"The patties definitely get a healthy seasoning from a shaker, but the depth of these burgers is mined from the grill's garlicky residue."
Dino's Chicken and Burgers
2575 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles CA 90006 (map); 213-380-3554; dinoschickenandburgers.com
Cooking Method: Char-broiled
Short Order: A shared grill means your burger will taste like chicken and that's a good thing.
Want Fries with That? Yes! While soggy, these brown-oil fries are an tasty rendering.
Prices: Double burger, $3.25
Notes: I like to order the chicken and fries combination as a burger side dish.
You can smell Dino's Chicken and Burgers from blocks away. Smoke billows from the exhaust at this aged fast food façade with such intensity that I've been fooled into thinking the grill caught fire. The truth is this classic eatery located in the Byzantine-Latino Quarter of Los Angeles has been infusing the air (and its chickens) with a fiery blend of garlic, vinegar, and rendered fat with such consistency that the intersection of Pico Boulevard and Berendo Street would hardly seem itself without the smoky aroma.
Demetrios Pantazis built his restaurant on the back of a family recipe for chicken that makes his birds look like tandoori refugees. The bright red chicken is dripping with flavor, but Pantazis knew that he needed to add a little Latino to his Byzantine bird, so he added Mexican food made the menu. Why the burgers? Pantazis may have started with Greek recipes, but his dreams were American.
If it seems off that I'm reviewing a burger stop at a place famous for its chicken, let me turn you on (to my reasoning). The method to this chicken stop madness (or, in Dino's terms, "Pollo Maniaco") is multivalent, but two reasons step forward. Number one: If they serve a burger, I will try it. Number two: If Dino had the pride in his patties to put my American sandwich in the name of his Greek-inspired eatery, I'm going to give it the critical eye (and mouth). I'll have a double with cheese.
Actually, I ordered the single and double with cheese. Dino's uses the fast food staple quarter-pound, pre-formed patty and I always like the opportunity for comparison (and rationalized gluttony). After enduring the line I decided to treat myself to a half chicken and fries too. Oh, and a Coke.
Everything at Dino's is extravagant in portion and shockingly spare in price. The chicken plate could feed two and the sodas range in size from a 32-ounce medium to type 2 diabetes. The burgers are more manageable affairs, but are packed with lettuce, tomato, and what I'll call a Greek Thousand Island. My whole meal was under $12. This paean to industrial farming isn't necessarily the path to a sustainable planet, but it certainly draws a crowd. Expect a line no matter when you go.
The burgers come off a grill that flames and smokes in such ridiculous excess that one can hardly imagine anything with a hint of red making its way to the plate other than the chicken. Of course, this is what happened, but as it turned out, my overcooked meat found a secret success from the offending grill.
Dino's uses the bready commercial buns that are usually cause for much whining on my part, but in this case I see a smidgen of advantage, The burger is so moist with juice and sauce that a spongier bun might not last a car ride home. Of course, if I'm driving home with food, I eat on the way so I'd still prefer a better bun. That said, the single is a nice melding of flavors—there is good balance to the sauce's sweetness with what tastes like an addition of Greek-style yogurt. The meat, even in this small portion, is vibrant with smokiness.
The double is where the Dino's burger comes into its own. The smoky flavor that was hinted at in the single steps forward with such force and complexity in the double that even I notice my eyes widening with surprise. How can this be? Whence all this flavor? I spy the grill one more time and all is revealed: The chickens and burgers share space atop that blackened-iron, fire pit. The patties definitely get a healthy seasoning from a shaker, but the depth of these burgers is mined from the grill's garlicky residue. I've never been so pleased by a restaurant's improper handling of chicken. When it all comes together as a sandwich I find myself enjoying this burger (almost) completely.
If Dino's used a more sizable patty to get the temperature right (and, of course, some higher quality meat), it would be transcendent. As it stands, it's a great fast food burger that cuts a flavor profile all its own. In fact, I like the burger more than the chicken that has made Dino's famous, but maybe that's not so surprising.