Sunday, April 11, 2010

Total Carnage! Gourmet Burger Battle - 26 Beach, Umami, Father’s Office, Golden State, Morton’s, Anisette, Lucky Devils, 25 Deg., 8 oz, Rustic Canyon

April 11, 2010 - The following is the last written account of a tragic burger expedition across Southern California by its last survivor. What started out as a fun topic over drinks, soon turned into a "Burger Throwdown" involving a bunch of L.A. foodies, which then turned into a giant black hole from which no one could escape from.

I shall attempt to document the carnage and devastation left in the wake of this foolhardy and utterly stupid endeavor, in the hopes that if anyone reads this letter, that they may use this as a warning to never attempt something so ridiculous. It's a sordid tale, of massive rises in cholesterol intake, crying and weeping amidst accusations of one person causing someone else to gain weight, broken relationships, cell phones going straight to voicemail, all to track down a piece of Beef stuck between some Bread. :)

[Some Time Ago...]

It began so simply, so innocuously. Some dear (former :) friends and I were enjoying drinks when someone asked, "OK. Best Burger in L.A.?" And then the restaurant names began to fly: "Father's Office!" "Umami!" "Anisette" and after everyone started to defend their picks, we realized the only way to settle this was to have a "simple" Burger Battle. It was easy enough - or so we thought - we would simply meet up and try the ~3 - 4 places that were thrown out and vote for our favorites.

Ah, if things were only that simple. :)

I threw out one ground rule that we had to visit each place at least 3 times, to make sure of consistency, and to give each restaurant a 2nd chance in case we hit them on an "off day."

But then the list of 3 or 4 places soon grew to 11. One of my Burger Hounds quickly blurted out, "Psh! No problem! This should be fun!" And we all dove in headfirst, with none of us realizing the magnitude of what we signed up for. The first few locations were wonderful: People enjoying a burger or two, some drinks, and then off to the next place, and the next place. But one by one, people began to magically "disappear" and drop out. The next day (or two) for repeat visits yielded even fewer survivors of this absurd culinary exploration, until finally only one person remained.

29 combined visits and hundreds of miles later, I am sorry to say that this culinary battle has ended in failure: My judges have fled and dropped out, and none of us were able to complete the 33 visits. Oh if only we had a Chestnut or Kobayashi in our group! Sigh... So without further ado, I present to you the incomplete list of results:

(Note: While we all know that food is completely personal and subjective, it's even more obvious here. One person may hate Blue Cheese, while another may not like Garlic. Someone may dislike Avocados or a certain Dressing on their Burger, which all influences what your own personal favorite burger might be. So please take this with a grain of Sea Salt. :)

* 10th Place *
25 Degrees (Hollywood)

Located within the gorgeous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, walking to 25 Degrees feels like you're traveling back in time to another era.

I've always wanted to try 25 Degrees, but hearing Woolsey, rednyellow, and numerous friends of mine warn me about various problems with this place, had caused me to never bother going, until now. (For completeness sake, most of us agreed that 25 Degrees had been talked about enough in burger discussions that it deserved a try.)

The decor in 25 Degrees is certainly unique and standout: They tout themselves as "Bordello meets Burger" and that pretty much sums up what the interior looks like. :)

Looking over the menu, it's clear that 25 Degrees is the antithesis of Father's Office in terms of Burgers: Unlike Father's Office, 25 Degrees encourages patrons to "Build Your Own Burger" with an impressive array of choices (13 different Cheeses (with choices like an Organic Red Hawk Cow's Milk Cheese, or Emmi Gruyere from the Swiss Alps), 13 different Sauces, and 13 different Extras to pile on). That's a big part of its appeal (like a "gourmet The Counter"). They also have 3 Specialty Burgers that are their own creations, which is what we went with.

"Number One" Burger (Caramelized Onion, Prelibato Gorgonzola, Crescenza, Bacon, Arugula, Thousand Island)
Price: $12
Customizable: Yes
Includes: 1 Side Order (Huge)

The first bite immediately leads to disappointment: Their Brioche Bun is extremely dry. The combination of Arugula and Bacon are great additions, but it turns out they cooked my Sirloin patty to well-done (a travesty) when I specifically asked for medium-rare. :( We also perform the mopeyboy / Harry Nile Test :) of trying the Beef itself, without any toppings, and it's surprising to see how tasteless some Burgers turn out to be. Sadly, this is one of those places, as the well-done Sirloin tasted pretty flavorless. Beyond that, there's too much Thousand Island and the combined size of the top and bottom Buns make this really hard to eat without smashing it down or cutting it into pieces. It seems like my experiences echoed that of Woolsey and other friends who warned me about this place.

The one positive is that their Burgers include 1 free Side, and it's positively Claim Jumper-esque: Gigantic! The following picture is of my 1 free Side: Half & Half of Onion Rings and Sweet Potato Fries. It's enough to feed 2-3 people (along with a Burger).

The Onion Rings turn out to be nicely seasoned with Salt & Pepper, and have a great crispy crunch. The Sweet Potato Fries, however, taste completely flat and muted; probably the worst Sweet Potato Fries I've had in the past year. :(

Finally, their infamous Service problems showed up during our visit as well: Apparently we caught our waitress just as her shift was ending (we had no idea). After taking our drink order, when she came back, we told her we were ready to order, only to be brushed off with a curt "I'm not taking your order now" (with an apathetic, slightly perturbed look on her face as she walked off). We then saw an entire group of servers start filing out of the kitchen, leaving the restaurant. Since 25 Degrees is open 24 hours a day(!), it's understandable and expected to have some waitstaff be tired or just not up to par, but her attitude was really off-putting.

Being able to fully customize your Burger with premium toppings is 25 Degrees' greatest strength. Add to that, the fact that it's open 24 Hours A Day, 7 Days A Week, and it's probably one of the best Burger joints in L.A. at 4 a.m. by default. But serving overcooked Burgers (well-done instead of medium-rare) and having huge, dry Buns and too much sauce makes this the least favorite Burger in this battle. (It doesn't help that parking during most of the day is difficult along that part of Hollywood Blvd. But they offer valet parking for $7.)

Rating: 6.0 (out of 10.0)

25 Degrees (Hollywood)
(inside the Roosevelt Hotel)
7000 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028
Tel: (323) 785-7244

Hours: Open 24 Hours A Day, 7 Days A Week

* 9th Place *
Lucky Devils

Just down the street from 25 Degrees, Lucky Devils claims to make everything from scratch.

This is another place a few of us had heard much about, but none of us had ever been. On today's visit, I had the pleasure of having my 'dachi Noah of Man Bites World join me. As we peruse the menu, I'm getting excited as I see them advertise the usage of Snake River Farms American Kobe Beef (which local Yakiniku restaurants have been using to great success), as well as Tallgrass 100% Grass-Fed, Natural Beef.

In keeping with their name, Lucky Devils has a playful devil motif running throughout the restaurant. They also offer one of the oddest menus I've come across for a Burger joint, selling BBQ Ribs, Pizza, Belgium Liege Waffles and Frozen Custards.

We decide to start off with a Ballast Point Yellowtail (California), a Pale Ale that turns out to be surprisingly bitter, although very crisp.

The Affligem Blond (Belgium) turns out to be much more refreshing and slightly sweet, bitter and citrus-y.

With 2 types of Beef patties available, we decide to start with their signature burger:

The LUCKY Burger (with Tallgrass Beef) (White Cheddar, Crisp Lettuce, Red Onion, Super Secret Sauce, 5 Pepper Green Tomato Relish, Toasted Brioche Bun)
Price: $8.50
Customizable: Yes
Includes: No Sides

The first thing we notice is the absolutely monstrous Bun. Lucky Devils' Brioche Bun turned out to be the tallest, thickest Bun out of all the finalists. Undaunted, we continued on (I personally couldn't wait to try a gourmet 100% Grass-Fed Beef Burger (the only other time I had Grass-Fed Beef was a huge disappointment)). Sadly, their LUCKY Burger turned out to be cooked until well-done! (>_<) Ugh. (Note: We were the only table in the restaurant at the time, so it's not like the kitchen was backed up.) Even worse, this Tallgrass Beef turned out to be flavorless by itself, when stripped away of any adornments and secret sauces. Definitely a disappointment. But the final nail turned out to be the enormous Brioche Bun they use: Their Brioche has a really thick outer crust (like a bad, chewy Dinner Roll), and it's dry, so it really detracted from our enjoyment of their Burgers.
However, I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, so on a 2nd visit, I asked the waitress about their LUCKY Burger and how they prefer to serve it. She said, "Our kitchen likes to serve it medium-well(!)." Shocked, I asked why, and she said that because their patty is so thin, they can't hit medium-rare and properly cook it. Oh well. I asked this time to make a special exception and try to have them prepare a medium-rare or medium cooked Burger.

