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GEAWhat was a smart and mobile business plan ballooned into a full-fledge phenomenon in the late 2000’s. Every festival, event and abandoned parking lot seemed to offer gourmet options on wheels. Even now there are televised competitions and endless variations on interesting cuisine concepts launched. However exciting the menu and cool paint job though, the idea of waiting in crazy lines and eating in uncomfortable settings was never that appealing, except for one Heavy Metal themed burgerie—and the best part of the exception was, they had a brick and mortar location.

Headed to Alhambra, I looked forward to a belated birthday lunch with friends and an opportunity to finally try Grill ‘Em All. The roaming burger joint had made quite a name for itself, winning Food Network’s “Great American Food Truck Race,” and had settled in the gateway to San Gabriel Valley.

With an edgier diner setting and an all-encompassing penchant for metal (music), the restaurant didn’t appeal to me much at face value. If it weren’t for the massive amounts of social media and tremendous word of mouth, I probably wouldn’t have paid them any mind—folk music was always more my thing.

Gea BurgAn extensive menu of scrawled music-laden choices didn’t speed things up, we measured our options; going wild for “Napalm Death” or “Powerslave,” would be reserved for a return visit as I held strong to my philosophy of judging the base, and ordered the “Winger” and accompanied it with “No More Mr. Nice Fries.” My friends went a hair more daring since they had been here before.

It was apparent early on that their great reputation was earned by the endless procession of photogenic sandwiches trayed through a packed restaurant. By the time our food had arrived, I took a few snaps with the camera and we dug in.

The Winger arrived gloriously with an unruly avalanche of American cheese and few edges of Iceberg lettuce protruding from the toasted brioche bun. An homage to the classic West Coast hamburger lathered in thousand-island dressing and bread-n-butter pickles to buttress the ridiculously tender patty. No head banging about it, the Winger was excellent, a lot of jus from the meat and a soft ‘n well-seasoned grind played against the cold, crisp vegetables. No More Mr. Nice Fries were outstanding too, with a true meat-lover’s chili dressed over the piping hot potatoes—one of the best chili fries I’ve ever eaten.

Everything checked out at Grill ‘Em All; a bona fide concept on wheels brought the thunder to Alhambra and made this hamburger tracker very happy! Even though I had to make some compromises to my musical tastes—an ardent supporter of bluegrass and folk—for an afternoon, the result was well worth it. Maybe now I will feel more confident about the wait at their food truck.

OINK Pasadena is not close to me, nor is Eagle Rock, but occasionally I will have business that takes me east. When I am out there, navigating unfamiliar freeways like the 210 and 134, it’s good to have a few markers that I can lay down. After leaving an account I stopped off at one of my favorite places on Colorado Boulevard to grab a sandwich.
A giant A-framed marquee that could be seen from down the street was a welcoming sight as I approached slowly in rush hour. Eric Burdon and the Animals were audible, after parking the car and queuing up for a cheeseburger at The Oinkster.
It had been four years since my last official visit and about two since on unofficial business. Both times were consistently delicious; The Oinkster hybridized the Californian burger stand offering with better ingredients and a methodical approach. I had selected the classic 1/3 lb burger with cheddar cheese—as my own tastes, in cheese, had matured in my absence—and a Boylan’s root beer to wash it down.
In a little more time than it took for me to load up on banana peppers and pickled extras, the cheeseburger arrived, smocked in yellow wax paper inside a red plastic basket. Fresh and warm; the sandwich was the perfect contrast between cold, crisp vegetables set against the warm patty and layer of finely melted cheese. The bit of acidity from the pickles, and the smartly dressed thousand-island sauce added extra layers of flavor in an aptly dubbed ‘classic’ representation. It was excellent and exactly how I remembered it.
My long drive home smacked of nostalgia, bringing to mind the last couple trips I had made to Eagle Rock and recalling a few of my favorite burger stands that I grew up with in Southern California. The Oinkster delivers a familiar cast of flavors exquisitely, not claiming to be new, or quick, but done well.

