Note: Today our Top 5 burgers series continues with our LA correspondent, Damon Gambuto.
Before you dig into, what will doubtless be, my most controversial post, you should know that I am against lists on principle. They are useful, cause all manner of efficiency, and remind me of how little I accomplish. That said, after all this burger reviewing it would be irresponsible of me not to have an answer to the question I've been asked most in the last year of my life: What are the best burgers in Los Angeles?
My usual gambit is to reply to this question with a question: What kind of burger do you like? (I'm nothing if not evasive, but this response is, at the very least, an earnest evasion.) I want to direct people to a burger that will satisfy their desire, not mine. Do you want a hearty pub burger? A chef-ified art piece? Perhaps you're like me and have a weakness for the sloppy, Southern California style? The type of burger you prefer matters. But I realize the question is what do I prefer. So in what can only be deemed a very particular order, here are the five that matter most to me.
1. Comme Ça
This super thick and seemingly preternaturally juicy patty makes this sexy beast of a burger one you could fairly describe as pub-style, but that wouldn't begin to capture the beauty of this creation. Chef Michael David's burger is held together by an artisanal bun that may be the best I've ever come across. Order it with just a straight forward cheddar and enjoy the mythical power of three: meat, cheese, and bun combining to form near burger perfection. [Review] 8479 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood CA 90069 (map); 323-782-1104; commecarestaurant.com
2. Rustic Canyon
Upon hearing that Rustic Canyon's menu is obsessively seasonal and locally sourced, one might guess they wouldn't deign to serve the notoriously environmentally insensitive American classic. Luckily for all of us, one would be wrong. Chef Evan Funke makes an expansive and beautifully executed burger that can also be ordered "smothered" (with bacon and a fried egg). [Review] 1119 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401 (map); 310-393-7050; rusticcanyonwinebar.com
3. Pie 'N Burger
If you could eat Southern California history, it might taste like the perfectly greasy, American dream that is a sloppy Pie 'N Burger burger. Served in the classic drive-in style (paper-wrapped with gobs of toppings), burgers like these are what gave rise to the sandwich's Post-War supremacy. You won't have room for a piece of delicious homemade pie, but like any real American, you'll eat it anyway. [Review] 913 East California Boulevard, Pasadena CA 91106 (b/n South Lake Ave and South Mentor Ave; map); 626-795-1123; pienburger.com
4. The Oinkster
Chef Andre Guerrero thought he could make fast food taste better by making it, well, slower. His self-described "slow fast food" is so good that you'll barely remember that the referent here is a dry, hockey puck of sadness served to you by a guy in a clown suit. The daily happy hour may very well be the single best food bargain in the city. [Review] 2005 Colorado Boulevard, Eagle Rock CA 90041 (map); 323-255-6465; theoinkster.com
5. Umami Burger
Born from a fascination with the eponymous fifth taste, Adam Fleichman has built a burger that is as distinct as you'll find. In fact, the burgers here hew to tradition in, some would say, the most tenuous of ways. Starting with six ounces of a complex meat blend that is the coarsest (and best) grind in the city, he architects post-modern burger combinations that challenge paradigms, but still delight all five of your tastes. At the rate they've been expanding, an outpost might be coming to a mall near you soon. [Review] 850 South La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90036 (map); 323-931-3000; umamiburger.com