Thankfully, they were able to come through, and, now with a ~medium, almost-medium-rare Grass-Fed Burger, I gave it another try: This time, their LUCKY Burger was definitely better, juicier and more enjoyable (instead of eating well-done Beef like the 1st visit). But tasting the Beef by itself, there still wasn't any real depth of beefy flavor.

And their "Super Secret Sauce" (with Thousand Island as a base) still tasted too manufactured and composed. It just overwhelms the palate, hiding the Beef patty instead of supporting it. And their super-thick, dry Brioche Bun was still the same as last time. :(

Of the remaining 3 flavors offered, we decided to skip the stronger-flavored BBQ and Diablo flavors since we wanted to focus on the quality of the Beef, and decided to go with their:

Bacon Bleu Burger (with SRF American Kobe) (Swiss Gruyere, Bleu Cheese, Double-Smoked Bacon, Caramelized Onion, Wild Arugula, Roasted Garlic Aioli & Toasted Brioche Bun)
Price: $14
Customizable: Yes
Includes: No Sides

The Brioche Bun seemed even thicker on this Burger. :) Working through the super thick Bun, we both felt this was so-so. On paper the ingredients sound great, but in execution the Bacon Bleu comes out too saucy and wet. There's too much Roasted Garlic Aioli slathered on, and the dripping Caramelized Onions, melted Gruyere and Bleu Cheese all combine to make this one of the messiest Burgers during this Burger Battle.

Thankfully, their Kobe Burger is medium-rare, and with the Beef-Only taste test, there's a nice subtle, fragrant Beef aroma coming through, but when eaten with the 2 Cheeses, Garlic Aioli and all the other ingredients, the flavor is completely lost.

Service is pretty straightforward: You order at the counter up front, and grab an open table. Service was generally quite friendly and welcoming (the best part of our experience).

Lucky Devils seems to have all the ingredients for a good neighborhood Burger Bar: 14 Beers on Tap, Grass-Fed Beef and American Kobe (as well as Shelton Farms Turkey and Veggie) Burger options, in addition to offering some BBQ, Pizza and Liege Waffles. But their super thick, dry Brioche Bun, inconsistent cooking for their Burgers and overly complicated Sauces / Dressings undermine the overall Burger experience. But if I was hanging out with my friends in the area, I think I'd enjoy their Bacon Bleu Burger with American Kobe, with No Aioli and No Bleu Cheese; that might do the trick.

Rating: 6.5 (out of 10.0)

Lucky Devils
6613 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028
Tel: (323) 465-8259

Hours: Sun - Thurs, 11:30 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Fri - Sat, 11:30 a.m. - 12:00 a.m. Midnight

* 8th Place *
8 oz. Burger Bar

From Executive Chef Govind Armstrong and Chef de Cuisine Jacob Wildman comes 8 oz. Burger Bar, a casual neighborhood eatery along the most popular stretch of Melrose. As we walk in, I fall in love with their weathered, old-looking wooden sign "8 oz." and the relaxed atmosphere inside.

Their philosophy of using only hormone-free, humanely raised meats and local produce are all commendable. Their 8 oz. and Melrose Burgers use a combination of Hormone-Free Black Angus Sirloin, Chuck, Tri-Tip and Short Rib, ground in-house, and aged in their own meat locker. It sounds very promising, so we can't wait to try their version of Aged Beef.

We start with their signature Burger:

The 8 oz. Burger (House Blend, Iceberg, Pickle, Tomato, White Onion, 8 oz. Special Sauce)
Price: $10
Customizable: Yes
Includes: No Sides

I remember when 8 oz. first opened up, there were quite a few complaints about how overly thick their Burger Bun was. I didn't get a chance to try that original Bun, but this current Bun seems to be better than what people were saying (and less cumbersome than Lucky Devils' giant Bun).

The 8 oz. arrives medium-rare (joy! :), with the Bun being a bit dry, but not like 25 Degrees or Lucky Devils. The first few bites are juicy, and the Iceberg Lettuce, Tomato and 8 oz. Special Sauce (a combination of Thousand Island, Ketchup and Mustard) helps give this a "Classic Burger" taste. But sadly, there are a few pieces of gristle that are so chewy I had to spit it out. And despite claims of the House Blend Beef being Aged in their meat locker, the Beef by itself had no taste, tasting more like fresh-ground Beef instead of a true Dry-Aged or Wet-Aged Beef.

They also offer a Grass-Fed Burger on the menu, so we try that next:

Estancia Grass Fed Beef Burger (Tomato, Onion, Pickle, Charred Escarole, Roasted Mushrooms, 8 oz. Special Sauce)
Price: $9
Customizable: Yes
Includes: No Sides

I'm secretly hoping this 3rd time trying a Grass Fed Beef Burger is going to yield something distinct and different from Non-Grass-Fed Beef, and I love Mushrooms, so I eagerly dig in.

As I notice the Sesame Seed Bun quickly disintegrating, I'm suddenly hit with a nauseous wave of char. My friends do a double-take as well, and sure enough, it's the "Charred Escarole." I've had Charred Escarole with some Tasting Menus before, but it was nothing like this. This is more like "Blackened Charcoal," tasting completely, badly burnt *and* with a lighter fluid / gas tinge to it as well. But after scraping off all the Burnt Escarole, the Mushrooms and Grass-Fed Beef combine to make a much more palatable creation.

The Estancia Grass-Fed Beef is cooked to medium, almost-medium-rare, and actually has a light, subtle beefiness (finally). But with the thin, flimsy Sesame Seed Bun that turned to mush before we finished eating the Burger and completely Burnt Escarole, this Grass-Fed Beef Burger falls short.

On another visit, I decide to try their:

Melrose Burger (6 oz. House Blend, Wild Baby Arugula, Garlic Roasted Tomatoes, Red Onion Marmalade) (+ Cave Aged Gruyere)
Price: $9
Customizable: Yes
Includes: No Sides

Unfortunately, on this 2nd visit, their Sesame Seed Bun is even drier than the 1st visit. It also disintegrates faster than we can finish the burger. One of my most discerning Burger Hounds tries it, and immediately notes that the Bun "tastes like something you can buy at Ralph's." The Angus House Blend patty arrives ~medium-rare and by itself, has no taste like before. But there is a nice char on the outside (perfect), which gives it a good, light smoky, open-grill facet.

But the highlight would have to be their Garlic Roasted Tomatoes and Red Onion Marmalade, both of which really give the Burger a natural sweetness and mouth-pleasing delicious quality that stands out from other restaurants' overly complicated toppings. Delicious. :)

Service is a bit slow-moving, but decent, with our servers being generally amiable. 8 oz. also offers up the ability to completely customize your Burger with their "Make It Your Own" option, where you can choose different Sauces, Cheeses and Extras to put onto the Burger.

8 oz. Burger Bar has a nice, lively vibe with some great Burger customization options. However, their actual House Blend Beef patty disappoints, while their Estancia Grass-Fed Beef actually has some subtle beefy flavors coming through. Add their problematic Buns (dry Brioche and flimsy, fall-apart Sesame Seed) and hit-or-miss toppings (completely burnt Escarole, wonderful Garlic Roasted Tomatoes), and it makes 8 oz. a decent Burger Bar if you happen to be in the area only.

Rating: 6.8 (out of 10.0)

8 oz. Burger Bar
7661 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Tel: (323) 852-0008

Hours: Mon, 12:00 p.m. Noon - 11:00 p.m.
Tues - Fri, 12:00 p.m. Noon - 12:00 a.m. Midnight
Sat, 11:30 a.m. - 12:00 a.m. Midnight
Sun, 11:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.

* 7th Place *
Umami Burger (La Brea) (Original)

Here we have the (in)famous Umami Burger, which debuted with a splash, only to face a growing wave of dissenters over the past year, while still gaining popularity (it has now expanded to 4 locations in less than a year(!)).

Created by Adam Fleischman (BottleRock), they tout themselves as "fine-dining fast food," and since their debut at the original La Brea location, they've always been offering a rotating menu of specially composed Burgers, each with their own distinct flavor combinations, which is probably the biggest appeal of this restaurant. We begin with:

Port & Stilton Burger (Blue Cheese, Pocas Port-Caramelized Onions)
Price: $9
Customizable: Deletions Only. No Additions.
Includes: No Sides

Umami uses a combination of USDA Prime Short Rib, Skirt Steak and Fat, ground in-house, for all their Beef Burgers. From my first visit last year, through the latest visits for this Burger Battle, each Umami Burger has always had a sweet / sugar aspect, due in no small part to their sweet, lightly glazed Brioche Buns.

For the Port & Stilton, the Beef patty is juicy, arriving medium-rare, but sadly, has no real beefy flavor (tasting the Ground Beef by itself). It also lacks any real char, for those looking for that aspect on your Burger. But the Port-Caramelized Onions are delicious, and the Stilton Blue Cheese is thankfully not very pungent in this combination.