J RI know my penchant for hamburgers may appear never wavering, but often, other menu items will tempt me. A fresh catch can read tantalizingly from a menu, or barbequed brisket can sound, and smell, better than a lowly hamburger, if I’m comparing meat to meat. No more difficult is it to fend off an instinct for seafood when I’m in a nautically themed restaurant, as recently I neatly fended, when I dined at James Republic in Long Beach. The journey sometimes is to allow the good burgers to find me.

A modern and clean-cut façade, James Republic operates at the corner of Linden Avenue and First Street, in downtown Long Beach. Chalkboard marquees shed any notion of a cold and uninviting downtown establishment while a seasonally driven menu and a stellar bar program are enough to hook me in for lunch or dinner.

J R BURUnlike my past dinner experiences here, the seafood options were downplayed, and the burger was quick to grab my attention.

A short fire time yielded a seven-grain bun sandwiching two medium-rare, grass-fed patties with a bubbling layer of Fiscalini cheddar that obscured the “fancy sauce” and onion jam, all served up on a thick cutting board with a ramekin of house-cured pickles. For extra measure I ordered a boat of fries.

Although I prefer to see some greens like Arugula, Butter, or even Iceberg lettuce on a sandwich (to reduce my guilt), one bite eased my fears of imbalance. The coarse grind was seasoned to perfection, the cheese, and horseradish—in the ‘fancy sauce’—added some bite, and where the seeded bun was the secret weapon, harnessing both the practical needs of maintaining form and sopping up the jus while the seeded crust imparted a boost in the flavor department. The pickles provided extra acid to help reset the palate. It was a thoughtful and clean presentation, which served as a good ambassador for the restaurant.

James Republic’s overachieving cheeseburger reminded me why I am on this never-ending quest of documenting America’s favorite comfort food—burgers—because even if I am led astray, chasing other menu items, a great burger can be an excellent place to drop the anchor.

HB MenuJust about every restaurant menu features a hamburger. While some places make thoughtful tweaks, others are content to produce uninspired margin boosts. In the interest of seeing that latter trend fade, some extra care went into selecting an eatery for us to dine at on a Friday not too long ago.

Beverly Hills is rarely in my sights for cities to eat burgers, but after a little research on the best burgers in LA, the Honor Bar, square in the heart of the city, emerged as a prospect for the evening. We headed to the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and South Beverly Drive to try on the appropriately named Honor Burger.

The Honor Bar is the sidecar to South Beverly Grill—a restaurant affiliate of the Hillstone Group, which is responsible for one of the better burgers I’ve reviewed at Houston’s—with a deep, engulfing feel anchored by its sleek wooden bar and corner side griddle à la Hinano Café. All signs gave out that this burger would be a veritable contender.

The four of us took consecutive seats down the bar and gave the menu* a brief glance before placing our orders: four medium-rare Honor burgers with respective libations to wash ‘em down.

HB BurgerDing! Our meals were up swiftly; halved and toothpicked arriving splayed out on pastel-colored ceramic boats. Fries arrived separately in julep glasses. Each burger was demonstrably pink in its core and the sensible application of coleslaw lent color to the mouth-watering portrait.

It only took a couple of bites to realize that this burger was solid—the praise for it seemed warranted. The ground chuck was perfectly seasoned and cooked. The coleslaw gave a little flare without being flamboyant or cloying. Nice texture and great depth of flavor delivering everything we were expecting for a somewhat pricey thirteen dollars.

Certainly a good meal, the ingredients were simple and well-presented—better than most—as classicism was upheld at the Honor Bar. They owe a lot to other places in LA though, even if they perfected it more, but without a unique signature they are only serving a solid, enjoyable burger.

* The menu was unique; it pit classic sandwiches (“and a salad”) against sushi.


We arrived, a band of bleary-eyed and palate-fatigued wine buyers, at SugarFish in Brentwood.

A strange and distant (diegetic) music began to play. 


Three “Trust Me’s” were ordered in little time.


Fatty and rich fish were coupled with gluey and subtly sweet rice.

Hand Roll

After the final hand roll, our ailing tongues had been restored—a trick I will remember for future tastings.

