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[Photographs: Damon Gambuto]

26 Beach

3100 Washington Blvd., Marina Del Rey CA 90292 (map); 310-823-7526; 26beachrestaurant.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A restaurant on the Westside of Los Angeles makes some very good burgers, though not as good as their t-shirts boast
Want Fries with That? I'd say this is an "if you're in the mood" fry. They're fresh cut so they have a good, earthy, potato flavor, but I'd wager they only get one dip in the oil so the texture isn't perfect.
Prices: The 26er, $12.15; The California Roll, $19; all come with fries or salad
Notes: The burger prices can seem steep for the specialty burgers, but many—like the California Roll—is enough food to split.

Which burger is best? It's a question that we confront in various forms again and again here at AHT. Best in LA? Yeah, I get that one a lot. New York? Paging Mr. Solares. Chicago? DZ's got you covered. How about best in class? That's probably an easier one to weigh in on, but still fraught with complication. Of course, from a burger-maker's perspective, they simply want their creations to be known as the best and sometimes they'll come out and say so.

At 26 Beach, the now 26 year-old restaurant in what we in Los Angeles call "The Marina," chef/owner Francis Mori announces his burger pride in the form of a T-shirt. The servers don a uniform that says "The Best Burger in L.A." To be fair, Mori's burgers have garnered some outside confirmation of their supremacy so it's not just his opinion. In my burger world, they've been recommended by some trusted confreres and, most recently, an AHT reader sent in a recommendation to give 26 Beach a try (thanks, BurgerBoyLA!). Sunday was predicted to be extra hot here in Los Angeles. A beachy, burger brunch seemed to be in order.

As I mentioned, 26 Beach is now over a quarter century old and so Mori is now johnny-come-lately to the burger game. In fact, the restaurant's website boasts that they've been making "craftsman burgers" longer than anyone. That might be an overstatement, but he's definitely been at it a while.

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That said, these burgers aren't all old-school creations. In fact, Mori seems to be one of the more avant garde burger-makers in town. His (huge) menu has an entire section devoted to an army of burger creations that, even now, is adding to its ranks. They run the gamut from recognizable classics like The Old-Timer (mustard, mayo, relish, lettuce, tomatoes, and red onions) to stunt burgers like The P B & J (yes, peanut butter and jelly on a burger). I decided to give a few different iterations the once over to get a sense of just what this mad-burger-scientist can do.

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First up was The 26er, a classic out of the Southern California tradition. It's a hand-formed patty with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mayo, and a secret dressing served on Mori's fresh baked brioche bun.

The first bite revealed that Mori gives more thought and care to his burgers than most. The patty (100% Angus beef) was a rich and full of flavor. It was fantastically juicy and given heaps of seasoning that brought out the beefy flavor. Moreover, the coarse grind and loose packing meant that each mouthful was full of crumbly, beefy satisfaction.

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The amount of fat from the mayo and house sauce is nearly too much and certainly could be throttled back, but against the fresh bun the fat stayed just shy of going over the top. The bun itself was very good, but suffers from that cloying quality that brioche can add. That said, the fact that it's freshly baked means you doesn't have that unpleasant flakiness that undermines so many other brioche buns.

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I also tried the decadent and surprising Katsu's Original California Roll Burger, which is named for Mori's grandfather and the famous Westernized sushi roll. It is, as you'd guess, a burger topped with a California roll. Well, that is to say, with the ingredients of the California Roll. It's got sliced avocado, nori, real crab meat, rice, wasabi, ginger, and soy sauce. It's is something to behold.

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The flavor combination is surprisingly satisfying. I didn't imagine I'd care for it as California Rolls aren't something I'd normally order even when looking to have a quick sushi dinner, but there was a lot to like about the fusion. The salty, soy and seaweed combination actually worked well with the char from the beef, and while the crab meat (a combination of Alaskan snow crab and lump crab) doesn't add a lot, it's not as wildly out of place as you might first imagine. The best part of this East meets West experiment was the kick from the wasabi. The horseradish bite is a nice contrast to the fatty beef and made me think that it should be more popular on burgers than it is.

What isn't so great about this California Roll Burger is its eat-ability. It's way beyond just being a date-unfriendly, two-hands-big-bite burger—it's really a knife and fork affair. This was a disappointment because the whole point is to have all of the flavors contained in both in the hand and in the bite, but you wind up just getting a mess of a plate after a couple of mouthfuls. That said, this drawback doesn't seem to ruffle 26 Beach's regulars as my server told me its currently their most popular menu item.

So does 26 Beach really make Los Angeles' best burger? Certainly not if you're asking me, but that's not so much a knock on their burgers as it is a testament to how stiff the competition is in this town. I liked a lot of the elements of my meal. Mori makes some genuinely indulgent and tasty burgers and he makes them the way that tastes best to him. In the end, that's what I want all burger-makers to do: take care and pride when making his or her food and make it they way they think is best. That will bring me in at least once. In the case of 26 Beach and its expanding burger offerings, probably more than once.

Update: This review initially said the California Roll Burger was topped with faux crab meat, but we've since been informed that they use real crab meat. We've updated the review. Sorry for the error!

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