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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

L.A. FEELS LIKE COMIN' HOME: A HARD HAMBURGER HABIT TO BREAK















It wasn’t the best burger in Los Angeles by any stretch of the imagination. Hell, it wasn’t even the best in this neighbourhood, with the glories of The Apple Pan only a few short blocks away (I think). But, as I bit down into my “sassy” cheeseburger made with cheddar and dipped a crunchy French fry into a sludge of yellow mustard, I had to admit that it still tasted better than 90% of the examples I have experienced in London.

And, that’s the truth of it. Hamburgers will always taste better in the U.S. even the lousy or average ones. In the end it boils down to context. Just as a pint of beer will never taste better than when it is sipped in front of a roaring fire on a cold day or fish & chips when eaten from the wrapping on the way to a lower division football game, so a hamburger needs a touch of the red, white & blue to truly hit the spot.

For all the talk of buns, meat, leaves and cheese, the secret to a good burger really has very little to do with sourcing the finest ingredients known to man. A good burger needs to be made with decent stuff, of course, but it also needs a top notch short order cook who is smarter than the skillet and it needs the appropriate surroundings. In short, for a burger to be really, really good, it needs to be made in America.

Today’s lunch was almost inevitable. I have been craving a decent American hamburger since I got back to the UK after New Year. Despite my best efforts and the opening of some new places promising much, it just had not happened. So, forgetting my declarations to Sybil that I would eat more healthily in the run up to the wedding, I caved and decided that my first lunch back in the City of Angels had to involve something slapped between two halves of a bun.

I had noticed Hamburger Habit on my last trip and research showed that it received decent crit from the locals and might be worth a visit. Unfortunately, Sybil had decided to take the car into work, which meant that, if I wanted a burger centric luncheon, I was going to have to walk. That’s almost as rare an occurrence in L.A. as finding a decent burger joint in London, but my craving was by now full on. I slapped on some factor 30 and headed out on what turned out to be a six mile route march.

Was it worth the hike? Not really, but then few things would be that don’t involve a massage from a cute 20 year old cheerleader with daddy issues. But, had I travelled the three miles each way by car as most sane angelenos would (a round trip of about all of ten minutes) I would have had very few reasons to complain.

Hamburger Heaven is a faux 50’s style diner, which normally means lousy food. But, the burgers here are sizable and cooked to order, the ingredients are decent and the fries pretty close to perfect. The end results are acceptable, if unremarkable by local standards, but seemingly impossible for all but a few back in Blighty.

The bill came to $9 including a $1 thrust into the tip jar and I was back out on the road, slurping on a free refill of diet Coke, about 15 minutes after I arrived. No muss, no fuss, no highly researched concept and no twitter campaign.

It’s good to be back in L.A. It’s already beginning to feel like home.

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9 Comments:

Blogger Signe said...

Completely agree, burgers outside the U.S. don't have a patch on the ones you get there. Why we can't get top notch short order cooks who are smarter than the skillet here is baffling. Anyway, good to hear you're settling into LA life :)

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 5:36:00 am  
Anonymous Nick said...

When I look back on yr postings(I know I shd get a life) it's always the burger related ones that generate the most comments from yr readers .You definitely strike a nerve with each one. Seems we have a very deep and complex need to find a better burger in the UK.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 9:21:00 am  
Blogger Oldsoul_NotQuite said...

I fear for your arteries.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 10:12:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You would be hard pressed to better the burger from the stall outside Medcalf on Exmouth Market on Wed, Thur and Fri.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 7:25:00 pm  
Anonymous Barny said...

I can think of a few reasons that burgers are better in the US -

1. Commercial food ingredients are cheaper and higher quality.
(Greenhouse tasteless stuff from dutch greenhouses vs Stuff in the US coming in by train from sunny California /Florida)

2. UK Vat tax means you have to act as a government tax collection agency on your hot food products and so they are 17.5% more expensive with no benefit to the burger maker or buyer.

3. Planning law (Zoning) means that restaurant space is controlled and so commands a premimum price (3 x that of a regular store).

SO the choice for a restauranteur is -
1. To create a 'caff' and sell a large food of such terrible quality that the profit margin is very high.(See Mechanically Recovered Meat for details. . .)

2.Use standard Crummy food ingredients but SELL the 'story' (anything but the food itself) - the fancy graphics (Guerrilla Burgers etc,) the er 'travel adventure' (Cafe rouge and all that microwaved, boil in the bag s**t).
The 'exclusivity' - ANYTHING but the food.

3. Or you sell high quality 'local' seasonal', 'organic' food itself, but have to do so by charging such a large amount of money for even basic food - that somehow you are expected to enjoy eating it AND worshiping it's origins AND at the same time paying crazy money.
(£10 for welsh rarebit at the Albion - It's just cheese on toast FFS !)

So -
A burger in the Hawksmoor is £15 (that's ONE burger folks) -
That is no better than a £3.15 burger from the Shake Shack in NYC. . .


Enjoy LA - I miss it - 'Ahi Tuna tacos at Piquito Mas' - Damn!

Check out this very cool place in Burbank (I don't know its name) but it JUST serves Chilli and milk around a horseshoe bar. It's like an old time rancher place . .

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 8:21:00 pm  
Anonymous Helen said...

Arse. It has to be the one thing I can't create myself at home doesn't it. Arse.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010 8:33:00 pm  
Anonymous Terry said...

AAArrrggghhh-the dreaded seeded bun!

At least in America they get the skins OFF the fries.....unlike the lazy tendency creeping into the UK of skin-on, under the pretense that this is more......??healthy?organic?rustic? whatever.

Friday, March 05, 2010 8:27:00 am  
Blogger Jack said...

I liked Five Guys burgers in teh US and their fries come with the skin on.

Monday, March 08, 2010 2:34:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear God, I miss In n Out burgers. Can't someone persuade them to open a franchise over here??

Tuesday, March 09, 2010 2:01:00 pm  

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