Salt's CureAfter my last burger outing I was seeking redemption; a swing from distrustful of brioche, to hoping for any other form of wheat-based carbohydrates, perhaps even seriously considering a protein-style burger (lettuce-wrapped) for a reprieve. At Salt’s Cure, my brioche-induced fears might be abated, but now I just needed to see if their gourmet offering would warrant the price.

D&G FiveAcross from Astro Burger and Fat Burger (on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Vista Street), sits Salt’s Cure, perched coyly behind a saltshaker. The American eatery scrawls Calfornia-centric fare on the chalkboard daily, with a few staples that survive the eraser. Their wine list lives by the same idea, supporting the chalkboard rotation with a stellar Californian lineup.

In for dinner with a friend, punctuating the Memorial Day weekend with a pair of burgers and bottle of Donkey & Goat Five Thirteen—the red wine, born in El Dorado (Amador County), showed youthful notes of red plums, dark berries, and violets all misted under a faint crack of the pepper mill. We ordered in support of the burgers.

S C BOpeners a King Salmon atop a sweet onion puree, a simple presentation and clean flavor spectrum showing off the fish, it wasn’t until the entrees arrived that our eyes perked wide with excitement.

Two identical open-faced burgers, with one showing a strip of house-made bacon over a translucent layer of cheddar that coated the patty while the other side balanced a few fine rings of red onion and red leaf lettuce, all atop a toasted in-house Ciabatta! The bun alone was relief.

After assemblage the first bite showed off the superb texture of the sandwich. Crisp veggies, a melt-in-your-mouth patty and chewy bun came together well. The patty was comprised of a 70-30 grind (meat-to-fat), which explained the juiciness, and why I was thankful for the slipper bread bun—it held the burger’s integrity. The bacon, generally an overpowering addition, was content being rank-and-file with the rest of the burger’s components, adding a sweet-smoke finish. And finally salt, that basic ingredient, didn’t just figure into the name of the restaurant, its liberal dashes brought out a precise depth in the flavor department. A finely tuned burger that paired nicely with Southern Rhone inspired red.

Salt’s Cure had recaptured my gourmet burger spirit. Even the little things were taken to the next level—the accompanying fries that packed rosemary-freshness were excellent vehicles for one of the better house made ketchups I’ve encountered recently. My buddy and I were both blown away by the quality at almost every level from the attention to detail to the wine list. Seventeen dollars is a fair price to price to pay for excellence—if only that were the price for the entire dinner.

RC BA friend’s belated birthday dinner was the perfect excuse to indulge, and, on advance reservations, we headed west for an early supper at Rustic Canyon to corroborate all the weighty claims about a superior burger served at the Santa Monica eatery.

RuthWe arrived at 6 PM sharp—parking nearby was easy despite competing with fellow early birds—to a table for two. The dining room was half-full and sun-soaked, poised to catch the most of the waning light as it washed over the worn hardwood floors. A beverage list towered vertically, while our cardstock menus lay glued to the table. There was little milling over the drinks, we skirted the vin in favor of beer—the list was chock-full of interesting choices—the Rustics, were in fact, a wine bar. The burgers’ reputation was sterling and the reason (one of them, anyway) for our trip, but the starters were where we welcomed our server’s input.

Guided gently to a Clam & Mussel Pozole and the ever-popular Kale Salad to precede the heavier main fare. I nibbled on some olives, passing time with playoff hockey chat.

Two diametrically opposed dishes landed together, sharing only their earthy green hue. The bowl of Pozole finished with crisp tortillas, making use of a wide range of flavors and engaging all the senses. From the varied textures to the subtle spice and clean cilantro flavors, the starter had it all in spades. It unfortunately overshadowed the kale salad.

Then the burgers landed. All business. Identical presentation between the two plates as the immense cheeseburgers split their rectangular ceramics with fries. The brioche bun was toasted to a firm and flaky consistency to keep its integrity under the rich and fatty grind that was cooked to a perfect medium-rare (a good default setting). The sharp cheese, melted nicely, lent another layer of fatty flavor, which added continuity to the sandwich’s theme. The spread, pickles and sweet onions worked harmoniously to provide an extra bit of lift. It was simple and satisfying.

