A Hamburger Today

Los Angeles: Grinding It Out in the Shadow of Greatness at Phil's Deli & Grill

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[Photographs: Damon Gambuto]

Phil's Deli & Grill

6333 W Third St., Los Angeles, CA 90036 at The Farmers Market, West Patio (map); 323-936-3704; farmersmarketla.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: While Phil's serves up a solid burger, it's a clear runner-up to the classic construction of Charlie's just a few steps away.
Want Fries with That? Yes; Phil's skinny cut fries are crispy and well-executed.
Prices: Cheeseburger, $6.25

After striking burger gold last week at Charlie's, I found myself struck with the prospector's impulse. I roamed the food stalls of the market-meets-food court landscape that is Los Angeles's famed Farmer's Market in search of more undiscovered deliciousness. I think the grizzled men on Discovery Channel's Gold Rush Alaska might call it hunting in a glory hole; I'll skip that verbiage, but that doesn't mean I won't irrationally go digging for burger treasure.

Just a quick stroll past some overpriced candy and some very passable Brazilian barbecue sits Phil's Deli & Grill. It's one of the older in the market with about 50 years of service to its credit. Phil is no longer the owner, but it still has the authentic Farmer's market, quick-eats feel. The question, of course, is does it have a burger worth hunting for.

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After placing my order amidst the sizable lunch rush, I took in the operation. Everything seemed to be in place: fresh patties, fresh commercial buns, and a smoking hot grill. When the plate arrived it was full of promise. The bun was beautifully toasted and the veggies, while a tad peaked in their appearance, were actually quite fresh.

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The patty, about five ounces of fresh ground beef, had the requisite char stripes. Moreover, the counterman told me that they source the beef from Marconda's Meats, a butcher that I came to love for their quality meat and sculptural sausage display. Their beef blends were always excellent, except for their fine grind.

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Such was the case with this burger. The overall impact of Phil's burger is quite good. The flavors are all in order, but it lacks those few extra notes to be anything more than just good. The grid was, as I'd feared, too fine to allow for the crumbly texture I prefer and the patty was under-seasoned. I found myself hunting down the salt to liven up the beef.

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The fries were above average, fast food-style spuds that reaffirmed my belief that frozen isn't necessarily a bad thing. I watched the cooks unfurl these guys from that brown, commercial packaging straight into the oil, but that didn't mean they weren't crispy and delicious when I scarfed them down. Again, some salting was needed, but I was still pleased by the crispness and smooth interiors.

I'm always loathe to measure a burger on anything other than its own merits and Phil's has many. It doesn't seem entirely fair to constantly refer to the better burgers nearby because one can always one-up all spots, but the very best. Unfortunately, in this case the one-upsmanship is just a few steps away at Charlie's. When I'm at the Farmer's Market that's the place I'd head for burger gold.

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 seriouslydamon@gmail.com.

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