As summer begins to wane, and the outdoor grilling season molders away, many of us, Jonathan Gold included, develop an obsession – a seasonally-induced craving that can only be assuaged by one thing: burgers. If you read my review of Burger Kitchen’s “The Natural”, or Bouchon Bistro’s “Le Burger Bouchon”, then you know I’ve already surrendered myself to the quixotic quest for L.A.’s Greatest Burger. But in the last two weeks I’ve kicked it up a notch – eating a burger a day, and sometimes two. It’s been an epic adventure for my palate, and a harrowing experience for my gut. Here are the highlights:
Father’s Office – “The Office Burger” $12.50
Many aspire, but few can compete with this lionized burger, widely considered to be the best in Los Angeles. The patty, made with dry aged beef, never disappoints; it’s always big and juicy and full of flavor – indomitable among thick layers of funky Gruyère, pungent bleu cheese, crispy bacon, and sweet onion jam. Even the forest of arugula compliments it well, evincing the beef’s grassy undertones. The bun – or in this case, the French roll – always maintains its form and consistency. But F.O.’s choice of bread remains my biggest issue with the burger. Sure, it’s delicious, but what’s a burger without a bun? The Office Burger looks more like a ground beef and arugula sandwich than a legitimate hamburger, and it throws me off every time. Yet, if I were to do a blind taste test, this burger would inevitably rank among the best. In the end, it’s the ever juicy slab of dry aged ground beef, and its confounding ability to shine through the slew of competing flavors, that wins this burger an immovable position at the top.
The Foundry – “The ‘Patio Season’ Burger” $12
Last year, Chef Eric Greenspan threw down like Bobby Flay, challenging Sang Yoon of Father’s Office for the title of L.A.’s best gourmet burger. Why? “Because [Yoon’s] got the best burger,” Greenspan told L.A. Weekly’s Amy Scattergood, “and if you want to be the best, you’ve got to challenge the best.” Fair enough. So who won? An official contest never materialized. But according to LAist, the honor of L.A.’s best gourmet burger goes to The Foundry, with Father’s Office coming in a close second.
Greenspan’s burger certainly does rivals Yoon’s for originality. Like Yoon, Greenspan forgoes the traditional burger bun. But instead of using a French roll, Greenspan opts for a quadrangle of unseparated King’s Hawai’ian miniature sweet buns (the same Torrance-baked buns Flying Pig uses for its sliders). But the originality doesn’t end there. Greenspan serves the burger open-faced with melted cheddar cheese, a few oven-dried tomatoes, a sprinkling of arugula, and an array of DIY condiments, including tamarind-caramelized onions, bacon-pineapple relish, housemade mayonnaise, and three tempura red onion rings. The disparate flavors coalesce to create a burger like you’ve never tasted before. The “Patio Season” Burger is a true original. The Foundry On Melrose on Urbanspoon
The Golden State – “The Burger” $10
They may cook your burger to order, but the guy behind the counter will practically place a wreath on your head if you ask for it medium rare. Here at The Golden State they take their burgers seriously. They also take sustainability seriously, using all local ingredients. The burger comes on a Röckenwagner brioche bun baked right here in Los Angeles, with melted Fiscalini Farms cheddar cheese from Modesto, glazed applewood smoked bacon, arugula, housemade aioli, and ketchup. As for the beef, it gets trucked down from Harris Ranch, a family-owned operation that’s been raising cattle along the banks of the San Joaquin since 1937.
