May is Burger Month! And while LA is an easy target for jokes of all varieties, the one thing that no one can take away from LA is its amazing burgers. After years of devouring said burgers, I have compiled a list of the 8 best that LA has to offer. The key, though, is that they must be completely unique to LA. Sorry In-N-Out, Tommy’s and 25 Degrees.
The Garage opened up with little fanfare, which allowed its Garage Burger to completely slip under the radar and into my heart and stomach. The combination of juicy beef, sour cherry laquered bacon, cheddar and peppercorn aioli is a pleasant surprise and allowed this newcomer to the burger scene to make an impact.
EDIT: Umamicatessen has become Umami Broadway and is more or less now just a glorified Umami Burger from what I hear.
The word “Umamicatessen” is quite a mouthful. And I’m pretty sure that’s what the people behind Umami Burger were thinking when they put together a deli in downtown LA. They were thinking, “We want to fill mouths with delicious deli food, while preserving the Umami name.” To me, that’s quite the name to maintain, because Umami is still my favorite burger in LA. Plus, while LA doesn’t have the big name delis of New York, there is still some stiff competition from the likes of Langer’s.
A couple of weeks ago, The Backyard Bite invited me to The Burger Culture Clash, sponsored by Stussy (which apparently still exists) and Plan Check. Plan Check, by the way, is a sort of new (since February) restaurant in West LA with Chef Ernesto Uchimura of Umami Burger fame. As my love of burgers, especially those of the umami variety, I jumped at the opportunity.
Although I arrived alone, I was not the only lone eater. Just next to where I was seated, I met e*star LA and we decided to share a meal called loneliness, because it’s better than eating alone. We made quick friends over our respective blogs and Midwestern roots, then got to work at dissecting the special menu, which Plan Check will be featuring for the next month if anything tickles your fancy.
As the Umami Empire continued to grow, to me it seemed only inevitable that it would eventually take on pizza. Enter 800 Degrees in Westwood, a Neapolitan style pizza place where customized pizza is king. They offer specialty pizzas, but the key to the place in my mind was to order a basic pizza (between 5.15 and 6.45) and load on the toppings for $1 each. This was the route I took.
Recently, a Facebook burger competition (very scientific) crowned 26 Beach in Venice as the best burger in LA. Now you may be asking yourself, “What the hell is 26 Beach?” and you are not alone, because even I had no idea what the place was until contest began. Somehow this unknown burger contender topped my personal favorite, Umami Burger. I couldn’t let this stand, well at least not without trying it myself, so off I went to 26 Beach to see what sort of witchery pushed their burger to the top of the heap.
As a break from watching horse racing and football at the Caesar’s Palace Casino in Las Vegas, we walked right next to the sports book and into the Mesa Grill. The place is pretty well-known for being Bobby Flay’s restaurant and I guess Bobby Flay is some sort of a big deal because of his Iron Chef work and such, but I still get him confused with Michael Flatley of Riverdance fame. Confusion or no, I had heard great things about the Mesa Burger and zoned in on that when I got my menu.
I was actually a little disappointed by the list of toppings. Horseradish mustard sounded like a bad vegetable concoction, while grilled Vidalia onions made it sound even worse. The redeeming quality of the burger was the double cheddar cheese, so I still ordered the burger with the cheese on it. I told the waiter that I was ordering my burger strangely and he replied that it wasn’t strange at all. This friendliness in an anti-unvegan world showed me that even unvegans are welcomed with open arms in Las Vegas. I ordered the burger cooked medium and he told me they served a very liberal medium, meaning my burger would be quite pink. This was just fine by me.
The newest edition of Umami Burger opened up a couple weeks ago in Los Feliz and I got there as soon as I could to see if they could continue producing those same amazing burgers. The last time I went to Umami on La Brea, it was still BYOB and had yet to develop a burger built for unvegans. Even the so-called “Manly Burger” had onions, but they were still nice enough to make burgers for my unvegan specifications. Umami Ni, as I like to call the new Umami Burger (ni meaning two in Japanese), was a grown up version of the original.
Not only does Umami Ni serve beer and wine, they even have a bar called Salaryman (another Japanese homage) where they serve Asian beers for comfortable prices. Arriving at 9:00, I expected to be seated quickly, but the place still had a waiting time, so I headed over to experience Salaryman.
I was a late addition to my group of friends, and the wait staff was extremely accommodating in letting me pull up an extra chair in such a small restaurant and order last. I took a quick gander at the menu and saw that all the burgers involved some sort of vegetative substance. I asked the waiter if I could just get a burger with American Cheese and their “spread” and she told me it was no problem (Basically the SoCal Burger without veggies). I was amazed, after having my no-substitutions experience at Father’s Office. Now, before you judge me for getting American Cheese, I have to tell you that Umami Burger makes their own American Cheese and it’s not supposed to be anything like the Kraft kind you get at the local Ralph’s. (read about it here)