Los Angeles: Big Time Burgers at Little Bear
1855 Industrial St., Los Angeles CA 90021 (map); 213-622-8100; littlebearla.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A family of restaurateurs has built another winner spot with a great burger
Want Fries with That? Yes; the Guerrero family consistently delivers the goods with their Belgian fries
Prices: Little Bear Burger (with fries), $15
The folks responsible for Little Bear know what they're doing. The chef behind this new restaurant in Downtown LA's Toy Factory Lofts in the Arts District is the extremely talented Andre Guerrero. You've heard me wax on about his burgers at The Oinkster (which remains one of the great deals in town). This time Guerrero has brought along his charismatic sons Max and Fred and teamed with the restaurateurs and beer men Ryan Sweeney and Brandon Bradford (of Verdugo Bar and The Surly Goat). Between the multiple owners there are dozens of years of restaurant experience brought to Little Bear.
The menu and soaring interior get their inspiration from a Belgian beer hall (in Bruges, of course). It might be the most attractive new space I've seen in the last year. So is there an equally appealing burger to in the Bruges-esque beer hall? I stopped in for brunch to answer that very question.
Little Bear offers two burgers on its menu. The Classic Burger consists of an eight-ounce, fresh ground Angus beef patty, heirloom tomato, onion, dill pickle, bibb lettuce, and Thousand Island dressing, and is served with a brioche bun. Since I already know Guerrero make great classic burger, I decided to try his signature Little Bear Burger. This one features the same fresh ground Angus beef patty, but Guerrero chefs it up with mushrooms, truffle aioli, Stilton cheese, crispy onions, arugula, and a cherry gastrique, served again on a brioche bun.
Usually this kind of topping litany makes me cringe, but oh, how it works on Guerrero's Little Bear Burger. The first bite was almost overwhelming with all the different flavors, but taking a moment to let them play out revealed the genius behind his creation. The peppery arugula played against the richness of the mushrooms and sweetness of the gastrique so well that it could have been a delicious salad on its own. But when the robust and fatty beef broke through the salty sweetness of the toppings, I was reminded how much I prefer my salads on top of burgers.
The truffle aioli, often an overbearing addition, was a somehow in just the right measure. The same was true of the Stilton, which also threatens to overwhelm whatever you put it on. The final addition of the crispy onions made for a welcome textural difference. Putting this all on a bioche bun is the usual Achilles heel of these cheffed up burgers, but (as is more and more the case) the term "brioche" is used loosely. This bun had the necessary heft to stand up to all the toppings and still managed to hold onto a little sponginess.
The Belgian-style fries are, as I'd expected, excellent. I maintain that The Oinkster might very well have the best fries in town, and they are Belgian-style as well. The ones that came along with my Little Bear Burger were crispy and full of that deep, rich flavor that sets the Belgian style fries apart.
It's really no surprise that Guerrero adds another excellent burger to the Los Angeles landscape, but it was a bit of a surprise just how well he executes this high-concept Little Bear burger. Add to that a beer list that's good enough to keep even your brew-snob buddies happy, in a space that's as beautiful as the burger, and you've got a restaurant that demonstrates just how valuable experience can be.
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.