Red Lion Tavern
2366 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90039 (map); 323-662-5337; redliontavern.net
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: An uninspired patty with a really good bun makes for a just ok burger
Want Fries with That? Yes! Perfectly handled fast food style fries
Price: Hamburger $8; fries, $3
The Red Lion Tavern has always been a bit of a confusing mix of traditional Bavarian gasthaus (the kind of tavern you'd find along with a hotel and banquet area) and hipster irony. I can remember going there years before its neighborhood had fully gentrified and the crowd was a mix of over-forty regulars and the trickle of youngblood that I represented. These days I'm the oldster at this bar, but I was interested to go back and see how the food held up to my fond memories of too many beers, a sausage plate, and my bad pick-up lines. This time around it would be a responsible amount of drinking and a burger.
There isn't much complexity to Red Lion's hamburger ($8). Even the menu keeps it to weights and measures: "Hamburger 1/3 lb. ground beef" was all it said. A six(ish)-ounce patty is pretty much my ideal, and I was happy to order mine medium-rare. Sadly, it was more medium than medium-rare, but I've certainly been served far worse preparations. The finer grind and healthy amount of mixed-in seasoning gave this a meatball-like consistency—not as bad as the terrible tightness of a meatloaf patty, but not an ideal texture either. That said, it was well seasoned and the exterior of the patty had good flavor.
I chose to hold the mustard and go for the straight-ahead lettuce, tomato, mayo, and raw onion toppings. The vibrant green lettuce was chopped into long strips that were placed underneath the patty. It's an effective method (both chopping and bottoming), but the construction led to a mess when eating the burger. The tomato was a little unripe and unwanted. The mayo helped with the dryness of the patty, and the onion was a nice, mild accompaniment. The best part was the old school, nearly perfect bun: a little squishy, but not too doughy. A little sweet, but not cloying. A little glistening, but not greasy. If Red Lion could upgrade the beef they'd be on to something with their burger.
The fries ($3) were a total winner. They were the best version of the thin-cut, fast food variety: fantastically crisp without becoming cardboard, with the perfect snap that reveals a soft potato interior and just the right amount of salt. People might rave about the German fried potatoes, but I'd go back for the fries.
I wouldn't call Red Lion's burger anything more than just ok, but I did eat the whole thing. This may have had something to do with the Hefeweizen that went down easily while waiting for my food. This was, in fact, the most pleasing part of this beergarden. I suspect the next time I'm back I'd opt for the same beer, the sausage sampler, and the spätzle instead of the burger.