Los Angeles: Charlie's Cheeseburger Is Truly Winning
Charlie's Coffee Shop
6333 W Third St., Los Angeles, CA 90036 at The Farmers Market, West Patio (map); 323-933-0616; farmersmarketla.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: This old school eatery makes some of the best classic, griddled burgers you'll find in all of LA
Want Fries with That? Yes; Charlie's skinny cut fries are crispy and well-executed, but just going with the gratis potato chips isn't such a bad option either.
Prices: Cheeseburger, $5.25
Age has a way of turning life into a series of recurrences. New experiences start to feel like rehashes of places you've been, people you've seen, or, in my case, burgers I've eaten. The premium burger movement, in particular, seems to be a relentless reworking of a recipe I never much liked in the first place: business after business built on the shaky foundations of the brioche bun and overpriced beef. It's enough to make you forget why burgers were so popular in the first place.
Then something wonderful happens. You decide to order lunch from a place you've never given more than a passing glance and you're delivered a perfect memory of an experience you've never had. It's at once utterly familiar and completely new. You've thought it couldn't happen again and yet it already has: You've fallen in love with a new burger. That's what happened to me the other day at Charlie's Coffee Shop at the storied Farmers Market in Los Angeles' Fairfax District. Let me tell you about it.
While it first opened in 1976, Charlie's is a relative new comer amongst a raft of quinquagenarian establishments. That makes it about my age which can only mean it's hitting it's prime. The Charlie in question isn't some tired geezer of a guy, but rather Ms. Charlie Gilbert. She's been flipping burgers (and some fantastic french toast) from the beginning and now her daughter Katie takes the reins at lunch. Katie was responsible for my burgers when I stopped in and I couldn't have been more pleased. She's the genuine article having grown up with a mile radius of mom's coffee shop and now taking carrying on Mom's legacy for the lunch crowd. (Charlie is still around for breakfast most days and is usually bellied up to the griddle.)
The cheeseburger at Charlie's is, when broken into its component parts, about at straight forward as they come. A commercial bun is given a toast on the griddle alongside the roughly five ounces of fresh ground chuck and matched with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle. The bun's subtle toasting adds a crunch and chew that are just pitch perfect. The veggies were all farmers market fresh on every burger I was served (I may or may not have had three) and added that crisp freshness that most burgers aspire to. The addition of mustard, mayo, and ketchup is your call. Like all great burgers, the ingredients come together with symphonic force and deliver a fugue of flavor.
Then there is the beef. Oh, what a gorgeous and simple blend. Charlie gets her beef from the excellent Huntington Meats just a stone's throw across the way at the Farmer's Market, and it couldn't be better. Fresh ground to a beautiful coarseness and loosely formed, each patty gets a heavy seasoning and a masterful griddling. The crust on my burgers was near perfection against an inviting medium rare interior. The crunch of the crust added that extra layer of texture that is so subtle, yet absolutely integral to burger greatness.
Charlie's will also serve your burger on a squishy wheat bun. Although I'd normally avoid it, this one worked a similar magic to the white bun. I actually really enjoyed the added nuttiness of the wheat bun such that I wasn't sure which bun I preferred.
It's this kind of confusion I'm hoping for when I find a new burger spot. It's the confusion of new love. Every way it's dressed seems perfect; everything about it seems destined for you. This was how I felt the other day eating lunch on the West Patio of the Farmer's Market. This is a burger that should be heralded as one of the city's best. It's a burger that makes a you remember why you fell in love in the first place.
About the author: Damon is one of our roving burger reporters and food writers. When he's not eating more than is warranted or healthful (and then writing about it) he can be found writing and producing for television and film. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.