Next up:

No. 5 Burger (Fresh Ground Pork Spiced with Chinese 5 Spice, Aged Manchego, Tomato Marmalade)
Price: $9
Customizable: Deletions Only. No Additions.
Includes: No Sides

The No. 5 Burger's Pork is too finely ground, resulting in a disturbingly creamy smooth texture to the patty. The Tomato Marmalade also completely overpowers the rest of the Burger, adding a massive sugary angle to every bite. The Bun itself is consistent with the previous Burger: Soft and sweet.

One of the more controversial aspects of Umami has nothing to do with their Burgers, but with the most popular side dish for a Burger: Their Hand Cut Fries (Triple-Cooked).

For some people, only seeing ~8 - 9 Fries for an order, with a sparse Tablespoon of Ketchup (you have to pay if you want more Ketchup than what's shown in the picture) is cause for uproar. I would agree that it seems a bit paltry, but that's how Umami chooses to sell their portions. Most of my Hounds agree that a few more Fries and just a bit more Ketchup wouldn't hurt.

They also offer up Cake Monkey Desserts, and we decide to try their Red Velvet Cake.

This Red Velvet Cake tastes like it's been sitting a bit too long. It's still creamy and lush at times, but has a strange aftertaste that we couldn't quite pin down.

On my 2nd visit, we start with their signature:

Umami Burger (Umami x 6)
Price: $10
Customizable: Deletions Only. No Additions.
Includes: No Sides

Their cryptic description "Umami x 6" is actually referring to the 6 Umami Flavors within this Burger: Parmesan Crisp, Caramelized Onions, Shiitake Mushroom, Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, Beef, and Special Ketchup.

On paper and in execution, those ingredients are inherently delicious, so it's a smart combination. But like before, the most important aspect - the Beef - is quite mild and flavorless. It's at least cooked medium-rare which is great, but the Burger itself is a bit underwhelming as their famous "signature burger."

Continuing on:

Casablanca Burger (Fresh Ground Leg of Lamb, Merguez Lamb Sausage, Pickled Apricots, Arugula and Pomegranate Aioli)
Price: $11
Customizable: Deletions Only. No Additions.
Includes: No Sides

The initial bite imparts a nice Lamb gaminess which is immediately overwhelmed by the Pickled Apricots and Pomegranate Aioli. I have no idea what the idea was behind the Casablanca Burger, but like too many of their offerings, it's just too sweet, except this one is by far the most sugary-sweet Burger I've ever tried. To make matters worse, the "Pickled Apricots" are applied in a thick Jelly-like form, turning the Casablanca Burger into a goopey, thick, saccharin mess. :( None of us wanted another bite after the initial 1-2 bites.

To add some balance to the amount of meat being consumed, we order a Market Salad, which turns out to be fresh Mixed Greens with a lightly spicy Peanut Dressing.

On another visit we start with one of their new items:

Turkey Miso 2.0 (Fresh Turkey Patty, Roasted Baba Ganoush, Toasted Garlic)
Price: $11
Customizable: Deletions Only. No Additions.
Includes: No Sides

The Turkey Burger is surprisingly aromatic and moist, with the Toasted Garlic being a great choice in this Burger (one of my friends doesn't like Garlic in general, so naturally they didn't turn out to be the biggest fan of this Burger). Unfortunately, the Brioche Bun is dry (unlike previous visits), and as before, they seem to enjoy a Sweet / Sugar angle on many of their creations: This Turkey Miso 2.0 had a thin, sweet glaze, which works in, say, Turkey Maple Sausage, but when you get a repeated sweetness flavor over and over, it becomes boring and overwhelming. Finally, there's no real Miso flavor either.

Perhaps in answer to customers' feedback, Umami recently added Thin Fries to the menu, which features many more individual Fries than the usual Hand-Cut Fries option. They turn out to be nicely crispy, but way too salty.

The next Burger comes highly recommended from our server:

Truffle Burger (Italian Truffle Cheese, Truffle Glaze)
Price: $11
Customizable: Deletions Only. No Additions.
Includes: No Sides

I'm a little wary of this Burger since I'm usually not a fan of Truffle Oil (and at this price, I don't think Umami is actually using any real Truffles in the Burger :). But it turns out to be a very juicy, oozing Burger, with the Truffle Cheese melting quite nicely over the Beef. The Beef itself is medium-rare, but as before, devoid of any deep, beefy flavor. And disappointingly, there's no perceptible Truffle aroma or taste at all.

Finally, one of the newer additions to the menu has proven to be one of the most popular items:

Manly Burger (Beer-Cheddar Cheese, Smoked Salt Onion Strings, Bacon Lardons)
Price: $11
Customizable: Deletions Only. No Additions.
Includes: No Sides

This is probably their most successful Burger (for our group), despite the flat-tasting Beef, mainly due to the smoky, flavorful Bacon Lardons, Smoked Salt Onion Strings (that are crispy, greasy and bursting with flavor), and a juicy center.

While the Burgers are generally average in terms of flavor combinations, the worst part about Umami (La Brea) is their service. Over 4 visits, I've encountered some of the worst service I've had in a restaurant since the late night staff at Denny's years ago (shudder). Every visit has been marked by extremely slow, apathetic service, with 2 of the visits feeling like we were being served by a stereotypical "part-time actor/waiter," with drinks being forgotten, our sides being forgotten, and painfully slow pacing (it took them 10 minutes to get us menus on one visit).

Umami Burger (La Brea) certainly has its legions of fans. With wonderful-sounding creations on the menu, each Burger option being crafted into a distinct flavor profile (a Manly Burger, a Miso Burger, Casablanca Lamb Burger, etc.), it's easy to see its appeal. It's a way to get more than 1 or 2 fixed Burger flavors, while still taking the headache out of customizing your Burger, by offering a rotating menu of ~8-9 specialty Burger Combinations constantly being updated in a clean, stylish environment. But it falls short for most of us in the group because there's no real Beefiness to the patty itself, and an overly sweet facet seemed to permeate most of their Burger offerings.

Rating: 7.3 (out of 10.0)

Umami Burger (La Brea) (Original)
850 S. La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Tel: (323) 931-3000

Hours: Mon - Sat, 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.

*** Note: This halfway point marks a distinct jump in the quality and execution of the Burgers. I'd be glad to return to any of the places from 1st - 6th. (^_^) ***

* 6th Place *
26 Beach

I've driven by 26 Beach so many times, but never had the chance to try their menu. But after years of hearing westsidegal and Burger Boy sing its praises, and Burger Boy's enthusiastic recommendations for their Burgers, this one was definitely going on the list. :)

The interior of 26 Beach reflects the whimsical and laid-back vibe of Venice in general. During both of my visits, there's a cheery ambiance permeating the dining room.

Glancing over the menu, I'm worried since it's so expansive, but considering 26 Beach has been around for over 25 years, they've probably had sufficient time to grow their menu to this size. And considering their website shows Chef-Owner Francis Mori about to chow down on a Burger, I'm guessing that Burgers might be their specialty. (^_~) I have to start with their classic, signature dish:

The 26er (The Classic Hamburger with Lettuce, Tomato, Onions, Pickles, Mayo and our Special Dressing)
Price: $12
Customizable: Yes
Includes: French Fries or House Salad

The Burger arrives and looks impressive already. The size of the Bun looks troublesome at first, but when I go to pick it up, all my worries go out the window: Soft, fresh-baked Burger Buns, made on the premises! Wow. :)

I bite into the 26er: Juicy, clean, light, *real* beefy flavors come shining through. This tastes like a great, classic American Hamburger, nothing like the runners-up before this. There's nothing that can rival a Fresh-Baked Bun (made that day, in the same kitchen), and I can see why Burger Boy loves this Burger so much. :) Light, fragrant, soft, but still holds up to the Burger without disintegrating.

It's cooked to a perfect medium-rare, with a satisfying char from the grill. This is just a good, classic Burger. My only quibble is that the hand-formed, 100% Angus Beef's flavor is still only subtle, but that's to be expected with a fresh (non-Aged Beef).

What's even nicer, is that for the price ($12), it includes some of the most shatteringly crispy, delicious, piping hot French Fries I've had so far during this Burger Battle. Delicious. :)

But it's their next Burger that's even more impressive:

King Kobe the IV ("8 ounces of the best Wagyu Beef, married with Applewood Smoked Bacon, Imported Swiss Cheese, Baby Mixed Greens, Heirloom Tomato & Red Onion with Mayo on our Homemade Brioche Bun")
Price: $17
Customizable: Yes
Includes: French Fries or House Salad

Taking the first bite, I could tell Chef Mori knows about Burgers and how to prepare them. Unlike the travesty that is Lucky Devils' Bacon Bleu Kobe Burger, here, Chef Mori lets the subtle, delicate American Kobe Beef shine, unfettered by overpowering Sauces or unnecessary additions.

