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Los Angeles: The Ye Olde King's Head Burger Proves America Deserves The Gold

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[Photographs: Damon Gambuto]

Ye Olde King's Head

12969 Ventura Blvd., Studio City CA 91604 (map); 818-990-9055 yeoldekingshead.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: This British-themed pub misses the burger mark by overcooking its ordinary patty
Want Fries with That? Yes; these thick cut spuds are a hearty version fo English chips
Prices: King's Burger with cheese, $11.45

America owes a great debt to Great Britain for many things. The hamburger is not one of them. Perhaps I'm a little caught up in the Olympic spirit, but I felt compelled to pay a visit to a British-themed pub to do a little competitive burger eating.

Ye Olde King's Head started its life as an ode to British pub culture and food way back in 1974. It's gone through numerous expansions and become the destination British pub in Santa Monica. Mind you, the popularity has led to a bit of an Epcot Great Britain feel (they even have woven the "gift shoppe" into the sales pitch on the website). That said, they do get droves of ex-pats to come in for drinks and the like.

Ye Olde King's Head recently stretched its empire into the Valley with the opening of an outlet on Ventura Boulevard. I stopped by this one to see how their British take on the burger stacks up to its American counterparts. On a dreadfully warm Tuesday afternoon I found the place surprisingly busy with daytime drinkers. I bellied up to the bar to feed my burger craving and watch the American women's water polo team take on Hungary. As you might imagine, I was rooting for the Americans and my hunger.

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The King's burger is a straightforward affair. An eight-ounce patty sits on a commercial bun and is covered with mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion. For the fair price of $10.95 they serve it with some coleslaw and chips (I know it goes without saying, but chips in this case are my beloved fries). I decided to add a little cheddar, which adds a 50ยข mark up.

When it arrived I'll admit I was a bit shocked by just how all-American this burger looked. The char-grilled patty poked out of the seeded commercial with a triangle of melted cheddar to set it off. It was rather beautiful. In the cross-section photo you'll just how nicely constructed this burger was. You'll also see where it goes all wrong.

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For those of you new to my weekly reviews, medium rare is my temperature of choice. Ye Old King's Head's cook delivered a patty more suited to Mr. Gamfield than Mr. Gambuto. This might have been the single most overcooked patty I've ever received from a non-fast food restaurant. The patty gave a frightful crunch under my knife as I split it. The middle was an Industrial Age gray. There was a hint of juice left in this patty. This was a double tragedy considering the rest of the burger was in good order. The toppings were all tasty and full of the rightful crunch of freshness. And the bun! Oh, what a great commercial bun. Alas, all of the goodness was undermined by the sad and dessicated patty.

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There were bright spots beyond the toppings of the burger. The cole slaw was a solid rendering of what is almost always a welcome side to my burgers. The chips, or fries, weren't the greasy and delicious authentically English version that I first fell in love with as a teenager while living in the Cotswolds; still, they were very satisfying thick-cut chips that had a great crispy exterior and smooth creamy interior. I had to add heaps of salt to mine to get the full flavor, but then again, I do have a salty palate.

Clearly, we Americans take the gold when it comes to burgers. Ye Olde King's Head stumbled with its execution, but showed potential. The place is pleasant enough for taking in a game, and their English classics (Fish 'n Chips, et all) are all very British (for what it's worth), so if you're going be sure to sample some of those, or make absolutely certain they understand your temperature preference.

Oh, and the American women managed to take the Hungarians.

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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