A Bland Burger at The Stand in Encino, California

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The Stand

17000 Ventura Boulevard, Encino CA 91316 (map); 818-788-2700‎; thestandlink.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: While values abound on their menu, the lackluster burger isn't one of them.
Want Fries with That? No thanks. While not terrible, there isn't much to set these spuds apart.
Prices: Stand "Classic" Burger, $5.75
Notes: While the burgers are bland the deals are fantastic (dollar dogs nights!). Bring the family for an affordable night out.

I used to go to The Stand in Encino with two things in mind: hot dogs and beer. Few places in Los Angeles offered a better value than their Monday dollar dog nights. It was a time in my life that afforded so little disposability in my income that I'd (literally) count up the pennies saved from my week's worth of work lunches prepared at home on Sunday nights. My workmates mates called me Damon "do the math" Gambuto because of my repeated refrain about their choice not to bag lunch it. So when confronted with dollar dogs and beer (along with gas prices that were a fraction of today's), I reveled in the reality that going out actually added up. The math at The Stand was a no brainer. I'd saddle up the car and head over the hill into the depths of the San Fernando valley to a neighborhood that I had little other reason to ever visit.

Encino is a wealthy enclave on the western side of the valley that is home to a mixed bag of professionals who've set up home (but often not shop) in a neighborhood that allows them to live out their Beverly Hills McMansion dreams at a price that is marginally more affordable than the real thing (unless you count the oppressive summers as part of the cost).

Perhaps it was the recent heatwave getting to my head, or just a flash of nostalgia, but I decided to head back to my Monday night regular and skip the dog. These days I'm able to flip the bill for most anything on The Stand's menu, but we both know what I had. Let's grab a burger.

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The Stand's interior is a throwback without being full-blown kitsch. Waxy vinyl is black and white checked and the grill sits in full view (if behind some protective glass). The menu is overhead and consists of a rather large array of Los Angeles standbys—burgers, dogs, and pastrami sandwiches share space with grilled chicken salads. Clearly it's a menu designed to make this a place that the whole family will vote for when it's time for a casual dinner.

I ordered The Stand "Classic" Burger with cheddar. It comes with lettuce, tomato, grilled onion, and Stand Sauce. The cashier informed me that Stand Sauce is Thousand Island mixed with barbecue sauce. Ah, the classic sweet and sweet method of flavor profile creation. She assured me that it was tasty and I whom am I to argue (until I taste it).

Rather than getting a number, I was handed one of those electronic devices that tell you that your chain restaurant table is ready. I wasn't exactly sure how this would help the runner find me. As it turned out, it doesn't. It does, however, help me find him. I flagged down my meal as my little device vibrated and lit up as my food was being walked past my table.

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The burger is immediately unsettling as the bun looks like it's trying to swallow the patty and condiments. It was one of those huge, bulbous formations that sends that "too-much-bread" chill up my spine. The condiments looked present, if not full of attention, and that was about all of the previewing my stomach would stomach. My hunger demanded that I dive into the burger like a teen runaway.

It was probably three bites in until I came up for a breath, but I'm not sure it was just my ravenous appetite that was the culprit. The first couple of bites offered no distinct flavor. The bun, from the Giuliano's bakery, is likely not their standard burger bun. Whichever iteration it was, I found that it demanded all of the attention. I was determined not to give it.

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I went after the patty and condiments with just the bottom half of the bun. To my surprise there was still little distinct flavor. The patty had a heavy salting, but the meat lacked juice and character. Even though it was cooked to a nice temperature, the fine grind gave it a pasty texture that undid the passable charring. The onions lacked sweetness so they added little more than a mealy, textural component. Even the sweet sounding Stand Sauce was barely noticeable.

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The overall impression of the burger at The Stand was, simply, bland. There was just not any clear flavor of burger. I turned to the french fries for some sustenance. They were passably executed—the crisp was pleasant, but they lacked any creaminess to make them special.

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My trip back to my bygone cheap eats spot was a burger letdown so I went back to the well one last time. I ordered a hot dog to feed the soft animal that is my belly. It was a satisfying and snappy dog, but the pleasure was alloyed by its full price. I asked about the Monday night dollar dogs and, to my surprise, it's still in effect. In fact, now you can get the same deal everyday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. My cheapskate heart swelled with delight. Certainly the dogs are worth a buck, but the burger isn't worth the price or the drive. Trust me, I've done the math.