If a burger’s purpose were to showcase the high quality meat that makes it into the patty then Rustic Canyon would surely get a gold medal. The patty was tender, filling and delicious and they didn’t hide it. We not only disagreed who would make it out of the first round between Anaheim and Detroit but also on how good that burger was (by me it took top honors for E.O.M. in May), as it didn’t bowl my friend over. I guess that’s what happens when one’s expectations are parked above the Hollywood sign. Still, the overall dining experience was excellent and I can’t wait to go back for seconds on the Pozole.

Westside TavIt had been a while since I last had a burger, tiptoeing around my favorite comfort food in hopes of reinvigorating the palate. In lieu of the patty I was on an Asian binge, I devoured lunch at Lukshon, which was a catalyst for delving further into a Far East bender. Undocumented dinners at A-Frame and Nong La would eventually take me full circle though, as I went fifth wheel to finally order a highly touted burger at the Westside Tavern.

Beside the Landmark Theaters, the Westside Tavern is a contemporary space that offers fine-tuned American fare complimented by a deep beverage program. Reminiscent of Hillstone’s, but not a chain, Westside Tavern relishes its role of convenient date spot for the pre-movie crowd or can act as a beautiful finishing touch to an evening.

With a pair of married couples, we grabbed a booth, catching the last two periods (plus some bonus hockey) of the Ducks vs. Kings game over cocktails and burgers. Well into my bourbon drink and at about the halfway point of the game, the food appeared. From the lens of my iPhone, I best documented the rotund grub, capturing a melted layer of Tillamook Cheddar dominating the landscape; the finely ground, hand-packed patty was completely obscured, supported by a brioche bun with a few leaves of arugula lending color. However, it is what you couldn’t see that seemed to bring the burger down a notch; a mess of caramelized onions and the garlic aioli that were very present on the first bite.

The meat and cheese combo were sterling, but the proportion of caramelized onions seemed to drown out the sandwich. I was essentially eating two things: French Onion Soup from Mimi’s Café and a gourmet cheeseburger on the side. The sea-salt fries were splendid though, helping me reset after a few bites.

Apart from the palate confusion, the burger showed some good qualities like being perfectly cooked and seasoned well when those bites weren’t masked by the overpowering combination of garlic spread and sweet onions.

While I didn’t agree with the acclaimed status of Westside Tavern’s cheeseburger, the restaurant showed that they were more than just a catchall for those on a date—definitely a good spot for a drink. My charitable mood may have had something to do with the Ducks downing the Kings in an exciting shootout, yet I wouldn’t rule out a repeat visit, even if the food failed to capture my heart, or stomach, the way Lukshon did. Back to the drawing board.

Rosado CanRaising the ante on Lunch, I went upscale in Culver City, giving a rare day-off to the red basket fries and behemoth burgers fare in favor of Asian verve. In a complex that boasts an embarrassment of riches—with regards to food and interior design—a posse of wine rep friends and I decided to reserve a table at Lukshon.

The restaurant is a brainchild of Sang Yoon—the same Chef that architected the Father’s Office burger (with no substitutions), one burger that perhaps has no equal in Los Angeles. Further down Helms Avenue from his satellite Father’s Office location was another first-rate eatery that tied together a mélange of Far East flavors in dishes that were pleasing to all senses. A curator’s care went into the beverage list that cleverly supported the breadth of the menu like Atlas and encouraged a wine-drinking excursion.

SeafoA Rosado of Listán Negra from Bodegas Los Bemejo out of the Canary Islands we hoped would enhance the robust quantity and variety of food: Brussels Sprouts, Duck Confit Spring Roll, Flank Steak Bao, Kurobuta Pork Ribs, Cantonese Chicken Soup, Grilled Squid Salad and finishing with the mouth-numbing Dandan Noodles. We were a hungry lot.

The dishes were staggered nicely at first, allowing time to dissect each course while we sipped on a cloudy (unfiltered) salmon colored Rosé that smacked of cantaloupe and ripe cherry freshness with dashes of cupboard spice and red flower petals for added complexity.

