Monday, April 21, 2008

LA Burgers & Me, A New Love Story

That’s right, it’s taken me almost 2 YEARS to get on board with the famed LA burger wars. I cannot plead ignorance either, since many years ago Gourmet magazine (to my mouth-watering amazement and east coast envy) had an article about it.

There may have been two articles, because I remember one about the coolest LA burger joints and another about LA burger joints with secret vegetarian ordering methods (yes there are those who order an In-N-Out with just a bun and double cheese!).
What an exciting city, I thought. Really this could be one of the 25 reasons I moved here, even if this knowledge did escape once I started eating LA fish tacos. Forgive me, LA burgers.

Anyway, I digress.
So, how did this new burger love story suddenly start now? Let’s see…

Weeks after I got off the plane in Burbank, I drove to an In-N-Out. It was forgettable (sorry!). And it ended there. Because some time in the 90’s my friend Adam brought me to one of the spots listed in that magazine article, Mo Better Meatty Meat Burger, near where the Lakers used to play. It was juicy spicy AWEsomeness. The In-N-Out, years later, was not. It was “okay.” And because before I moved here Mo Better Meatty Meat
closed its doors, I had no reason to carry on (trying burgers, I mean). The war, in my opinion, was a figment of Angelino imaginations.

Time went by. I ate more fish tacos, Chipotle bowls, buffalo wings, fried chicken, and fried chicken with waffles. (It's true I weigh less now than I ever did back east. Boy LA’s great!) Then a few weeks ago at lunch Neil walked me over to Fatburger, one of a dozen fast fooderies on Figueroa by the University. We shared a Kingburger and Fat Fries. It was thrilling. Three nights after that after saying bye to a visiting friend at midnight, I drove to another Fatburger that's open til 3:00 a.m. Two days later, I was enlightened late night to the Original Tommy’s, and two days after that I stopped at Astroburger. It was burger gluttony and oh it was all sooo good!

Below is a list of burgers recently sampled, including french fry and other comments, for your pleasure. These are in order of favorite, and each place is linked to a website.

The LA Burgers

1. Fatburger (slogan: “The Last Great Hamburger Stand”)
Ordered: Kingburger and Fat Fries, Lemonade
Happy joy! My new favorite burger is so because it tasted like I was at a backyard barbeque, only so much better! And with better conversation! The patty was thick, tasty and made-to-order. The bun fresh. But the winning element here is the RELISH. This from the person who always takes her pickle off her McDonald’s Happy Meal Burger. Other elements on the burger are fairly standard in California: Mustard, Mayo, Lettuce, Tomato, Onions. However the relish really took the flavor to the hilt. Plus the service is damn friendly.

2. Original Tommy’s (slogan: "World Famous Burgers")
Ordered: Burger (Easy Chili, No Onions) and Fries, Orange Soda

I never went here before because there are too many knockoffs so I didn’t want to risk going to the wrong one. This one is very close to my home! which means its close to USC too and has a following there. Now I am not into restaurant chili or chili dogs etc., though Neil insisted I at least try it, just say “easy chili.” I did, and it was AWESOME. The fries were like those crunchy greasy diner fries and ROCKED. The best! The cooler where you get to grab a can of soda was FUN. And my stomach, although warned, made it through the night UNSCATHED. Oh yes I heart you Tommy.

3. In-N-Out (slogan: “Quality you can taste”)
Ordered: Hamburger and Fresh Cut Fries, Diet Coke
Sure the burger and accoutrements (including a thousand-islandy-style dressing) tasted fresh and good, with that cute white wax paper wrap around the burger welcoming me to California burgerdom, though there was no hit-me-over-the-head flavor. Surprisingly the fries, even though freshly cut from whole potatoes right there on the counter, lacked flavor too, and you’re talking to a person who eats fries without ketchup! I want to taste the potato, so I wonder why the freshest-of-all-fries didn’t deliver there. Maybe it's a simple matter of under-seasoning? (I've heard I'm not alone here.)
ps: if you’re curious about the legendary “not so secret menu,”
just click here.

