Southern California is world-renowned for its burgers. After all, McDonald’s started here, and if you grew up in L.A. you might have spent your adolescence defacing In N’ Out bumper stickers to make them read, “In N’ Out urge”. Yes, there’s bovine in our bones; our arteries have been well-greased since we were knee-high to a French fry.
From the Apple Pan’s steak and hickory burgers, to the re-inventing of the wheel with the Office Burger at Father’s Office, to the return of simplicity at Golden State, to the upscale Umami revolution, L.A. certainly knows how to wield a spatula. But here at WEHOville, we are particular to our hometown favorites. So, grab a pile of napkins because it’s about to get juicy. Here is the countdown of WeHo’s top five burgers:
5. Hamburger Mary’s
(Santa Monica Boulevard at Sweetzer Ave.)
The burger: The Queen Mary
This gay-themed and LGBT-friendly chain started in San Francisco in 1972 and now has a dozen locations nationwide, but no longer operates from the City by the Bay. Instead, the offices are now in Chicago and…wait for it…WeHo.
Hamburger Mary’s motto is: “an open-air bar and grill for open-minded people.” And what better way to chow down on some beef than sitting at a high-top table on a Sunday with a Bloody Mary while drag queens lip-synch to disco on the restaurant’s stage?
There are burgers stuffed with salsa and topped with jalapeños, sloppy burgers covered in chili and even one crowned with mac n’ cheese, but the Queen Mary gives you a classic combination: melted cheddar and Jack cheeses, grilled onions, bacon and Thousand Island dressing. The bun is sweet, reminiscent of Hawaiian bread, and set against the smoky carbon of the charbroiled patty, it beguiles the caveman within.
4. Rounds Premium Burgers
(Santa Monica Boulevard at San Vicente Blvd)
The burger: Build Your Own
What would a burger list be without a “build-your-own” entry? The BYO trend is pervasive, with the likes of Burger Lounge, Burgerim, The Counter and Rounds all vying for the burger artistes of “The Creative City”. So why does Rounds snag the spot over those others?
It was a tough call, but given that Rounds has probably saved you, Dear Reader, from starvation and a far meaner hangover one fuzzy night on the town due to its prime location in the heart of nightclub traffic, it is only fair to give it the deference it deserves.
Offering chicken, turkey, and veggie patties along with good ol’ fashioned beef to forever sate L.A’s mercurial tastes, founding brothers George and Charbel Ghaby pay special attention to quality and provide a fully customizable experience. In fact, they are one of the only fast food operations that actually ask “How do you want that cooked?”
Ordering “The Classic” (Thousand Island, lettuce, pickles, tomato and onion) may disappoint at Rounds as the obtrusive brioche bun is built for greater things. But if you bring your imagination, that potentially bready bun can support a wealth of dining choices like six kinds of cheese and nine varieties of sauces. And you can eat it all at a sidewalk table as you watch the gorgeous scenery stumble by.
3. Connie and Ted’s
(Santa Monica Boulevard at Havenhurst Drive)
The burger: The Hook Cheeseburger
Like sunken treasure hidden deep in a menu reminiscent of a New England clam shack, where the bountiful raw bar and fresh fish garner most of the attention, lies an unassuming and perfect cheeseburger.
Sure, Michael Cimurusti’s C&T’s is still an annoying reservation to come by, and no one really wants to plan three weeks ahead for a burger, but the Hook Cheeseburger is surprisingly good if you ever find yourself graced with a table in the buzzy dining room and suddenly in a red meat kind of mood.
Presented on a square bun and with plenty of pickles and Thousand Island, the burger is swathed in the king of American cheddars from Hook Farms in Wisconsin: a 4-year-aged slice of sharp and gooey heaven that turns this rather simple offering into something special. Make it 100% Wisconsin by adding another Badger State fave, crispy Nueski’s applewood smoked bacon, and terrify your friends when your eyes roll back into your head.
(Santa Monica Boulevard at Gardner Street)
The burger: The Fatburger
Lest we take for granted the self-proclaimed “Last Great Hamburger Stand” at our doorstep…
It was called Mr. Fatburger when it first opened on Western Avenue in 1947. Now headquartered in Beverly Hills, there are locations in 14 countries, but Fatburger is still emblematic of Southern California.
Who can forget David Letterman taking a bewildered Zsa Zsa Gabor, post cop-slap, to have her first Fatburger at the now-closed La Cienega location? Fatburger’s beef seemed to be the only thing that could ease the East Coast/West Coast beef that plagued hip-hop in the ‘90’s. Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur both mentioned the burger stand independently in their music, as did the Beastie Boys who were always “fly at Fatburger when (they were) way out West.”
Simple, well-balanced, and as satisfying as a good fireworks display on the Fourth of July, this burger may not be the hippest sandwich in town, but it is legend and an American proverb in a bun. Every time I eat one afresh I make a mental note to eat them more often.
1. Five Guys
(Santa Monica Boulevard at Hancock Avenue)
The burger: The “All The Way” Cheeseburger
Five Guys has been a Washington, DC-area favorite since 1986 when Jerry and Janie Murrell offered sage advice to the four young Murrell brothers: “Start a business or go to college.” All of a sudden there was a new carry-out burger joint in Arlington, VA. So much for the halls of ivy.
So why is a Five Guys burger so good? I suppose if you are going to feed a bunch of Washington fat cats, you better know what you’re doing. The burgers here are exceptionally juicy and the “All The Way” cheeseburger comes standard with two patties and double cheese. Then they slather it with condiments and run it through the garden.
And as if you need more, there is a list of extra toppings to add to the avalanche, like A-1 steak sauce for that old school tang or jalapeños for extra “sabor.” However you like it, it’s a classic, double-fisted burger that allows no time for small talk. This meat apple demands your undivided attention.
Pair the burger with an order of Cajun fries that are so bountiful that they spill into the bottom of your paper sack in hot, crispy piles. The joint also has one of those cool Coke machines where you can design your drink and have it mix right into your cup. Although our outpost here in WeHo got off to a shaky start when it opened over a year ago, these guys have found their groove and are now flipping the best flippin’ burgers in town.