Gourmet burgers and their associated gastropubs have been predominantly the domain of LA’s greater west side. Father’s Office, Umami Burger, Comme Ca and The Foundry all have roots on the west-ish side. So when I heard Laurel Tavern in Studio City was not only a gastropub, but had a burger worth writing home about, I was surprised. Gourmet burger? In the wretched valley? I had to try it out. And try I did. More than once. You see, Laurel Tavern is not the easiest place to get into. Not because of some dress code or something stupid like that, but because they simply have an extremely small space. On weekends, it’s nearly impossible to get in unless you show up mid-afternoon. But when I heard some friends were going on Labor Day, I felt my odds were pretty good and I ventured out to Ventura Boulevard.
I quickly and successfully made it in, and although I would usually enjoy a beer with my burger, I skipped out on this vice and replaced it with water. After all, this was the valley and with its 100 degree temperatures I didn’t want to risk that severe dehydration would ruin my burger enjoyment. The menu had some tasty-looking options, not to mention their three burgers, but I knew one of these burgers would have to be mine: the Bacon Blue Cheese Burger. This creatively named burger ran me 10 bucks and did have two ingredients not listed in its name – caramelized onions and apple slices. I ordered mine without those invasive onions, asked to have it cooked medium rare, then topped the order with fries for three more bucks.
I took my number and a seat, then waited about 15 minutes for a burger that I hoped would be worth returning to the valley for. The burger did not disappoint. As I took my first bite into the perfectly cooked medium rare burger, juices began to drip down into the basket and my taste buds yelped in happiness. It had been a long time since I bit into a burger that surpassed my expectations like this one. The bacon, in a surprise twist, was somewhat sweet and this provided a great counterbalance to the blue cheese flavor. Rather than being overwhelmed with saltiness, these two ingredients were a burgerly yin and yang. The apple slices were tasty, but unnecessary as they didn’t real add much to the overall burger experience. As I said, the burger was juicy, and although the bun had a little sogginess by the time I was finishing off, it put up a pretty great fight. Finally, as mentioned earlier, the burger was cooked to a perfect medium rare and the ground beef itself was pretty awesome, with a thick grind and a simple and effective flavor.
After finishing, my only regret was that I had no more burger left to eat. Fortunately, I did have plenty of fries left. The fries were also surprisingly tasty. They didn’t hold back on this portion and had fried and salted them well. There was never a point where I felt like I needed more or less salt, and although there were a few soggy fries in the pile, the majority were great.
So maybe the valley can make a delicious gourmet burger. The prices weren’t crazy and the burger was well-worth it. The only lingering question is whether the typical wait to get in is worth it. If you live in the valley and can get a seat quickly enough, Laurel Tavern should be your go-to gastropub, but for someone who lives on the other side of the mountains it is still worth a visit during non-peak hours. During those peak hours, though, I’d rather make myself at home with a west side burger.