3. Astroburger (tied with above)
Ordered: Hamburger and Fries
Now I was on a roll. I pass this place whenever I’m on Santa Monica Blvd. It’s directly across the street from a Fatburger, so I figured it must be worthy of the competition. I’d say it sorta is, but more so because Johnathon Schaech the actor (from "That Thing You Do") ordered right before me and I thought that was very cool. Otherwise, this place is like a diner, with way more offerings than burgers. Cute kitsch includes mini juke boxes with oldies at every booth, and an outdoor picnic area that looks 50’s quaint. The burger itself was sorta In-N-Outish but thicker and from the other side of the tracks, if that makes sense. The onion rings one table over looked good too and I really wanted to ask the patrons to try one in the name of the blog, but figured that’d be pushing my luck.

Gourmet LA Burgers Worth Mentioning

These two “build your own burger” places are swank and fabulous. Each has a bar and a cool vibe, whether beach modern or retro clubby. I won’t go into special detail on each, just summarize by saying I highly enjoyed each experience. And it’s hard not to, since you make your own burger! Although at 25 Degrees, Robert and I each ordered a pre-decided “favorite” version (see below… what is “crescenza” anyway?). Still real good, but I know I could have had better. Another 25 Degrees note: They serve the fries and onion rings as an appetizer for some reason, so we filled up on that first and that kinda muted our burger delight. Silly place.

Ordered: My creation of a 1/3 lb. Beef Burger on English Muffin with Mixed Baby Greens, Herbed Goat Cheese Spread, Pepperoncinis and Caramelized Onion Marmalade, and Sweet Potato Fries
Special Pro: fancy milkshake specials (ie. s’mores, banana split, date)
Special Con: major wait time

25 Degrees
Ordered: The Number One with Fries (Prelibato Gorgonzola, Crescenza, Bacon, Caramelized Onion, Arugula, Thousand Island) AND The Number Two with Onion Rings (Burrata Cheese, Crispy Proscuitto, Roasted Tomatoes, Pesto).
Special Pro: those freakin’ onion rings!! + same owners as Red Pearl Kitchen
Special Con: it’s in the center of Hollywood, and who wants to go there?

Not Really Worth Mentioning But I Will
Jack in the Box
Ordered: don’t remember
I’ve had this but there is no recollection of “special.” It’s a chain like the east coast ones, so only on the list because it was a new experience for me. When I go I usually order a chicken sandwich or a shake (because those truly rock), plus they have an added bonus of offering spicy curly fries and 24 hour service.

Until we eat again (to carnivores especially),


  1. I think you need to try the In-N-Out Animal Burger and grade that on its own. I think the grilled onions and thousand island make it much more of an LA burger.

    Also, what about Los Angeles Fries!??!?!

    The animal fries at In N Out are good but you need to try the new Carl Jr. chili fries.

  2. Sure I will give the animal burger a try! I rated a few of the fries, and true those Carl Jr. Chili ones look pretty good in the picture. Popeye's cajun battered fries are good too. Will get back to you on this!

  3. Hi Marly! Checking out your blog here. My favorite line of this was about the burgers not worth mentioning "but I will" - haha!
    Have you tried a Carls Jr. burger Hawaiian Pineapple thing?* It's good. The best fries are still McDonalds I think. Cool blog! I love food.
    *Not the official name

  4. Of course, "The Counter" in Santa Monica is the place for a meal burger. But if you're looking for a fast food burger, the correct answer is "Five Guys Burgers and Fries", it's an east coast chain, but there's one in a strip mall in Carson, CA - down near Redondo. Well worth the drive. It's the only one they have in California

  5. Hmm I have a vague east coast recollection of that chain Five Guys, but pretty sure I haven't tried 'em yet. Thanks for the tip!