Los Angeles: The DIY Burger at Mo's Needs a Better Patty
4301 Riverside Dr., Burbank CA 91505 (map); 818-845-3009; eatatmos.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A burger bar with heaps of quality toppings can't dress up a wan patty
Want Fries with That? No thanks; opt for the side salads at the burger bar instead. Plus, they won't cost you anything extra
Prices: Mo's Cheeseburger, $11.95 (includes a drink at lunch)
I'm old enough to remember when Mo's Restaurant was the brash new kid on the burger block. Back in 1995 they set up shop across the street from my favorite Bob's Big Boy and decided to make a burger their centerpiece menu item. Now this isn't the kind of fast food aesthetic of which Bob's is, in many respects, the progenitor, but rather an upscale casual restaurant that Hollywood types can take a meeting without being forced to order a seared tuna salad.
To honor this real food ethos and America's greatest sandwich, Mo's set up what they call their "burger bar," basically a salad bar devoted to burger toppings and some imaginative sides. You order from a large list of burgers with premium toppings (cheese, bacon, avocado, caramelized onions, etc.) and then it's up to you to customize your perfect burger at the bar. It's a fun idea, and I like the DIY aspect of the meal. I went the simple route with a cheddar-topped patty on their brioche bun (the only other option is whole wheat).
At the burger bar was a beautiful classic cheeseburger patiently awaiting my choice of toppings and, more importantly, my mouth. I chose to add a little Thousand Island dressing to the very attractive, classic bun. (As I mentioned, they call it a brioche, but mercifully its texture and taste defied that classification—more on that in a moment.) I settled on adding a little lettuce, a small helping of coleslaw (for added texture and fat), and a few of their very tasty pickle slices.
What I got for my efforts was one gorgeous looking burger. The eight ounces of Angus chuck looked to be just the right measure to my sizable selection of toppings. I must admit that it was the most appealing-looking burger I've looked it in some time. Perhaps it was that I felt, in part, responsible for its beauty, but it looked to be exactly the kind of higher-end burger that has been known to haunt my dreams.
Then I tasted it. The toppings were all fantastic and this brioche bun is one to reckon with. The spongy texture was perfectly balanced against the heft of the eight ounces of beef. More than that, it lacked the cloying quality that undermines so many buns labeled "brioche."
Of course, toppings and a bun do not, on their own, a great burger make. The patty I was served (despite the little stick identifying my temperature choice of medium rare) was fully cooked to medium and lacked any noticeable char. Further, the grind, a shade finer than medium, seemed to undermine the juiciness of this patty. Add to these faults a sad lack of seasoning and I found myself shaking my head at just how uninspired my creation was. Nothing sabotages a burger like a weak patty.
I turned to the boat of curly fries for some solace and found little. They weren't terrible, but certainly lacked the crispiness and seasoning to make them anything more than just ok.
Rather than fries I encourage you to opt for side salads at the burger bar. The few I tried were all tasty, but I particularly enjoyed the barley, edamame, and cashew salad. There was also a satisfying lentil salad, and if you absolutely need some spuds with your burger order there's some potato salad waiting for you.
That Mo's has lasted all these years is not a surprise; there's a lot to like about this upscale casual restaurant. But as a burger destination it falls short on the centerpiece. The bun and toppings at the burger bar were all great, but without a better patty to hold it all together this can't be called one of LA's better burgers—a shame since it does have LA's best burger bar.
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.