The opening of another Smashburger might not seem like big news considering the five-year-old chain has made it onto the Inc. 500 fastest growing companies list the last two years. Outlets of this fast casual chain seem to pop up every day, but when my email inbox and phone filled up with messages from Los Angeles burger lovers expressing their glee I figured it was worthy of a first look.
As luck would have it, Smashburger's CEO and Chairman happens to be the brother of my physician. A quick phone call and joke about an impending Lipitor prescription later and I had secured an inside-the-ropes look at the new outlet that's popped up in Culver City.
Smashburger is the brainchild of legendary fast food executive Tom Ryan. Ryan put in time at Quiznos, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver's and McDonald's. Among his creations are the thin crust pizza, McGriddles, and the McFlurry. Clearly this is a guy who understands a mass audience. That said, Smashburger isn't without subtlety and local flavor. Ryan encourages each outlet to have its own identity. This is reflected in some site specific dishes at many of the locations.
My visit to this new outlet (which is celebrating its ribbon cutting ceremony today) put some of that specificity front and center. CEO and Chairman David Prokupek invited me in for a closer look (and taste) of the operation. Store manager, Michael Stuhlman, showed me around and treated me to a quick lesson in the burger smashing technique.
I tried the L.A. area-only burger creation, aptly called the L.A. (regular, $5.99; big, $6.99; double, $6.99). It comes with a crispy wonton, fried egg, cilantro, cucumber, lettuce, tomato and Japanese steakhouse ginger dressing on a black and white sesame seed bun. It's a a complicated and veggie-heavy burger, but I found it a bit addictive. The first bite struck me as a bit confusing, but once I settled into it I really found it a delicious burger.
I also sampled the Fresh Mex ($5.99, $6.99, $6.99), also a regional menu item. It comes with fresh avocado, cilantro, pepper jack, lettuce, tomato, onion, sour cream, and chipotle mayo on a telera roll served with a wedge of lime. This too was a complex and tasty burger, but I think the L.A. would be my choice between the two regional burgers. That said, I, like most Smashburger fans, put the Classic Smash (American cheese, smash sauce, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion on an egg bun) first among all of the options.
I washed them both down with another L.A.-only option, the very pleasing chai shake ($4.29). The chai flavor managed to make the shake seem almost light.
The Smashburger technique is an eight-step process from patty preparation, to smash, to flip. See more photos of the process in the accompanying slideshow.
The quality food and friendly atmosphere at this Culver City location of Smashburger make it a likely, well, smash hit in the neighborhood. I've already stopped in for a quick bite on my way to airport since my First Look visit. The best part is that now eating a burger is part of my doctor's orders.
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