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Burger reviews in the Los Angeles area.

Chain Reaction: Hook Burger Scores a Knockout in Los Angeles

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[Photographs: Damon Gambuto]

Hook Burger

1731 North Victory Place, Burbank CA 91502 and two other locations (map); 818-847-2100; hookburger.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A new, more upscale take on the fast casual burger from the folks behind The Habit Burger knocks out some great burgers.
Want Fries with That? Yes; delicious regular and sweet potato are joined by some rings in "The Trio" for a very reasonable $5.95
Prices: Prime Burger, $5.70, Bistro Burger, $6.50

At first blush it seems a bit premature to call this review of Hook Burger a Chain Reaction being that there are only three locations of this upstart, but considering the origins of this new fast casual brand it sort of demands that I do. Hook Burger is a new dining concept from the folks behind The Habit Burger Grill (AHT review) and thus is clearly meant to become a much broader affair. They're pitching this one as a "premium burger concept," even so far as trying to coin the phrase "fine dining on a bun." The first description stretches the truth a tad; the second is just kind of goofy. That said, there is a lot to like about Hook Burger.

The Habit has long since blossomed into an established Southern California burger chain. It was way back in 1969 when Brent Reichard (then 16) started flipping burgers at the Habit Burger Grill in Santa Barbara. A mere four years later he enlisted the help of his brother Bruce (along with a little seed money from mom) and managed to buy The Habit and turn it into a successful chain. This knowledge of running a thriving burger business is in full evidence at the efficient and friendly Hook Burger. What's more is that they seemed to have improved on their original brand with some affordable and quality burgers.

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The first of the menu's five burger options, the Prime Burger, is probably the best thing on the menu. It's a straightforward chuck patty (that comes in at an 80/20 meat to fat ratio) topped with caramelized, bourbon onion, lettuce, tomato, and a honey dijon mayonnaise. I added a slcie of American cheese as well. The bun is done in-house and is a nice take on the classic, commercial style.

The balance of this burger is excellent. The bun has to rank as one of the better ones you'll find at a fast casual restaurant (or a higher end spot for that matter). It's got the developed, bread-like flavor of a homemade bun without losing the airy, sponginess that makes for bun greatness. It was matched with a properly portioned five- to six-ounce patty that came out with plenty of sear against a juicy, pink medium rare center. They aren't afraid of the salt shaker, which always wins points with me. The clean beefiness of the chuck is teased out with that extra hit of salt. Add to that a surprising and very pleasing coarse grind and the Prime Burger gets the basics spot on.

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The toppings were all solid. The shredded lettuce (my preferred handling) and tomato made a fine showing with a nice freshness. The onions were a nice a addition with a proper caramelizing, though I couldn't honestly tell you I was able to tease out any added notes from the bourbon. Finally, the cheese was a helpful bit of creamy fattiness that help hit the right balance with the bun.

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I also tried the Bistro Burger, which has all the same basics with the addition of roasted red pepper and onion, Monterey Jack cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and that same honey dijon mayo.

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As with the Prime Burger, the basics of this burger are really solid, but I'm not sure I understand this spread of toppings. The roasted red pepper is too strong for burger in my view. The smoky sweet flavor seemed to overpower the native beefiness of the patty. Add to that a heap of avocado and this burger felt like it was too complex by half. It wasn't so much that the ingredients themselves were off; they didn't come together to complement the burger. Rather, they just seemed to be asking for all the attention.

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The Trio is a very attractive plate of fries, sweet potato fries, and onion rings with a couple of side sauces (ranch and barbecue). All is in order with this heaping order of fries and rings. The regular potato fries were the clear winner for me. They had a nice crispy exterior and smooth interior. Sweet potato will never make a superior fry for my taste, but these were similarly nicely executed. The rings were just serviceable, but at $5.95 for the threesome it was more than worth it.

I was really pleased with the quality and value I found at Hook Burger. They restaurant itself nicely dissimulates its fast casual presentation with an attractive dining room and even the beer is reasonably priced. As I mentioned, there are only three stores as of now, but I wouldn't be surprised if chain restaurant success is in the offing. I expect to see more stores soon.

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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