The Homemade Brioche Bun is as amazing as on their 26er, soft, fresh-tasting Bread that holds up surprisingly well to the 8 ounces of Kobe. Most importantly, the medium-rare American Kobe Beef shines here: A real, good beefiness. For Non-Aged American Kobe Beef, this is about as good as it gets. The Applewood Smoked Bacon is great and still crisp, and the gentle delicate Heirloom Tomato, Mixed Greens and Swiss actually complement the Burger instead of covering it up.

The only minor quibble to note is that the menu simply lists this as "the best Wagyu Beef", which is misleading since Wagyu is the proper, famous term for Japanese Beef from Japan. But given the price, you pretty much know it's not going to be real Wagyu Beef from Japan, but it's still the best "Kobe Burger" I've had in So Cal. :)

On my 2nd visit, I decide to start with their special Burger of the Day:

Wild Mushroom Burger (Angus Beef, Sauteed Shiitake, Crimini & Portobello Mushrooms, Grilled Onions, Swiss Cheese, Baby Mix, Tomato & Mayo)
Price: $17
Customizable: Yes
Includes: French Fries

I'm happy to bite into yet another fresh, in-house-made Brioche Bun, soft, fragrant and a great match for the Burger. I love Mushrooms as well so I can't wait for the flavors of the 3 types of Mushrooms to blend with their 100% Angus Beef. The Mushroom mix is wonderful with Shiitake and Portobellos known for their distinctive, wonderful aromas. Unfortunately the Burger arrives ~medium to medium-well (in some parts), when I asked for medium-rare. It's not well-done, but the slight overcooking detracts from an otherwise good Burger.

For fun, I remember hearing the recommendations for their Veggie Burger, so I had to try this as well:

Namaste "Veggie" Burger (Vegetarian Patty made with Grains, Legumes & Vegetables. Served with Mayo, Heirloom Tomato & Mixed Baby Greens)
Price: $12
Customizable: Yes
Includes: French Fries or House Salad

I order it with their Homemade Wheat Bun (to try the full "healthy" experience :). I appreciate that this is a homemade Veggie Patty, not a manufactured / heavily-processed Veggie Patty found in many places, but it's a little too mushy for my tastes. There are distinct chunks of Peas, Corn and a nice Grain / Wheat flavor coming through, but it's probably not going to be something I'd order again.

They provide a generous serving of their House Salad, included with the Burger. The House French Dressing is a touch too sweet for my tastes, but otherwise it's a good House Salad.

Service has been good on both visits to 26 Beach, no issues.

One of the pleasant surprises during this food crawl, 26 Beach and Chef Mori create some excellent, classic Burgers, with ingredients and toppings that support the Angus and American Kobe Beef, which help bring out some real Beef flavors, all topped with great Homemade Burger Buns made fresh daily in their kitchen. While there are other Burgers that I enjoy more, I'd be more than happy to eat a Burger from 26 Beach if I'm in the area. :)

Rating: 8.0 (out of 10.0)

26 Beach
3100 Washington Blvd.
Venice, CA 90292
Tel: (310) 823-7526

Hours: Mon - Fri, 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Sat, 9:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Sun, 9:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.

* 5th Place *
Anisette Brasserie

By now, I'm sure you're as incredulous as I am, wondering what a French Brasserie is doing in this Gourmet Burger Battle. :) This is one of those examples of the horrific black hole that this failed culinary expedition has become. I remember 2 years ago when hrhboo was gushing over Anisette's Burger. At the time, my guests and I couldn't help but order their more classic French items (Duck Confit, their wonderful Plateaux de Fruits de Mer, Croissants, etc.) and I kept forgetting to try their Burger. But just as we were locking down the finalists for this Burger Battle, Mr. Meatballs of Man Bites World had to chime in, nonchalantly mentioning the great Burger at Anisette. Ack! (~_~) That, coupled with hrhboo's strong recommendation made me add Anisette to the pool of competitors and I'm so glad I did. :)

By now, most people have heard of Anisette Brasserie, opened by Chef Alain Giraud (of Bastide fame). It's a gorgeous location sitting near Santa Monica Beach, relaxing and inviting during the day, rowdy and crowded at night.

Sitting at their beautiful Zinc Bar, I quickly place an order for their:

Brasserie Burger (Angus Beef, Oven Dried Tomatoes, Pickled Onions, Aioli, Pomme Frites)
Price: $16
Customizable: Yes
Includes: French Fries

Ostensibly, it looks like a naked Burger, but it's precisely the simplicity of it that makes it shine. Anisette begins with USDA Prime Angus Beef. I take a bite and break through a wonderful, fresh-baked Bun by Pastry Chef Noubar Yessayan, baked on the premises daily. Like 26 Beach, there's nothing quite like fresh-baked Buns instead of having them brought in. It's not as soft as a great Brioche, but it's a substantive Bread, holding up well against the big Angus patty.

And then I break into the USDA Prime Angus Beef. Cooked perfectly medium-rare, there's a true, clean, pure Beef taste coming through. The Prime Angus is nuanced and seasoned well. Add to that a great sear and char, some fresh Butter Lettuce from the Santa Monica Farmer's Market just next door, fragrant Oven-Dried Tomatoes and just a kiss of Aioli (no ridiculous over-slathering of sauces here), and you have a celebration of Beef. It's subtle, light, beefy and it shines.

Their Pomme Frites (included with the Burger) are rail-thin, crispy with a soft interior and well-seasoned. Nothing amazing, but a good combination with the Burger.

Note: Sadly, I discovered too late that Anisette offers an *Upgraded* Brasserie Burger for Dinner Only, which includes Pancetta (mmm...!). There's also an option to add different Cheeses for $1 extra (Lunch and Dinner).

Service was excellent whenever we went to Anisette (from their Grand Opening and on), but I haven't been back for almost a full year. But during this Burger Battle, the service was spot-on, with a friendly, relaxed waitstaff.

Anisette Brasserie has always delivered some outstanding fresh-baked Pastries, good French Brasserie cuisine for Brunch and Dinner during my previous visits. Now, they have an excellent Burger that I can enjoy as well when I'm hanging out with my friends at the beach. :)

Rating: 8.3 (out of 10.0)

*** Update: Anisette has CLOSED.

Anisette Brasserie
225 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tel: (310) 395-3200

Hours: [Brunch] Sat - Sun, 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
[Lunch] Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
[Dinner] 7 Days A Week, 5:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.

* 4th Place *
Morton's The Steakhouse (Downtown L.A.)

I've always known Morton's is famous for their steaks, but I would've never thought to have tried them for their Burger, if it wasn't for David Kahn and ipsedixit's repeated recommendations about their Burger. :) I used to enjoy Morton's for steaks before I tried better steakhouses, but it was nice walking back into Morton's after a few years. Entering Morton's feels like a throwback to the days of big dinners and celebrations, where business deals were closed with a handshake and a bottle of wine.

It's classy, professional, and after taking down our names, our server addressed us personally throughout the meal, a nice touch. We were here for one thing, and one thing only:

Morton's Prime Burger (Choice of Horseradish Cheddar, American, Swiss, Crumbled Blue or Cheddar; Crisp Bacon, Sauteed Mushrooms and/or Onions)
Price: $15
Customizable: Yes
Includes: French Fries, Cole Slaw, Steamed Asparagus or Broccoli

The Prime Burger arrives and it looks fantastic. I pick it up and take a bite:


Seriously outstanding! (^_^) Made with Wet-Aged, 100% USDA Prime Sirloin Beef, it shows from the first bite: There's a real, honest-to-goodness Beefiness, and taking a bite of the Beef by itself it's just delicious, well-seasoned Beef, and puts to shame Umami and the other contenders above. The Sesame Seed Bun is strong enough to stand up to the Burger, and Morton's lets you add Bacon, Sauteed Mushrooms *and* Sauteed Onions to your Burger, free-of-charge.

And as I was biting into the Burger, I noticed an eye-roll-inducing crispy, crackly crunch: *Freshly Cooked Bacon*(!). This had to be a fluke. I revisited Morton's a 2nd time at the very end of their Lunch Hour (on purpose) to see if it still held true:

Yes. Freshly Cooked, Crisp, Succulent Bacon, cooked *for your order*! Oh yes! :)

As I was leaving, I asked our server and they confirmed that Morton's cooks Fresh Bacon for each Burger's order, not batch made like the majority of restaurants. Wow. That right there elevates the Morton's Prime Burger a few notches. :)

But back to the rest of the Burger: The combination of the fresh Tomatoes, Onions, Sauteed Mushrooms, Melted Cheddar and Crisp Bacon, along with the impeccable 100% USDA Prime Sirloin Beef with great searing creates the best Classic American Burger I've ever had in a restaurant. And it was cooked to a perfect medium-rare during both of my visits.

A word about their Fries as well: Crispy on the outside, fluffy and potatoey on the inside. Not too thick, not too thin, these are *great* Steakhouse French Fries that perfectly complement this great Burger. (And for the health conscious, Morton's offers up complementary Steamed Asparagus or Broccoli instead if you like; which is great.) :)

Service is what you'd expect at a good Steakhouse: Crisp, professional, personable.

