheese for another $0.75. On the plate it was flanked by 2 huge dill pickle chips, which also made their way to my burger and were perhaps its saving grace. The patty was skillfully cooked at a nice medium rare, but was a little too lean for my taste and could have been better seasoned. The sauce was terrific. Not too sweet, not to funky (as Dijon spreads can often be when liberally applied) so that it can be safely slathered, which somewhat made up for the fact that the burger wasn’t very fatty. Pickles were thick and crisp, with flavor and texture quite similar to the brand Claussen. I sided up with shoestring fries and coleslaw, the first of which were pretty good if you like canned potato sticks (they were very much like a fresh tasting version of those) and the latter being simple, fresh and dependable. The slaw was not a bold expression in any sense, but slaw needn’t be.
Overall the meal was fine though certainly lackluster. You won’t be mad if you eat there, and on the upside the customer service was incredible. Everyone was polite, engaging, and smiling constantly. Quality service is clearly a part of the company’s culture; no restaurant just gets lucky with its staff to such a degree. Frankly, this place has national chain written all over it. My surprise would be minimal if these guys enjoy incredible growth and success over the next 10 years based on their penchant for design (it totally feels like an upscale Chipotle) and choosing locations that are accessible to the appropriate demographic (i.e. shoppers attracted to destinations like the supermall described earlier), not to mention the success of the 10 or so locations that Habit Burger currently boasts. At Hook the food is priced slightly high for fast food but affordably as a “premium” alternative, and Hook’s mission includes a lot of well intentioned (and trendy) bullets such as using locally sourced produce and breads, naturally raised meats, and only biodegradable and/or recycled materials in their packaging- all of which I strongly support. The reality is that Hook Burger deserves to win, I have just apparently finally crossed forever over into burger snobbery. So be it.
All photos in this post by Fredrick Guerrero.