The burger patty is a little dry, but the bacon and condiments more than make up for it. The brioche bun – soft, sweet, and a little flaky – tastes like its great-grandfather may have been a croissant. You’ll get a heap of big, American-style fries on the side – the kind of fries they serve at lakeside shacks all over the country. But these fries burst with flavor in a way those fries don’t, thanks to salty, herbaceous seasoning and quality fry oil. Each fry has a golden crunch and a soft, greasy core. The Golden State on Urbanspoon
8oz. Burger Bar – “Estancia Grass Fed Beef Burger” $9
This grass fed burger comes with tomato, onion, pickle, charred escarole, roasted mushrooms, and a slathering of 8oz. Special Sauce. The bun, of the standard white bread variety, looks and tastes like it might be store-bought. That is to say, stale and tasting of bleached flour. The burger is well-balanced, though, if a little busy. Like The Golden State’s patty, 8oz. Burger Bar’s patty is a little dry while the burger itself is not. In this case, the dryness may be a function of the grass feeding, which makes the meat leaner and less greasy. But the burger is full of beefy flavor, with the accompanying elements serving to augment that beefiness; the charred escarole lends the burger a smoky flavor while the roasted mushrooms emphasize a deep savoriness. 8 Oz. on Urbanspoon
The Gorbals – “Burger, Fried Egg, Catsup” $14
After receiving a tip from one of the guys at Animal, I decided to make an early appearance last Thursday at The Gorbals to take a break from Art Walk and order myself a burger. Chef Ilan Hall serves his burger on a fresh, toasted sesame seed bun – one of the tastiest I’ve come across – with a small amount of housemade catsup, thin slices of pickled cucumber, a fried egg, deep red tomato, thin bits of crispy cheese, and a hand-formed patty. The burger has a distinctive grilled flavor, reminding me of an Irish breakfast: comforting and savory, bursting with flavor, and a little sweet. The patty is tender and moist, maintaining a beefy undercurrent throughout each bite. The bun, baked fresh at La Favorita Bakery just over the river in Boyle Heights, tastes like a good toasted sesame seed bagel, but looks more like a cemita roll. The Gorbals on Urbanspoon
Comme Ça – “The Comme Ça Burger” $16
Chef David Myers prepares his burger with Nebraskan certified angus beef, cheddar cheese, and a kind of ‘slaw made with shredded lettuce, white onion, and housemade mayonnaise dressing – all on a toasted white brioche bun made specially for Comme Ça. The burger arrives with a tower of french fries served in a pewter cup. The fries, together with ketchup and aioli dipping sauce, are absolutely delicious, reminding me of McDonald’s fries. And I mean that in the best way possible. The patty is one of the thickest in town, almost too thick – but not quite. Comme Ca on Urbanspoon
Of the six burgers I’ve described above, it’s difficult to choose a winner. All are excellent, with the exception of the 8oz. burger. But even that burger’s better than most. If it weren’t for the lackluster bun and the dry patty, it might have a decent shot. And although I wouldn’t rank The Foundry’s burger on top, I think Chef Greenspan’s innovation deserves its own category: “Most Original.” But the problem with Greenspan’s burger is two-fold. Although he apparently uses lard to increase the patty’s juiciness, the burger is disappointingly dry. It could just be that I got unlucky, that my burger happened to be overcooked, but in the world of gourmet burgers a dry patty is an unforgivable sin. The choice of bun also afflicts the “Patio Season” burger. Though I like King’s Hawai’ian, those delicate sweet buns are meant to be used for sliders, not burgers, and it doesn’t take long for the fluffy little buns to morph into soggy pancakes.
I think my favorite is The Gorbals burger, because when I close my eyes I can still taste it, and it makes me feel warm inside. Chef Hall packs an incredible amount of flavor into that burger, with the beef holding the line while the other flavors frolic about the tongue. It’s the kind of burger that satisfies more than just hunger; if burgers are comfort food, then The Gorbals burger is the most comforting yet. Father’s Office comes in second for me. It’s a great burger, but it’s a little busy, a little pretentious, and not so deeply satisfying. Comme Ça comes in third, with The Golden State trailing close behind. But they’re both great burgers, and depending on my mood, that ranking could easily reverse itself.
So, based on my experience over the last two weeks:
1. The Gorbals
2. Father’s Office Father’s Office (Santa Monica) on Urbanspoon
3. Comme Ça
4. Golden State
5. 8oz. Burger Bar
“Most Original”: The Foundry
But don’t worry; this isn’t the final word. There’s more to come.