Morton's The Steakhouse (Downtown L.A.) provides a stunning Burger experience: It shows what great quality, Wet-Aged 100% USDA Prime Sirloin Beef can do, without any fancy Carrot Foam or 4-Cheese, Faux Truffle Emulsion toppings, cooked by Steak experts. The only negatives about this experience are: (1) Served Lunch Only. (2) It can be a hassle fighting through Downtown traffic to get here (but I'm sure the other Morton's locations may provide a similar experience). But regardless of that, this is the best Classic American Hamburger I've ever had. :) (Thanks ipse & David Kahn! :)

Rating: 8.8 (out of 10.0)

Morton's The Steakhouse (Downtown L.A.)
735 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Tel: (213) 553-4566

* Morton's Prime Burger Served during LUNCH ONLY *

Hours: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
(They open for dinner, but I'm not listing their hours to avoid confusion.)

* Note: They offer Free 3 Hour Parking (w/ Validation) in the secured Earnst & Young 777 Parking Structure behind their restaurant.

* 1st Place (TIE) *
Father's Office (Los Angeles)

At this point, it almost feels like a trendy, mainstream, sellout move to vote for the Father's Office Burger, but after visiting all these Burger specialists around L.A., the majority of us came to the same conclusion: It's just *that* good. But there are some caveats (which is why it wasn't the clear-cut winner).

Originally opened in Santa Monica by Chef-Owner Sang Yoon, Father's Office opened up a larger, more spacious 2nd location on Helms Avenue in Los Angeles. Father's Office offers an impressive, rotating array of Craft Beers on Tap, with some excellent seasonal brews from time-to-time.

Father's Office has become infamous for its No Substitutions / Alterations policy regarding its food (as well as kicking people out for smuggling in condiments from time-to-time (since they don't serve Ketchup)). Everyone in our group had already been to Father's Office at least once, but as a follow-up after trying the other burgers...

The Office Burger (Caramelized Onion, Bacon, Gruyere, Maytag Blue, Arugula)
Price: $12 (includes tax)
Customizable: No
Includes: No Sides

First things first: The Father's Office Burger is *not* for everyone. I have some friends who simply can't stand Blue Cheese, but if you want to try the Father's Office Burger, you're stuck with it (or you scrape it off). Besides that, its greatest strength - Dry-Aged, Niman Ranch Beef - is also its greatest weakness for some people. There are plenty of people who have never experienced a great, Dry-Aged Steak, and as a result the funky, pungent, intense beefiness one tastes in a Father's Office Burger can turn some people off.

But back to the Burger: Taking a bite... The Office Burger is a wild, unconventional, unique creation. It's out-of-control, yet at the same time totally in control: It's a brilliant, powerful, alternate interpretation of the "Hamburger" done in Chef Sang Yoon's vision. My favorite part of the Burger is the truly intense, potent beefiness (more than any Burger we tried in this battle) from the Dry-Aged Niman Ranch Beef. No other Burger we tried during the battle came close for this flavor.

Add in the combination of Gruyere and Maytag Blue Cheese to up the funk quotient even more, but mellow it out with the Bacon Onion Compote and plenty of spicy, peppery Arugula on a dryish French Roll, and you have Sang Yoon's Burger.

But there are some issues that should be noted: The French Roll is dry and a disappointment for those looking for a more traditional Burger Bun (or something more moist than the dry Roll it's served on). It's very pungent, which can be a turnoff for some. And the inability to customize / change / adjust the Burger will definitely upset some people (rightfully so). Finally, many in the group agreed that it's not a Burger they can have every day.

Service has been hit-or-miss at Father's Office (Los Angeles): You order at the Bar, and then find an open table if you can. Placing the order has been fine, but getting any help from the busboys / servers that bring out the food can be a crapshoot. One time I simply wanted an extra plate (since my guest and I were sharing food), and the busboy glared back at us for daring to ask for anything. Very weird. Their extreme rules and strict adherence to those rules have turned off many a customer and some great Hounds like bulavinaka.

Father's Office (Los Angeles) can be extremist at times, "Soup Nazi-esque" in its rules, and their Office Burger may not be for everyone, but it shines brightly for its creativity and uniqueness, and for me, it still comes across as the most distinct Burger in L.A.

Rating: 9.0 (out of 10.0)

* Note: Father's Office considers themselves a bar first, before restaurant. Under 21 years old, not admitted. *

Father's Office (Los Angeles)
3229 Helms Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Tel: (310) 736-2224

Hours: Mon -Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Fri - Sat, 12:00 p.m. Noon - 12:00 a.m. Midnight
Sun, 12:00 p.m. Noon - 10:00 p.m.

* 1st Place (TIE) *
Rustic Canyon

Located along a quiet stretch of Wilshire, Rustic Canyon has always been at the back of my mind; a place I've heard good things about, but just never get around to going to. But after hearing two strong recommendations for their Burger from Noah and Mr. Meatballs, I realized this was yet another place that needed to be added to this Burger Battle. :)

Currently helmed by Chef Evan Funke, Rustic Canyon represents one of those casual, warm, hidden eateries that just puts out excellent, simple cuisine with Farmers' Market fresh ingredients. Hearing the potential that this might be one of the best Burgers in L.A., I purposely wrangle the biggest Father's Office groupie I know, to get their impressions along with my other guests. :)

We begin with a Burrata Panzanella (Roasted Tomatoes, Artichokes, Green Olives, Pickled Ramps, Green Garlic).

After all the Burger eating, I can't tell you how happy I am to see something vegetable-based. :) I was merely looking for some respite from all the meat, but instead Chef Funke delivers a refreshing Spring breeze of goodness: The creamy, light Burrata playfully bathes this Farmers' Market Panzanella and you're treated to an invigorating, revitalizing dish of bright, flavorful vegetables that's delicate, fragrant and without reproach. Excellent! :)

And then our Burger arrives:

Meyer Ranch Burger (Sharp Cheddar, Onion Fondue, Bread and Butter Pickles, Herb Remoulade)
Price: $16
Customizable: Yes
Includes: Hand-Cut French Fries

It looks gorgeous, and then we take a bite: A deep, beefy savoriness comes shining through! Wow. I can't resist the urge to inhale the rest of my Burger. It has such a beautiful bovine essence that isn't as pungent as Dry-Aged Beef (ala Father's Office). It turns out that Rustic Canyon uses USDA Prime All-Natural Angus Beef from Meyer Ranch, with Beef that is Certified Humanely Raised and Handled, which is a big positive for some.

In addition to the amazing Beef, the Bun tastes strangely familiar to another favorite of mine: Rustic Canyon uses a Rockenwagner Brioche Bun (similar to The Golden State), which is soft, seemingly delicate, but still holds up pretty well with the juicy Burger. The Sharp Cheddar, Onion Fondue, Pickles and Herb Remoulade all complement the Meyer Ranch Burger, never taking center stage.

It's cooked to medium-rare and is such a revelation that our Father's Office groupie blurts out, "Oh my gosh! This is the Best Burger in town! I like it more than Father's Office." :) It's close, but I was in as much shock as my dazed friend. :)

But maybe the planets were aligned perfectly or something, so to make sure, I returned for a 2nd visit to see if the Burger was as amazing as the 1st time I had it.

The Meyer Ranch Burger looks even more amazing this second time.

I eagerly pick up the Burger, and take a big bite: It's as juicy and magnificent as before. Again, it's not the piercing funk of the Dry-Aged Father's Office Burger, but it stands out in its own genuine beefiness that's more enveloping on the palate. I am simply shocked by how good this Burger is.

The Hand-Cut Fries that come with the Meyer Ranch Burger are crispy, with a soft center, blanched first and then fried. On both visits, the Fries are seasoned just right. But it's their Garlic Aioli Dipping Sauce that deserves special mention. For Garlic lovers out there, it's the most amazing burst of Garlicky Creaminess in a Dipping Sauce. Wonderful! :)

Service has been outstanding on both visits, with our servers being amiable and helpful.

Rustic Canyon meets and exceeds my expectations with their wonderful Burrata Panzanella and the amazing Meyer Ranch Burger. The only negatives for this Burger is that Rustic Canyon is only open for Dinner, they're usually quite busy and crowded, and the $16 price tag feels a bit steep for some in our group. But otherwise, Chef Funke has delivered a Burger with real beefiness that's less extreme than the Father's Office Burger, but also more enjoyable. Add in a beautiful, relaxed, casual yet stylish vibe, and Rustic Canyon becomes a destination for one of the best Burgers in L.A.

Rating: 9.0 (out of 10.0)

Rustic Canyon
1119 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tel: (310) 393-7050

Hours: Sun - Thurs, 5:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Fri - Sat, 5:30 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.

