A Burger That's Better Than I Remember at The York in Highland Park, CA
5018 York Blvd., Highland Park CA 90042 (map); 323-255-9675; theyorkonyork.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: The gastropub aesthetic exercised in proper measure on this very tasty, contemporary burger
Want Fries with That? Yes, please. They're excellent and straightforward.
Prices: Cheddar Burger w/fries, $13
Notes: Every other Friday a DJ spins and the place is wall to wall cool kids. Once a month you can check in on a burlesque show.
Even though The York has only been around for about three years, my memory of the first time I tried their burger feels like a lifetime ago. In some respects, many of the burgers I've had before writing for AHT have blended into a remembrance that is seen through a hazy scrim; that time before each bite was measured and weighed into a count of words or a mass of sentences. The divide that has arisen—the time before my pencil sharpened at the first sign of a grill—makes me want to try the burgers of my past all over again. Will the blurred, impressionistic memories simply sharpen focus like a developing photo, or will they reveal themselves as distortions of time and my mind's frailty?
When a college friend with whom I'd whiled away autumn afternoons talking about literary theory, women, and food (not necessarily in that order) invited me to The York for lunch, I happily pointed my car toward Highland Park—a slowly gentrifying neighborhood just northeast of Downtown Los Angeles—to reacquaint myself with a friend and a burger from my past.
My friend and his lovely wife were already seated in the dark vastness of The York's dining room when I arrived. To be fair, the space is at its best at night when the soaring ceilings are lit by amber bulbs and the industrial-chic aesthetic can show off. On a sunny Saturday afternoon the effect is a little cave-like until your eyes adjust.
We dropped into easy conversation about our lives. He and his wife ordered some very good kale and garbanzos because they were committing to a more sustainable and local diet. It's a responsible and admirable life choice. Of course, I have professional duties that make me a little less planet-friendly. I ordered the burger and made a mental note to buy some carbon offsets.
The York's Cheddar Burger is topped with a sharp white variety of the cheese along with some arugula, homemade pickled onions, and harissa aioli. The bun is a brioche from the very good bakery Bread Bar. The patty is a chuck and sirloin blend that boasts an 80/20 meat to fat ratio. When I inquired about the purveyor, I was met with tight lips—that will remain a mystery.
At first glance the burger didn't show much promise since the bun looked as though it had eaten the patty before it arrived at my table.* My first bite disabused me of my worries.
*One quick side note: The York is an "order at the bar and we'll bring it to you" place. I will never understand why this half-a-waiter set up makes sense to people.
The bun, despite its size, was so light, airy and pliable that it immediately fell into harmony with the seven ounces of hand-packed beef. The grind of the beef had a medium coarseness, and the hand-forming gave the beef a loose and pleasing texture. The char was noticeable, though not pronounced, and the heat and fat of the harissa aioli was fantastic against the pickled onions.
The burger is undoubtedly a part of the recent trend toward upscaling, but the high-end additions add a welcome complexity. Since I didn't remember having any particular affinity for The York's burger before, I asked if they had recently changed the recipe. As it turns out, their burger is one of the few items that chef Dimitri Stephenson hasn't updated over the years. The same might be true of the fries if they were always as tasty as they are now. The slim-cut Russets were flavorful and crispy in the way that makes you wonder why so many places treat them as an afterthought.
The York defied my sense that my memory will always be a reliable narrator of my past. The memory I'd had of their burger doesn't compare to the new one I made on this more recent visit. Perhaps it really has changed since my first visit, but more likely it's me and my faulty recollection. Even my friend, with whom I'd come of age, seemed to be more than I'd remembered; somehow kinder and more sensitive. I remember this simple notion being a fundamental theme of the book In Search of Lost Time we once talked about: "Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were."