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Tired of Yelp, I combed the search engines for best burgers in Southern California, relying heavily on the burgerwise of Chowhound.com. The results were fruitful, more choices than I knew what to do with. I was cynical at first, the initial entries on the threads were hackneyed at best, but quickly an avalanche of unusual spots surfaced. I began scribbling names of interesting places to eat, categorizing them by distance and price. With this huge list I was armed with enough fodder to get me well through the first quarter of the year. When my friend came over, I surprised him with a bunch of choices, burdening him with the first selection of the year. Masa of Echo Park would cut the tape as first burger of the year.

Once the place was decided, I called ahead to see if it would be okay for me to bring in a bottle of wine. I had high hopes for a successful pairing. A few errands and hours later we arrived at Echo Park, compliments of Sunset Blvd. to sample a reasonably priced Spanish burger.

We were seated very quickly in the spacious establishment. It was apparent early on that pizza might have been the house specialty; scents of deep dish were swooning our senses, reaching us far in the corner where we sat. I opened the menu and saw deep dish centered boldly on the page—further proof that we may have had the wrong mission. We stayed focused fighting through hunger pangs and overcame overt signals to shift direction, ordering two Spanish burgers with a house salad and fries.

The salad made the table rather speedily as did a fresh baked boule. A bottle of 2004 Mas de Maha (#2) hailing from Paso Robles was uncorked and divvied up between the two of us while we noshed. I don’t write a blog on salad or appetizers but there was little to complain about in the early stages of the meal. Everything was executed well and the burgers followed behind at a comfortable pace.

Open-faced, resting on a Cuban roll, a half-pound patty comprised of chorizo, onion, tomato and mustard served with melted Manchego cheese and some other raw ingredients left to our choosing were plated before us—an inaudible timpani roll sounded in my brain. I assembled the halves and took my first bite. My eyebrows lifted and I looked eagerly across the table at my friend. We had struck gold. The rightful star of the show (the patty) was showing gloriously. Full of fat drippings and spice that tasted better after each bite and better yet, the roll that supported the hefty grind was able to quell the juices that escaped. My choice of onion—for more bite—and tomato only added to the depth. No sauces were needed. It was almost perfect until my first sip of wine.

Mea culpa! On paper, a perfect match; a Tempranillo heavy blend (the rest: Grenache and dash of Mourvèdre) to partner with a patty loaded with spice and fat melting in harmony on a sunny afternoon. My pseudo-sommelier skills played it safe but yielded unexpected results. The wine wasn’t balanced, a little too much heat from the alcohol clashed with capsaicin, accentuating the spice. The wine was big bodied; exhibiting blueberries, blackberries, pepper and leather in a ripe display but was unable to complete the package. Through the course of lunch the wine would open up but the unbridled alcohol never let up.

The Spanish burgers were a great way to kick off my burger hunt. A coarse grind with a lot of added flavor lead this Echo Park burger to glory. Most surprising was the wine, not able to find its groove though it possessed a lot of attractive qualities like its polished tannins (aging undisturbed in my cellar for a couple of years) and a luscious bouquet. Nevertheless the outing was successful in more than one aspect and I imagine I will be coming back for that pizza in the near future.

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