* 1st Place (TIE) *
The Golden State

The Golden State is one of those places that many of us have taken for granted. On paper, how can this little, casual eatery sitting across from the amazing Animal belt out one of the best Burgers in L.A.? The answer is still a mystery, but lies somewhere between expert cooks that perfectly nail the temperature for a medium-rare Burger every single time, to a tight, focused menu that allows the kitchen to focus on making those few dishes great, to the dedication and passion for great food by its owners, Jason Bernstein and James Starr, along with Chef Rene Garcia.

On a recent visit, I'm excited to hear that they have the amazing Raspberry Yuzu Gelato from Scoops and Gelato Master Tai Kim. I quickly peruse their latest Beer Menu to see if they also happened to get in The Bruery's Hottenroth Berliner Weisse on Tap, but sadly they don't. Instead, they just got in New Belgium La Folie, which is hands down, *the* sourest Sour Beer I've ever had. :) It's impressively wild and tart, so I decide to start with a Beer Float to see if Scoops can tame this Sour Beer:

Beer Float: Scoops Raspberry Yuzu Gelato + New Belgium La Folie

The Raspberry Yuzu does seem to calm things down quite a bit, but the La Folie still manages to take over the spotlight, but it makes it much more palatable this way, although not as perfect as the winning Beer Float Competition combination of Berliner Weisse + Raspberry Yuzu.

But we're here for the Burger and we quickly order it:

The Burger (Harris Ranch Beef, Fiscalini Farms Cheddar, Glazed Applewood Smoked Bacon, Arugula, Housemade Aioli & Ketchup)
Price: $10
Customizable: Yes
Includes: 1 Side Order (Jalapeno Cabbage Slaw, Potato Salad, French Fries, Persian Cucumber Salad, Fried Sweet Potato Wedges)

Most of us have had The Golden State Burger before, but retrying it for this battle, I pause and take a bite:

A pure, true, juicy, beefy quality comes shining through from their Wet-Aged USDA Prime Beef. Add on a great sear and char, giving the Beef even more flavor, and the smoky, porcine Applewood Bacon and touch of bitterness from the Arugula, all wrapped up in a soft, lightly sweet Brioche Bun from Rockenwagner, and this turns out to be, unassumingly, one of the most satisfying Burgers around town. It's outstanding in its balance. (^_^)

But what's even crazier is that, as good as their regular Burger is, their Lamb Burger is even better:

The Golden State Lamb Burger (Colorado Lamb, Gruyere, Arugula, Applewood Smoked Bacon)
Price: $12
Customizable: Yes
Includes: 1 Side Order (Greek Salad, Jalapeno Cabbage Slaw, Potato Salad, French Fries, Persian Cucumber Salad, Fried Sweet Potato Wedges)

Served only on Thursday nights, the Colorado Lamb is gorgeous in its fresh, light gaminess, while still being juicy and a perfect medium-rare. Like the regular Burger, there's a very good sear, and the spicy, peppery Arugula with Dill and Yogurt and the light touch of sweet from the tender Rockenwagner Bun make this my favorite Lamb Burger in town. :)

Service is pretty straight forward: You order at the counter, take a number and grab a table, and the food is brought out to you.

The Golden State appeals to many of us due to its accessibility - super casual eatery, not as crowded as Rustic Canyon and F.O. - and ability to consistently execute a great, humble Burger that delivers the best balance of good beefy flavor, delicious Bacon, fresh Arugula on a lightly sweet, fresh Brioche Bun. It's not as intensely beefy as a Father's Office Burger, but like Rustic Canyon, The Golden State's Wet-Aged USDA Prime Beef delivers a rounder, lighter, but still healthy beefiness. Factor in the very fair price - $10 including one of their excellent Sides (their Potato Salad is fabulous) - the ability to also try the daily changing flavors of Scoops from Gelato Guru Tai Kim, and an outstanding Draft Beer Selection that changes weekly, and it's easy to see why I can't stop going to The Golden State. :)

Rating: 9.0 (out of 10.0)

The Golden State
426 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Tel: (323) 782-8331

Hours: Tues - Sun, 12:00 p.m. Noon - 10:00 p.m.
Closed Mondays.

Final Thoughts: A Great Burger is a personal thing. Everyone has their own benchmark and what may taste great to one person's palate may not be as delightful for someone else. Someone may not eat Pork, so the inclusion of amazing Bacon becomes a non-factor for that person's ideal Burger. Another person may hate Blue Cheese (as is the case with many people I know), so the Father's Office Burger isn't the be all end all for them. And then there are expectations. I know someone from South Orange County who drove up to L.A. for the Father's Office experience. Can you imagine the level of expectations after a 3 Hour Drive (round trip)? Is it worth it? Only each individual can answer that question.

After surveying only a fraction of the many great Gourmet Burgers offered up here in L.A., in the grand scheme of things, we're blessed with many great options. Here are some final individual awards:

* Favorite Classic American Burger: Morton's The Steakhouse Prime Burger
* The Beefiest Burger (for Flavor): Father's Office Office Burger
* Favorite Everyday, Enjoyable Burger: The Golden State & Rustic Canyon

In trying to track down that "Perfect Gourmet Burger," I'm reminded of what Anthony Bourdain said to the East Coast Food Blogger on an episode of No Reservations: "C'mon! It's just a *BLEEP*in' burger!" (^_^) Everyone has their favorite Burger; something that speaks to them personally and that's the most important thing. In hindsight, I should've enlisted more Guy Hounds to help with the eating duties. On second thought, this absurd Burger Battle should have never been started. No human being should ever attempt to consume as many Burgers as our group tried to do. I hope that if anyone reads this, they can save themselves and their loved ones from repeating this tragedy. As I begin to blackout, I vow to never eat a cursed Burger again! Veganism is sounding pretty good... pardon me for a second...

* [Phone Rings] *
* Burger Hound A: "Lamb Burger Night at Golden State! And they just got in Firestone Walker XIII!"
* Me: "Sweet! 9:00? See you there!"



gourmetpigs said...

As you noted, this was a crazy endeavor :P
Many of these places I have not been to and some I never thought about getting a burger when I'm there. I've heard good things about 8 oz though too bad you didn't enjoy it as much! I'll have to try Rustic Canyon's!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi burumun,

You should definitely give Rustic Canyon a try. I loved their Meyer Ranch Burger! So good! :) If you go, let me know whatcha think.

12345 said...

Great post. It's posts like these that add much value to the blogging world. I'll have to add Golden State and Lucky Devils to my list.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Alba,

Thank you. :) You really should try The Golden State's Burger (and if you can make it out on Thurs, their Lamb Burger Night). :) I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Father's Office burger is VERY overrated and way too sweet.

There's no salt anywhere in it to balance out the caramelized onions and they cook the medium rare -> well done.

The best part was the bread.

Go to Bowery instead.

Rustic Canyon looks good though, I'll have to try it.

R.D. Cooke said...

Laurel Tavern's Hickory Burger should be your next spot! They have pork belly good.

Thirsty in LA said...

Excellent post! Now I'm craving a burger. :-) Haven't had a few of these, will have to try them some time. Have you had the burger at the Foundry? Not sure if it would make your cut but I thought it was really good. Chef Greenspan even issued a Foundry-FO burger challenge to Sang Yoon, which has yet to be answered.

JustinM said...

Wow. That was a LOT of information to take in in one post. Beautifully ambitious, though. I have not been to several of these places, but I think you've inspired me to try them all.

Anonymous said...

You should try Rustic Canyon on their burger and beer Mondays. They have two special burgers each monday. One time they even had a burrata burger that's like a combo of the two dishes you mentioned

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for your thoughts. :) Yah, there are definitely as many non-fans as fans of the Father's Office Burger. That's what makes food exploration so fun. :)

Thanks for your recommendation on The Bowery Burger. It was one that was on my additional list, but after so many people dropped out, we didn't have enough energy to try it.

If you get a chance to try the Rustic Canyon Burger, please let me know what you think. :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi R.D. Cookie,

Thanks for the rec on Laurel Tavern. I'll have to try it as soon as I recover from this Burger Overdose. :) Pork Belly Fries sound wonderful as well.

Exile Kiss said...

@ Thirsty in LA,

Thank you. :) I love going to The Foundry from time-to-time. Chef Greenspan is so fun! :) Every time I go there I order their Tasting Menu or other nicely prepped dishes. It seems like the only thing I haven't ordered is their Burger! :) I'll have to try it the next time I go. Thanks.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Pulled Porker,

Sorry for the information overload (I had no idea it would spiral out of control like that :). Definitely let me know if you end up trying some of these places and what you think. Thanks.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anonymous 2,

Thanks. :) Yah, I keep missing out on Burger Night (Mondays) at Rustic Canyon. I've been meaning to try it as well; hopefully soon.

Oishii Eats said...

Holy shit. Love this post EK!

Golden State makes a mean burger.

Try the burger blend at McCall's in Los Feliz for home burgers.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Oishii Eats,

Thanks. (^_^) Glad you like The Golden State Burger as well. :)

Wow, I didn't even think of McCall's for a burger blend to make at home. Now I know where I'm going to prep for my next BBQ! Thanks! :)

EC Gladstone said...

