Burgers in LA
I wrote a piece a little while ago concerning the bizarre burger hype in London. The general consensus was that punters love a bit of hype and dive in head first without really knowing what they are queuing for. What I gathered, from one of the highest rated burger joints in town (Patty & Bun), was that here in the UK we just can’t cut it against the US. Annoyingly there will forever be the unanswered question of “why not?”, I mean it’s just a burger for god’s sake.
So, what has America got to offer? In terms of fast, fatty, fabulous food, a goddamn hell of a lot more than back home that’s for sure, well just take a look at their patrons. In the States the humble burger is represented in a broad spectrum of its entirety and celebrated in all its glory. From cheap and cheerful diner, drive-thru style to the most gourmet of gourmets, they really take this shit seriously and frankly I love them for it.
I’m going to centre this article around ‘Umami Burger’ because it’s a place I seem to go back to repeatedly, they must be doing something right! The word “umami” is a loanword from the Japanese (we have no word for it in English); it is one of the five basic tastes, along with sweet, bitter, salty and sour. Think of it as a savoury taste, something delicious we taste through our receptors for glutamate. Umami Burger uses this knowledge to great effect to create burgers that excite the palate and enhance flavours to the next level. It’s intelligent invention and the result is a heavenly mouthful, even Heston would be impressed. The patties are house-ground, hand-formed and infused with their own Umami Master Sauce. They are sous-vide for a long time and then finished on the grill, resulting in the juiciest, meatiest, perfectly tender patty.
I think what I love about these burgers so much is that they are small and uncomplicated, keeping it simple to maximise flavour profiles. Take the ‘Truffle Burger’ for example, it’s just meat and cheese, albeit house-made truffle cheese, and a cheeky truffle glaze, one of my favourites. The brioche-style buns are slightly sweet and light, and make a perfect setting for the delicious fillings. The original ‘Umami Burger’ is a flavour sensation; shiitake mushroom, caramelized onions, roasted tomato, parmesan crisp, umami ketchup. It balances umami packed ingredients, enhancing the flavour of the meat, seriously tasty. The sides are pretty damn good too, try the cheesy tots, or fries topped with delicious combos.
What’s great about this joint is that different branches have specials which change frequently and certain seasonal menus crop up from time to time. Also there are plenty of off-menu items, so if you’ve heard about something from a friend, or an old option no longer featured, just ask. As more and more of these little gems unearth, you’ll never be short of things to try. Their recent truffle season menu featured a ‘Truffled Shiitake Royale Burger’ with port onions, truffled shiitake and truffle glaze, an absolute knockout.
Umami Burger is expanding rapidly, so make sure you if you’re in California you stop by one, two branches have even hit the East Coast now, don’t miss out!
There are definitely other places of note in LA. The burger at ‘Simmzy’s‘ is seriously fantastic too. More of a classic, big, meaty and rich; their own angus beef patty, chow chow onions, melted cheddar, garlic aioli, lettuce, tomato, breadbar bun. It’s executed perfectly and the balance is well thought out. Add some of their fried fresno chilli rings for a nice crisp kick.
The burger at ‘Father’s Office’ is often bragged about as one of the very best that LA has to offer; dry-aged beef topped with sweet onion jam, gruyere and maytag blue cheese, smokey bacon, arugula and tomato compote, all in an unusual oval shaped bun. It is a good burger, the meat itself has a phenomenal flavour, but I find the whole thing overwhelming. Not in size but in its punch, it hits way too hard. The balance of flavours is there but there is no delicacy, it’s one huge flavour after the other, the serious char on the patty and the accompaniments are smokey, salty, sweet, all to the extreme. It’s a gourmet burger but in my opinion it lacks finesse. They make a seriously fine sweet potato fry though, and the aioli is especially good.
If fast food is more up your street, you may be tempted to try ‘In-N-Out’. I have a certain distaste for this West Coast chain, I mean it’s basically McDonalds. I’ll be lynched for saying something so blasphemous (this place has a ridiculous amount of fans) but I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Okay they use fresh ingredients and it is actually better than McDonalds but it’s nothing to write home about. Just sad looking burgers with no soul and awful accompaniments, I mean have you even tried “animal style” fries? It’s a truly disgusting thing, some suspect chopped grilled onions and extra ‘special sauce’, it looks and tastes like cat puke, hence the name “animal style” I presume?! Even thinking about it makes me want to throw up. The thing that confuses me the most is why everyone likes it. I guess the owners of In-N-Out must have been taking tips from the Church of Scientology about the latest techniques in human brainwashing.
If you want fast food, go to ‘The Apple Pan’, its easily my favourite fast food burger. The place is an institution, a tiny diner with a U-shaped counter. It’s been around since 1947 and I doubt it has changed that much. It’s completely unpretentious, burgers are served in their paper only, and fries on a paper plate, even the cups are disposable. There are only two burger options, the ‘Steak Burger’ which comes with trademark relish and the ‘Hickory Burger’ with hickory sauce. The meat is good quality and has great flavour, the only downside is that the burger is packed with lettuce. It’s completely bonkers, it’s more of a salad burger, just ask for it without, I always do! It may take you a while to get here, as there is only one of this historic diner but I guess that’s all part of the charm.
So people, that’s a little slice of what’s currently on offer out in Los Angeles. Clearly there are hundreds of different burgers out there but I just wanted to tell you about the ones I find interesting. I’m sure there are many exciting and interesting combinations around so it’s just a matter of trial and error. Without meaning to sound like a Scientologist, go out my children, explore, investigate and experience, and try not to become morbidly obese in the quest for the perfect burger!