The Unexpected Delight of a Taco Stand Burger at Yuca's in Los Angeles
2056 Hillhurst Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90028(map); 323-662-1214; yucasla.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: What is perhaps the most revered Los Angeles Taco stands happens to make a delicious burger
Want Fries with That? There's no reason for fries when the beans and rice are award winning
Prices: Cheeseburger, $2.15; Double Cheeseburger, $3.30
Notes: The second location of Yuca's (4666 Hollywood Blvd.) is an unofficial community center for LA's Los Feliz neighborhood. Check out some art while you down your burgers and burritos.
Looking for a great burger at a taco stand might seem like a fool's errand. Of course, this fool looks for burgers just about everywhere he goes. A seafood restaurant? Yup. A locally-sourced, fine dining establishment? There too. How about a taco stand that's famous for its Yucatan specialties? Add that one to the list.
We first heard about Yuca's almost two years ago when a reader wrote in to recommend Yuca's burger. Then I mentioned it in an installment of our Reality Check series. But in both cases Yuca's got a bit of a short shrift. This is a James Beard Award winning establishment that deserves a closer look from this James Beard Award winning website.
The truth is Yuca's has been a personal favorite of mine for over a decade. For almost as long it has been the source of much suspicion in my friends when I'd tell them about it. Most had heard about the molten masterpiece of the pibil or fragrant frijoles that made the place famous, but when I'd tell them to order the burger they'd look at me with equal parts disbelief and curiosity. Could this little taco stand that offers so many delicious Mexican options really make an American standard worth a detour from their burrito? Absolutely.
Yuca's first opened in 1976 after Jaime and Soccoro Herrera used a small nest egg to pursue Soccoro's dream of serving up her delicious, home-cooked food for the public. It was a slow start until a Los Angeles Times food critic took notice. Since then Yuca's has become an LA institution. In 2005 the James Beard Foundation recognized Soccoro's efforts in the "America's Classics" category. It's likely the judges weren't thinking about Soccoro's burgers when making their decision, but they could have been. Here's why.
Yuca's standard cheeseburger is an art piece of fast food burger classicism. The wafer thin patty is served on a commercial bun and topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, and mustard. It sounds like the usual offering, but like all great burgers it comes together with a few distinct flourishes that make for a culinary alchemy. It is, in many respects, what I thrill to when eating great burgers. What seems like standard fare is transformed into rarefied pleasure.
The patty itself is, perhaps, the thinnest you'll find outside of a smashburger shop, but like that flattened, Midwestern staple, Yuca's patty is covered in heaps of lacy crust. Even on the barely-there single patty you can pick up the salty crunch. Combined with the classic toppings, the effect is what one imagines fast food burgers had before they were franchised. The satisfying combination of fat from the cheese and patty matched with the crunch and freshness of the veggies makes this a burger that's impossible to eat without abandon. Invariably, my breaths get spaced between starting and finishing this burger.
Now as good as this cheeseburger is, there's a way to make it better: double it. The addition of a second patty is really the way to enjoy Yuca's cheeseburger. What is a hint of griddled salt and fat on the single, is a powerful and rich mouthful in the double. The seasoning on the beef betrays that this flattop shares space with the spiced meats and vegetables that make up the rest of Soccoro's award winning menu.
Years of success and awards could've changed the feel of Yuca's, but they haven't. The prices remain impressively low ($2.15 for a cheeseburger!) and Soccoro still presides over her little stand. She sits on a stool taking orders and making sure that her classics, both the Mexican and American, please everyone who stops by. I couldn't be more delighted.