I did a similar burger odyssey in Las Vegas a few months ago. Check it out here:

Exile Kiss said...

Hi EC Gladstone,

Thanks for your link. That's an impressive amount of work for Vegas. Can't wait to dig into your recs. :)

e d b m said...

ExileK, *applause* Ultra informative/geeky/savory posting! i like making sliders at home or even eating a simple cheeseburger from Yuca's. The gastroburgers are too busy for me.

Sam said...

Due to the proliferation of arugula/blue cheese burgers in LA (which i call the FOE/fathers office effect), it really diminishes the genius of his burger. That said, it is in my top5 for LA but it is very inconsistent .

I've gone to all of those establishments 4-10+ times (except 26 beach) and i echo most of the sentiments except for golden state. I find the ingredients to be good but rather than the rustic canyon burger resembling the gs burger due to the bun, I find that the GS burger is a knockoff of elements from burgers all over the city (arugula, rockenwager bun) etc and I feel like someone googled "best burgers in la" and combined all the ingredients. still is better than your average burger though.

lazy ox has a great burger (housemade bun + carmody cheese) and bar marmont has a decent burger as well.

anyways, nothing in the west coast beats the burgers at minetta tavern (on the east coast, sadly). especially if you're looking for "beefiness/funkiness" from dry aged meat.

Sam said...

And i just remembered bourdain's "obsessed" episode features the burger at minetta.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi E D B M,

No, no thank you for always providing so many great reports and posts. :) I agree that over the course of this expedition, most of us found the majority of the Gastropub Burgers to be too fussy.

If you like a straight, Classic American Burger, you might try Morton's Prime Burger (they're totally cool w/ letting you customize) and Anisette's Brasserie Burger (so simple and fresh).

I haven't tried Yuca's. Thanks for the rec. :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Sam,

Thanks for your thoughtful post. :) It's interesting since I experienced the Golden State Burger first (before RC), I fell in love with that and that's my "first impressions", but the Rustic Canyon Burger is amazing. I can't wait to go back for Burger Night there as well. :)

Thanks for the rec on Minetta Tavern. What state is it in?


Exile Kiss said...

Hi Sam,

Oh so *that's* Minetta! In that Obsessed episode? Ah, nice. :) Yah, I can't wait to try it. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Love your dedication to the burger. Here's what happened when we searched for the best burger in LA...

David Garber said...

Thank you so much for posting. You did an amazing job. I can't wait to get eating. Again, thank you so much for the research.


Exile Kiss said...

Hi Chris C,

Thanks. Wow, it looks like you have a great burger exploration site. Can't wait to read more. Thanks.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi David,

Thank you for the compliment. Please let me know if you end up trying some of these places. Enjoy~ :)

Food, she thought. said...


I am in love with the burger at Tavern, which makes me wonder if you tasted and rejected it. Which leads me further down the path of wonderment...was there anything else you tasted that didn't make the list?

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Food, she thought,

Thank you for the recommendation for Tavern's Burger! I've been so many times and never ordered it. Sigh.

I will have to try it next time I'm in the area. :)

Mm, other Burgers I've tried that didn't make the list:

* The Counter
* The Hungry Cat - I actually enjoyed the Pug Burger, but by the time I wanted to add it to our list, too many were fleeing or disappearing. :) Sigh. So we simply ran out of energy / people / time.

Did you get a chance to try most of the Burgers on this list? Any that you liked? :)

weezermonkey said...

Impressive. I've been on a burger quest of my own, but your list is so thorough! Makes me want to quit now. :P

Have you had Comme Ca's burger?

Exile Kiss said...

Hi weezermonkey,

No no, don't quit! I look forward to your thoughts on Burgers as well. :)

If you get a chance please do try some of my favorites here and let me know what you think (in your report, or back here if you can :).

Comme Ca Burger: No. I've been multiple times, but it never occurred to me to order their Burger.

Unknown said...

What a beautiful report! I absolutely loved reading it and am now seriously jones-ing for a burger (I'm sure you're good for a while though)

I'm very flattered I got a mention! The burger at Anisette I love so much is the upgraded version with pancetta and brie. Outstanding.

My next favorite burger is at Bowery in Hollywood, when you've sufficiently recovered it's definitely worth a try :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Abba,

Thank you. And thanks so much for the recommendation in the first place! Even the simpler version I had at Lunch was wonderful; just outstanding Beef. I can't wait to try the Dinner version. :)

And then the Bowery Burger (which was on my 2nd List of possible places to hit, but we ran out of steam... ). Hope all is well. :)

Gastronomer said...

Thanks to you and your delicious write up I am CRAVING a burger now. Hmm, where to get my fix? Rustic Canyon!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Gastronomer,

Hehe, thanks. :) You can't go wrong trying Rustic Canyon. Let me know how the Burger is. :)

Food, she thought. said...


that is a LOT of burger eating. I have tried: Father's Office and not having a sweet tooth I did not enjoy it much. 8 oz sliders had a major winner for me with their lamb & boar sliders, and I like the umami burger just fine.


Exile Kiss said...

Hi Food, she thought,

Totally understood about the sweet angle at F.O. :)

I'll have to try the Lamb and Boar Sliders at 8 oz. I was bummed that they didn't offer them as regular Burgers (Sliders Only). Thanks.

Eddie Lin said...

I'm stuffed just reading this burger quest opus. Very well done post (although I know you prefer medium rare).

I recently shot my t.v. pilot at The Foundry and had one of Chef Eric Greenspan's Father's Office Killers or "The Patio Season Burger". It was very good. LAist calls it the "best gourmet burger in LA". You should try it.

Chris said...

wow great post! i definitely want to try some of these places next time im around

Anonymous said...

Minor quibble--Wagyu is the subspecies of cattle. Kobe is the city in Japan. Therefore "Wagyu Beef" is the generic term for beef from Wagyu cattle, while "Kobe Beef" can only come from Kobe, Japan.

It bothers me when restaurants say that they have "Kobe Beef". Unless the meat comes directly from Kobe, Japan the proper term should be Wagyu. Just like you can have sparkling wine or "champaign" from all over the world, while only wine from Champagne, France can be called "champagne".

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Eddie,

Congrats on the TV pilot! :) I just heard about The Foundry's new Burger (too late), sigh. I'll definitely have to try it the next time I'm on Melrose. I've always enjoyed going to The Foundry. :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks! :) Please let me know how your Burgers turn out if you go. :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anon,

Re: "Wagyu" / "Kobe" - Thanks. Yes, I know that. :) And for me, personally, when I read a menu saying they have "Wagyu Beef" I always think of Real Wagyu Beef (from Japan). If it's proliferated to the point where everyone in the world is calling their cattle that might have the genes of certain Japanese Cattle "Wagyu" then I understand, but I don't get the impression it's that way yet.

Like you said, I've seen more diligent restaurants list "Australian Wagyu" or "Australian Kobe", "American Kobe" etc.

V said...

Great reviews! Golden State is my front-runner burger as well, although I haven't had the ones at Comme Ca,The Cube, or Fleming's burger and wonder how those would fare in the mix of things. (Glad to know I'm not the only crazy one out there on a constant hunt for the most insanely perfect and satisfying burger in LA!)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi V,

Thanks! :) I'm happy to hear you love The Golden State Burger as well.

The Cube and Fleming's... sigh, more Burgers to try. You see? This *is* a giant Black Hole that keeps sucking in more and more options for all of us. :)

Have you ever tried Rustic Canyon's Burger? How did you like it? :)

Unknown said...

Ssssh, don't tell anyone.. but Cache (JC's not so down market place) may just have the best gourmet burgers in town. wed, thurs only. Great fries too.

burger's change weekly and run 18+And I'm a big F.O.. fan

Exile Kiss said...

Hi aq,

Thanks for the tip. I'll be on the lookout for it the next time I stop in. :)

Diana said...

You skipped Boneyard Bistro! I LOVE thier burger, and I've compared it to Rustic Canyon's. Boneyard wins for me every time. I order whichever burger I get just barely kissed by the grill...mmmm

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Diana,

Thanks for the rec. :) Yes, Boneyard was on my 2nd List, which I would've included a few more places had it not been for everyone dropping like flies during this insanity. I'll definitely have to try it the next time I visit. Thanks!

Anonymous said...


How many burgers in how many days?

In this "gourmet" burger battle, where would you rank In-N-Out, Whopper and Quarter Pounder?

Surprisingly, Outback Steakhouse makes a pretty good burger.

I hope to see more battles!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anonymous,

Countless Burgers in about ~4 days I think. :)

In-n-Out and other flat top cooked Burgers should be counted in a separate discussion. Just a different creation. Thanks.

J.A. Pak said...

