Los Angeles: The Not Awesome Burger at Nate 'n Al
Nate 'n Al
414 North Beverly Drive Beverly Hills, CA 90210 (map); 310-837-9546; also at LAX Terminal 2; natenal.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: This classic Los Angeles delicatessen makes an awesomely bad burger
Want Fries with That? Not at all; greasy, thick cut spuds that just aren't worth your time
Prices: Cheeseburger, $10.95
First things first: I know it's odd to go hunting for a great cheeseburger at a classic delicatessen. That's not to say you'd ever have a hard time finding one on the menu at any deli worth its salt(ed meats), but rather, why go looking for burgers in a place that would prefer you order your meat sliced instead chopped? Well, in the case of Nate 'n Al of Beverly Hills I think it's fair to say, they asked for it.
When you peruse the vast menu of this old school eatery you'll find the usual deli suspects given prominent placement, but you'll also find an entire section devoted to burgers—or more specifically what they term "Awesome Burgers. The dozen different creations (including veggie and turkey patty options) cover the normal range of standard issue to Hawaiian, so it's not the quantity that they are referring to in their proclamation. One must assume that they mean the quality of their offerings. Sadly, these beef-flavored hockey pucks are nothing close to awesome; at least not in the good sense.
This old-school Beverly Hills eatery is the kind of Los Angeles eatery that seems perpetually full of customers. I used to fight my way through the takeout line for the occasional deli sandwich lunch back in my Beverly Hills office days and invariably left with about ten minutes left in my hour. This, in and of itself, often portends a good burger since the turnover means food deliveries come fast and furious, which in turn means you tend to be served fresher ingredients. Apparently this advantage is lost on the folks at Nate 'n Al.
I stopped in for my first burger a little while back and, after being completely shocked by how bland it was, gave them a second chance at their LAX outpost (Terminal 2 jetway). The pictures you see here are from that second excursion. (Forgive the dull, second-rate look of the photos. I had to cadge a colleague's point and shoot as my trusty Nikon was on holiday.)
Nate 'n Al serves their burgers with thin, 1/3-pound patties made from Certified Angus Beef that actually approach my preferred shape and thickness, but that's about the last nice thing I can say. The patty itself was on both occasions totally overcooked and lacking any seasoning. Juice you say? None to be found here. This was a dry and wan patty that needed medical help. Rather than rich beefiness, these patties had the dry, sickly flavor of a fast food patty.
The rest of the burger isn't any better. The lettuce was limp and lacked crispness and the tomato was under-ripe. I'm not sure where they source the red onion, but it was biting and too strong, perhaps due the general lack of flavor from the other ingredients. The cheese on my second burger wasn't fully melted so that it looked to have broken out in a cold sweat. Finally, the bun—while looking the part of a quality commercial burger bun—was mealy and crumbly with little to no sponginess (and perhaps freshness).
The fries were not quite as bad, but certainly don't get my recommendation. They were thick cut like steak fries, but didn't have the strong potato flavor that is the mark of a good thick french fry. Although they were actually pretty crispy, they lacked a smooth silky interior to play off the crispiness.
I could go on, but why bother? I usually want to direct you a great new burger find, but sometimes my job is to take one for the team. This is one of those times. Nate 'n Al is off my list as possible burger spots until I get word that they've done some major reworking of their not at all "Awesome" burgers.
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.