1634 N Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90028 (map); 323-464-3858; fukuburger.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: This burger spot with a Japanese edge makes a surprisingly good burger
Want Fries with That? No; these spuds are uninspired and out of step with the quality burgers
Prices: Fuku Burger, $8; Tamago, $9; Buta Burger, $9; Karai, $8.50
Fuku Burger is not the kind of restaurant I expect to enjoy. At first blush it seems more high-concept than high quality and there is an atmosphere of compulsory good times. The large-scale graphics that decorate the walls take their inspiration from the Japanese manga tradition and servers arrive to take my order with so much enthusiasm that I can't help but feel as though I'm letting them down. In short, it seems like the kind of restaurant that emerges when an entrepreneur decides they've hit upon a surefire money making mashup of foods and style rather than a spot devoted to great food.
The creative minds in this case are Colin Fukunaga and Robert "Mags" Magsalin. They first tested the waters of their fusion burger concept in the form of, you guessed it, a food truck. Their Las Vegas-based Fukuburger truck was a smashing success, and they recently decided to go brick and mortar here in Hollywood. To enter the deeply competitive burger resto scene in Hollywood demanded a powerful partner, and they found one in Harry Morton (of Pink Taco, et al). Again, this kind of stylish partnership isn't one that I'd expect to produce a burger of substance—but I was wrong.
Their eponymous Fuku Burger ("Lucky" burger) is as straightforward as a burger gets at this joint. Their patty (a proprietary blend that gets some Asian flavors thrown in) gets topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickled onion, wasabi mayo, and their secret Fuku sauce.
The patty is where I'll start because it's what most surprised me. It's about five to six ounces (i believe a slight beefing up from their truck's original patty size) and it gets a lovely medium-coarse grind. I usually fear a lot of added seasoning or sauces when it comes to a burger patty, but this one had that definitive Asian flavor without losing its identity as an American original. They don't give away their secrets, but I'd guess they add some soy and yuzu to the blend of Angus beef. The toppings were all solid and the meat was cooked to a nice medium rare. Then there's the bun; Fuku Burger keeps it wonderfully old-school with a beautifully griddled commercial bun that has just that right amount of chew against the sponginess.
The Tamago ("egg" burger), was recommended to me by my impossibly cute waitress. She has good taste. This one gets topped with a sweetened up teriyaki/wasabi mayo, furikake (a dried fish sprinkling you'll often see on rice), a fried egg, and fried onion strings.
I thought it would be a familiar egg burger, but the salty kick and savory crunch of the onion made this one anything but. I particularly enjoyed the decadence of the soft yolk Again, the bun made held up beautifully and they cooked the patty to a nice medium rare.
The Buta Burger ("pig" burger) probably attracts a lot of customers, but I'd say this one wasn't quite up to the level of the others. The bacon wasn't cooked with any crispness, which seemed intentional, but isn't as appealing to me.
Finally, I tried the Karai, Fuku Burger's take on a spicy burger. This one was actually a beautiful exercise in simplicity. The heat comes from a habanero kabayaki (think eel sauce). I don't usually enjoy my food with this many Scoville units, but the avocado cream and pickled cucumbers balanced the heat.
The only real weak spot in my meal were the Fuku fries. I was surprised just ordinary these medium cut spuds came out. They get a dusting of seasoning that detracts from their natural tastiness and there wasn't a balance between crispness and interior smoothness.
I arrived at Fuku Burger with a clear idea of how this food truck-cum-Hollywood burger spot would leave me flat. As it turned out, this dynamic burger duo from Las Vegas has found a formula that reminded me that a great burger is where I find it.