We went to 26 Beach today for lunch and had such a good time. The chicken katsu sandwich was so fun! I also thought they had the best french fries in LA. We weren't quite sure about the kobe hamburger, though -- a bit more chewy than we'd expected. For us, the Umami burger with Stilton and port-onion compote is hard to beat, especially with the porter that's on their menu.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi J.A.,

Very nice! Thanks for reporting back. I'm glad you enjoyed 26 Beach. I love their Fries, too! :) I'll have to try the Chicken Katsu Sandwich next time. Sorry to hear about the Kobe's texture; it didn't sound like the one we tried.

Craig said...

Fantastic post. +1 for Comme Ca... as someone who judges a burger on the quality of the beef you will LOVE IT.

Oh, and don't sleep on In N Out :)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Craig,

Thank you. And thanks for the recommendation on Comme Ca. It was on my 2nd List of additional places to try should we survive the 1st List of places, but we never did. :) I'll have to give it a try next time. Thanks!

J.A. Pak said...

Consistency does seem to be a problem with a lot of burger places, especially when it comes to French fries. Pie 'n Burger can have really fantastic burgers or really ho hum burgers depending on who's at the grill. (The fries, however, are always bad). Strangely, I thought the French fries at 26 reminded me a little of the French fries you used to get at McDonalds, when they used to sprinkle the spuds with sugar before deep-frying. Wonder if that's the secret to 26's fries...

Nomsnotbombs said...

Wow. This is unbelievably impressive! Thanks for the work for all of us!!

And, I have to say, I'm glad that Golden State came out on top.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi NomsNotBombs,

Thanks! :) I see Golden State is your favorite? :) Have you tried their Lamb Burger yet?

Exile Kiss said...

Hi J.A.,

Definitely. That's why I threw down the ground rule to try and visit each place 3 times to measure some consistency.

Re: 26 Beach Fries: Interesting. I never thought it reminded me too much of McDonald's Fries, but I'm not a Golden Arches expert. :)

Unknown said...

My wife, a friend, and I are in the midst of our own burger quest. We've hit a number of the restaurants you mention, as well as some that you didn't. I'm impressed that you revisit the restaurants, as that makes the process longer and more expensive.

We've hit Umami (first bite was orgasmic, felt disgusting by the end), Father's Office (onion sauce was too much like BBQ sauce for me), Golden State (I don't really remember the burger, but I do remember that the guy at the counter was a jerk and the root beer was horrible), 25 Degrees (didn't like the bun), and 8 Oz (the burger fell apart due to the wetness of the toppings and the weakness of the bun, the restaurant was way too loud for me). I'm looking forward to Rustic Canyon. We'll add some of the others from your list, too.

We've also tried some less snooty places like Five Guys, In 'N Out, and Apple Pan. Plus some others that we've seen mentioned like La Grande Orange and Westside Tavern. So far, there isn't an obvious winner.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Bryan,

Thanks. I'm glad to hear your on a burger quest of your own. :) Yes, I think it's really important to go to a restaurant more than once before one writes them off or sees that as the definitive experience. In an ideal world, everyone's visit each time to any restaurant should be a perfect 100% experience of that restaurant's full ability.

Sadly, that's not always the case. Very few restaurants can nail their maximum potential for each and every dish and meal that gets served to the customers.

Please let me know how the rest of your search goes. :)

Sharon from Cheesy Pennies said...

Major kudos both for your perseverance and for such a complete and thorough run down! As a relative newbie to the LA eat-and-tell scene, we are in awe! I am a huge fan of The Golden State burger, and admit to enjoying the Umami Port and Stilton. Maybe in a year or so, when you feel like venturing out again, try the burger at Comme Ca (as others have mentioned) and definitely the luscious pug burger at Hungry Cat. Yum! I'm going to run, not walk, to Rustic Canyon, now!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Sharon,

Thanks for the kind complement. :) Happy to hear you like the Golden State Burger as well. :)

I've actually had Hungry Cat's Pug Burger before, but didn't include it because we ran out of steam at the end (it, along w/ Comme Ca and a few others were on a secondary list we had). Thanks for the rec on Comme Ca's version.

Definitely let me know what you think of Rustic Canyon's Burger. :)

Anonymous said...

Great post, but I wish more reviewers would tell their readers that if you're under 21 years old, you're not welcome at Father's Office. We tried to go last Sunday for lunch and they told us we weren't welcome since we had our 19 year old daughter with us.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Anon,

I'm so sorry to hear about that! My apologies; I didn't even think about "Under 21 years old" restrictions at Father's Office (we've been so often, I just took it for granted). I've updated my Review with that note.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Nomsnotbombs said...

ExileKiss, NO! I haven't! I'm always too lazy to drive to Golden State after work on Thursdays...but it is on my to-eat list.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi NomsNotBombs,

I feel your pain (Thurs night traffic), but if you ever get the energy to do it and feel like Lamb, definitely give it a try. It's wonderful. :)

Oh, be sure to call ahead on Thursday if you're showing up late (closer to closing for them). Let them know you want a Lamb Burger and they'll save you one. They usually sell out before closing time.

mike said...

Love it Exile Kiss. Thought you may be interested in 5 Questions With... Lucky Vanous of LDs.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Southland Glutton,

Nice interview. :) I'm glad you enjoy their Bacon Bleu.

the latebirds said...

Golden state deserves an honorable mention for sure.. but no where in the top 10 burgers of LA.. I think they wrote this as they were doing there homework to open up there own shop..
Might I highly recommend Grill em all's "lars" burger, or the molly hatchet, or the witte.. Grill em all has the most innovative combinations on burgers... and they taste amazing.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi the latebirds,

Thank you for the suggestions. I'll have to try these the next time I recover from this Burger madness. :)

Oishii Eats said...

Exile Kiss...send this review to the Voltaggio Brothers:

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Oishii Eats,

Thanks for the link and info. Interesting! :)

Dean Smith said...

hey Exilekiss, take another look at the v-bros blog, seems they're big fans of yours over there! As are we all!!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Dean Smith,

Oh wow, I'm honored. Thank you for your kind, kind words. :)

Kait said...

WOW. That was quite the burger battle. I agree that burgers are a personal thing. There are countless ways to enjoy a burger and as long as you've found the one that's right for you, then that's all that matters.

For the record, burgers don't make people gain weight ;)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Kait,

Thanks! :) So what's your favorite Burger place in LA?

vgasantamonica said...

dude, you are AWESOME

Exile Kiss said...

Hi vgasantamonica,

Thanks, you are too kind. :)

Kimberly said...

A job well done! You might want to give the following two west LA establishments a chance:

"Hole in the Wall" (for best burger deal plus great fries)

"Upper West" (as good as Father's Office with perhaps a superior bun).

I'm just sayin'.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Kimberly,

Thank you. :) Thanks for the recs on those 2 restaurants. Duly noted. :) When I get back from my Burger Fast, I'll be sure to check those places out. Thanks! :)

Ron said...

I'm a big fan of Comme Ca's burger, but the place whose burger surprised me the most was actually the one from Slaw Dogs in Pasadena. It fit the mold more along the line of "classic American" similar to Pie N Burger, also in Pasadena. Right now, I would say my top four is some combination of Comme Ca, Slaw Dogs, Laxy Ox and Hungry Cat.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Ron,

Thanks for the great recs! :) I would've never thought Slaw Dogs would deliver a great Burger. I'll have to try it next time I'm there. :)

I did enjoy Hungry Cat's Pug Burger, but during this Gourmet Burger Battle my group of avid Burger fans faded too fast and we never made it to the "2nd List" of places to try (Hungry Cat and Comme Ca). If I had to go on memory, Hungry Cat would've made the Top 10 for sure. :)

Bigmouth said...

Exile, I finally got around to trying Rustic Canyon. We went on burger night and ordered one of the specials, which had cheddar, confited bacon, onion rings, and home-made bbq sauce. It was very enjoyable, but I still prefer the equivalent burger (i.e., the Manly Burger) at Umami.

For one thing, my burger at Rustic Canyon was overcooked. We asked for medium rare and got something closer to medium. I mention this only because it seems to be a consistent complaint with Rustic Canyon.

Even more fundamentally, the meat blend was too one note at Rustic Canyon. I give them props for using Niman Ranch beef (btw, the beef is Niman, not Meyer,these days). But a good burger requires a blend of different cuts to round things out, imo. For example, Danny Meyer of Shake Shack in NYC mixes sirloin with fatty brisket for flavor and mouthfeel. I'm pretty sure Umami does something similar.

Finally, I prefer the onion strings at Umami to the giant tempura onion rings. They're just more manageable on the burger. Still, this was a damn fine burger, paired with an absolutely delicious apple ale. I live close by and will definitely be going back for future burger nights at Rustic Canyon.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Bigmouth,

Thanks for the great report back! :) I'm glad you got a chance to try Rustic Canyon's Burger. I'm glad you enjoyed it overall (but maybe not as much as your personal favorite).

I agree that I've enjoyed blended Burgers more than a pure 1 type, but I'd say even Morton's 100% USDA Prime Sirloin Burger was pretty darn tasty, even without the blend. :) Take care~

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