Carrot We opened with Cantonese chicken soup that showed how weak our chopstick-skills were, making a mess over our shared bowl. We made up for the clumsiness by devouring the second plate of duck confit spring rolls swiftly. The next two dishes, the Brussels sprouts and grilled squid salad arrived in tandem. I tend to not get terribly excited over salad, but the grilled squid course showed off its deep dimension, with tender pieces of seafood bathing in a chili sambal vinaigrette that were pitted against the crunch of celery, cucumber and a clean mint finish. It was refreshing and not to be missed… like the Brussels sprouts! The ribs slipped off the bone and were a perfect set up for the Bao that arrived next. Steamed buns pocketing strips of flank steak with kohlrabi and green bean like slaw smothering the meat, dressed in kimchi vinaigrette. We finished with the circus trick… Dandan noodles were recommended to go last in our rotation. The Sichuan dish incorporated Kurobuta pork with mustard greens, Sichuan peppercorns and peanuts, mixing in the components with a serious toss before we divvied it up. An unusual sensation transpired as I shoveled the oily peddler’s noodles down the hatch, a mouth-tingling reverberation occurred—a MILD blackout of the taste buds. I reached for the glassware to revive the palate. Hell of a trick!

A complimentary dessert—a petite wedge of carrot cake— punctuated our decadent lunch and superb Rosado pairing. My first sampling of Canary Islands wines was piquant, mellowing the spiciest elements of the lunch while not diminishing any of the explosiveness of the foods. It also emphasized how big the wine world actually is, as I sometimes get lost in just a small corner of it. The smattering of outstanding Asian fusion transcends any three, maybe four fancy-pants burgers I would’ve eaten in LA for its forty-dollar price tag. Lukshon is a clear-cut favorite to capture E.O.M. for April.

Stout SignNo longer able to ignore Stout, with a beer-thirst peaking and word-of-mouth about the restaurant itself spreading like a SoCal wildfire whipped by Santa Anas, there was more than enough reason to dine out at the burger and beer purveyor. Standing guard on the corner of Cahuenga Boulevard, sandwiched by Hollywood and Sunset, Stout’s original location was the it-spot for lunch.

My friend and I were seated at the last remaining table. Stout was similar to Little Bear in that it was a Beer-friendly environment; that didn’t stop me from looking to see what wines had been relegated to the back page. (Rant warning)*

Skirting the wine, we made our tap selections on the first go with our server. Upon her return, two beers-a-tray, we had decided on the Stout and Morning After burgers with a side of zucchini fries.

StoutNot too many sips into the Mikkeller, two orbicular sandwiches touched down with a share bowl of fried zucchini dividing our table. We took a respectful look at our burgers before digging in. Wedged between the perfect semicircles that would shame mathematicians, were two candied slabs of rosemary bacon atop a blend of Alpine—Gruyere—and blue cheese, coating the grain-fed beef patty with roasted tomatoes and a daub of horseradish cream. In the best way it reminded me of a classy Sourdough Jack minus the sourdough. A perfect medium rare with a soft grind showing off a depth of smoky sweet nuance that was near great. There was something lacking, however—texture. With no snap to juxtapose against the mushy core, the complimentary flavors had no direction and ran amok. The Stout burger was solid, but frustratingly, had the potential to be a lot more. The fried zucchini were an excellent accompaniment, with a creamy green core that was a sight to see, but like anything fried, a little went a long way.

In need of a digestif after the heavy midday affair, only our wallets felt lighter after leaving the beer-first establishment. Attentive service, lively crowd and stellar beer list staved off an average review, as Stout obviously excels in certain aspects. Regarding balance, there’s still a ways to go.

*If you have a top-notch wine list, beer and sake should be integrated seamlessly and the same goes for an expertly crafted beer list. Why does the imagination stop when wine is involved? It’s not okay. Who would want to have a Westmalle Dubbel or Achel Bruin at some joint, and then order a plonk Chardonnay for their girlfriend—and not feel a pang of conscience about it? Craft begets craft! 

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