AHT: Los Angeles

Burger reviews in the Los Angeles area.

An Upscale Casual Burger Fails to Strike a Balance at Westside Tavern in Los Angeles

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[Photographs: Damon Gambuto]

Westside Tavern

10850 W Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles CA 90064 (map); 310-470-1539; westsidetavernla.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Another upscale-casual spot falls victim to the fancy-pants impulses.
Want Fries with That? No thanks! Surprisingly mushy and uninspired. Try the homemade potato chips if you are craving a deep fried spud.
Prices: Cheeseburger (with side), $13
Notes: If you are compelled too try this burger, ask for medium to get a proper medium rare.

It will come as no surprise that I get a lot of burger recommendations. Living in a metropolis as vast and dynamic as Los Angeles means I could easily find a new burger everyday. Most of the places that are thrown my way are standbys that I've sampled before, but every now and then a new one pops up that seems worth a visit.

The Westside Tavern was suggested to me by a new acquaintance whose enthusiasm for food was immediately palpable. After hearing about my job here at AHT, she immediately dropped into an exegesis on the hearty patty, the fluffy bun, and the professional execution I'd find at this new modern American restaurant.

I'd read about this new casual, yet upscale spot and didn't think there'd be much there for me. First off, it's located on the ground floor of a major West Los Angeles Mall. Secondly...okay, there really isn't a second; I just don't like going to malls. But duty bound me so I made my across town with an open mind and a empty belly.

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While parking for the Westside Tavern means pulling into the Westside Pavilion, any memory of that all-too-American shopping mall fades with the sight of the expansive and attractive dining room. Westside Tavern is described as casually upscale, but this minimalist, wood-soaked interior was clearly not a casual undertaking. The owners spared little expense to sate the aesthetic demands of its creative professional clientele. It's a truly impressive and—save the flat screen televisions—elegant take on the contemporary tavern. If this restaurant can makes things taste as good as it looks, I might have to rethink dinner at the mall.

The only burger option on the menu is a cheeseburger, which saves me the trouble of choosing the Tillamook cheddar that comes standard. Grilled onions are also an automatic topping, so that's another tacit agreement. The listed egg bun doesn't initiate the harmony of the first two standards, but as there is little amiss thus far I choose to trust the chef Warren Schwartz's burger instincts. To be fair, that's an easy call being that he's done time at the well received (and just plain upscale) eateries Whist and Saddle Peak Lodge. I thrown in an order of fries and homemade potato chips to fill out the meal (and my pants).

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My burger arrives looking every bit the part of that aforementioned descriptor: upscale. The bun is the shiny, bulbous mass that has come to dominate the fancy pants burger world. It's clearly got some good toasting to it and looks of the patty and heaping toppings, will all be needed. The cheese is a double slice and the onions are more than just a little dollop. There's also an unadvertised pile of arugula and a glob of aioli (mayo). Those last two aren't necessarily unwelcome, but I'm nonplussed by the sneak attack strategy for the vegetable and condiment additions.

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After cutting my burger in half I find my medium rare burger to be surprisingly pinkish red. When I ask about the temperature I am told, in a somewhat condescending tone, that I asked for medium rare. It's an atypical disconnect—usually I'm handed overdone patties and told to enjoy, but this place seems to be fighting hard for tough guy meat cred. I'm an eater, not a fighter, so the Westside tavern and I will just have to agree to disagree on what temperature constitutes a medium rare burger. I give it a shot as it was brought to me.

Although the first bite is full of flavor and texture, I notice a distinct failure in balance. There is a hearty amount of seasoning on the patty and passable heat on the crust, but the cheese, onion, arugula, and condiments (I add a dip of ketchup here and there) don't strike the harmonious chords I'm wanting. Clearly there is a nod to the Father's Office preparation here, but this upscale burger falls down in execution. Its undercooked status is definitely a weak spot, but the fine grind is also blame and made even worse by the large size of the patty. The beef doesn't step forward to offer the backbone this burger needs to stand up to the onslaught of flavors and textures added to it.

The egg bun is a disappointment along the lines of day-old brioche. Arugula will never win my heart as a leaf choice on a burger, but in this case the heat has wilted any hopes of there being a break-even proposition. Soggy arugula doesn't do anyone's burger any good.

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The fries are dusted with a pink-hued Hawaiian sea salt, which has an unpleasant taste. Sadly, this isn't their worst quality—the oil seems to have been set at stun. The potato has no crispness. Soggy and salted is no way to go through life as a french fry. The homemade potato chips are much better and offer a little sustenance.

As the place fills up for lunch with one business casual clad young professional after another, I realize that I am in the minority in my assessment of Westside Tavern's food. Part of me thinks this might be a crowd that actually enjoys paying more for less (taste) as long as things look the way they want them to. That won't ever be a calculation that adds up to an enjoyable meal for me. Today my solace is found in a curiosity fulfilled. My new friend's recommendation isn't a destination burger, but I am all about the journey.

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