Perhaps it's my irrepressible narcissism, but I feel as though we're living though a burger boom. It could just be the medium-rare-rose colored glasses of a burger reviewer, but everywhere I look I see attentions turning toward my favorite sandwich. Daytime television shows, magazine covers, and chefs of all varieties have featured the humble hamburger on their menus. Whether fancypants or fast food-style, the burger is back and in many ways better than ever. America, it seems, has rediscovered its favorite meal, and I couldn't be more pleased.
Of course, when considering one in four Americans eats fast food each day (and there's usually a burger involved), it might be an overstatement to claim that this is some sort of burger comeback. Maybe it's a burger renaissance. Whatever we call it, it couldn't have come at a better time for me. I can hardly believe it, but October 10 marked my one year anniversary reviewing burgers here at AHT. It's gone by faster than summer vacation and was twice as fun.
Like my colleague and friend Nick Solares did before me, I decided to celebrate my anniversary by taking a look back at the year in burgers that was. There have been fifty plus patties that made it into my belly and then onto the (web)pages of AHT (plus many more that I didn't write about). It was a tour of the diversity and possibility of my adopted hometown. I (re)discovered the landscape of Los Angeles as a flatland of burger agony and ecstasy. Here is are some quick bites of my own personal year of the burger.
It all started with my review of Bill's in Van Nuys and rightly so. What I wrote a year ago seems all the more true after spending the year crisscrossing the city in search of burgers.
Privately owned restaurants are our public spaces. It's how we get to know our city's other residents. For this reason, eating is always more than an exercise in existing; it lurches into the existential. It's a food experience. And the focus of that experience, what we eat in Los Angeles—more than most anywhere else—is hamburgers.
As for the burger itself: it was good, very good:
The salty meat, sweetness of the onion, and the oily mayo come together just as I'd hoped.
At Glendale Mall I sampled a burger from Jewel City Diner. It's meant to be a modern take on the kind of burger Bill's serves. It turned out to be a deeply unsettling encounter with the post modern.
Unfortunately, I quickly discover that this burger, like the putative town square outside, is pure simulation. I can barely believe how flavorless this sexy thing is. Like some dazzling postmodern art-piece that sucks you in with its beauty and reveals no substance, it's all signifier. Bun, patty, and toppings all looked to be in order, but when I enter a place like this, I'm looking for that taste I call home. I felt like Gertrude Stein going back to Oakland: There is no there there.
I headed to Santa Monica and found the locally-sourced, seasonal restaurant Rustic Canyon has constructed one of the best arguments for sustainability you'll ever taste.
The burger arrives on a square plate, open-faced, and ready for action—I almost want to make out with the thing it looks so beautiful. Despite the mass of toppings, the strong, yet spongy bun manages to hold all of this deliciousness together. The first bite is first kiss headiness: The flavor of the beef, salty and juicy, is awash in a complex of fat and sweetness that is nearly pitch perfect.
In Hollywood 25 Degrees embraces the glitz, glamor, and excess, and it tastes good.
The first bite is juicy and satisfying in the way that reminds you money can buy certain kinds of happiness. It's a full, rich mouthful that hits me with a rush of pleasure akin to hearing the curtain whisk close behind me as I walk into a plane's first class cabin.
The value of this city's diversity was demonstrated on the grill at Dino's in the Byzantine-Latino Quarter of Los Angeles.
The double is where the Dino's burger comes into its own. The smoky flavor that was hinted at in the single steps forward with such force and complexity in the double that even I notice my eyes widening with surprise. How can this be? Whence all this flavor? I spy the grill one more time and all is revealed: The chickens and burgers share space atop that blackened-iron, fire pit. The patties definitely get a healthy seasoning from a shaker, but the depth of these burgers is mined from the grill's garlicky residue. I've never been so pleased by a restaurant's improper handling of chicken.
Recently, I sampled the (near) perfection of the burger at Comme Ça.
And then it arrives—a rush of beef, fat, and salt that sends me into paroxysms of perfect, primitive pleasure that could only have been wrought through thousands of years of civilization. Well, almost, perfect. There is a mass of iceberg lettuce bathed a creamy, slightly spicy dressing that disturbs the otherwise beautifully balanced flavors. The effect is that of a wide wale of coleslaw dripping over the burger that strikes me as out of place. A few more bites confirms this--off it goes. I am left with a simple, yet highly refined sandwich of meat, cheese, and bread.
These are just a handful of the burgers that have filled my hands (and belly) over the past year, and still there are so many to review. The opportunity to do that here on AHT is a privilege and a pleasure. Yes, eating burgers is a big part of it, but the pleasure of the writing is due to the people with whom I work.
The Serious Eats family has been wonderful. Ed and Adam have encouraged and supported my work and I truly thank them for it. Alaina has handled my technical issues and the business end of things with more ease and aplomb than anyone I've come across. Nick Solares is a writer that I am proud to call my colleague and friend. Robyn, as you all know, is a superstar. More than that, she makes my writing better. More impressively, endures all of my idiosyncrasies. A big thanks to her.
Finally, all of you, the Serious Eaters who have read and engaged my writing. Thank you for the support, the criticism, and the simple act of taking the time to read what I write.