Photo: Bryan Steffy (Getty Images)
In every major city, you can always find a list of the area’s best burgers. But they’re almost always burgers from popular burger joints, where burgers are, well, their specialty. You never see Mr. Tang’s Donut House top those lists or Vito’s Trattoria, but what if Mr. Tang makes a killer slider and Vito’s cheeseburger is his crown jewel?
It stands to reason that a burger joint would make good burgers, so we’re not saying that isn’t a solid place to start, but we set out to find the non-traditional spots in Los Angeles serving up some of the tastiest beef and cheese on a bun, places where you’ve probably never even thought to order a burger.
Mee and Greet
A relative newcomer to the L.A. scene, Mee and Greet specializes in Southeast Asian comfort foods with a twist. Their garlic egg noodles, for example, get a hearty sprinkle of Parmesan, adding some unexpected Mediterranean flair, and their bo luc lac saltado (also known as “shaking beef”) is tossed with French fries, transforming it into an Asian version of steak frites that’s absolutely “magnifique!”
It’s definitely not your standard Vietnamese fare, yet you wouldn’t expect it to boast one of the best burgers in town. But it does. Their M&G Burger is 7 ounces of Angus ground chuck, loosely packed to maintain its juiciness, topped with aged cheddar, caramelized onions, roasted garlic relish, sambal aioli, and an acar pickle. Every component works together beautifully — swirls of slightly sweet onions and velvety garlic languish across the meat, bringing out its beefy flavor, while the lushness of the aioli, reminiscent of a hearty stew thanks to the sambal, makes everything taste like fork-tender top round that’s been slow-cooking for hours, with a subtle spice undercurrent throughout. And the snap of the acar pickle is perfect for cutting the richness of the other ingredients while adding some texture. This masterpiece easily rivals any burger joint, and you should absolutely give it a try. Get a side of cah tauge (bean sprouts with fried garlic), and enjoy a tasty cheeseburger by way of Indonesia.
Yuca’s, a cash-only, cult-favorite taco hut is known for its affordably priced, family-made Mexican food, but they could easily tout their burger as one of the best in the city. They take the basic elements of a classic cheeseburger and turn it into what a fast food burger should taste like. A thin, smashed patty (we recommend doubling it), perfectly crusted with bits of crispy beef fond, is blanketed by creamy American cheese and topped with lettuce, tomato, fresh white onion, mustard, ketchup, and mayo on a soft white bun. This burger feels like summertime and backyard BBQs, but no matter what tricks your buddy Joe may have for seasoning the charcoal to achieve the ultimate grilled taste, nothing could contend with sharing a griddle with taco meats. That’s the real MVP here, infusing the beef with juicy carnitas and asada flavor that takes the experience to the next level. Hit Yuca’s after the lunch rush so the salt and fat of burrito guts linger on the flattop, turning a $4 cheeseburger into an umami bomb worthy of James Beard nod.
The Running Goose
Latin American-inspired tapas are the thrust of The Running Goose, a bustling gastropub in the heart of Hollywood. Think churros comprised of salted cod that will make you forget all about the cinnamon-sugar version, burnt corn tostadas, and duck fat tortillas, all bursting with unctuous flavor. (No other adjective captures the buttery smack of glorious grease it conveys.) Their El Gringo burger is no different. Eight ounces of juicy prime beef gets the royal treatment with luscious layers of white cheddar fondue cascading across crispy, thick-cut bacon with vine ripe tomato, arugula, and red onion they grow on-site in their garden. Even their veggies taste lush and full-bodied, far eclipsing the slimy, listless variety you find at the supermarket. A fluffy brioche bun carries this carefully constructed work of art to your mouth with a spread of sunflower aioli that brings all the flavors and textures together with an artichoke-esque pop of earthiness, reminding you that this is a homegrown gift of Mother Nature you’ll want to honor with every bite.
You expect a seafood spot to dominate in lobster rolls and fresh-caught fish, and Slapfish definitely does that in spades, but their Surf ‘n’ Turf Burger brings the best of both worlds to your tongue in perfect land and sea harmony. A crumbly 6-ounce beef patty with hunks of juicy, fresh-caught crustaceans, swaddled together by a silky cheese sauce that tastes like it bathed in Bechamel, feels like a sunset walk along the beach as salty air whips across your lips. The flavors of succulent medium-rare meat against the subtle sweetness of the lobster commingle in your mouth like an ocean breeze as it cools your sweaty body from an afternoon in the scorching sun. It’s delicate yet decadent. Add in the freshness of a plump tomato and the butteriness of a toasted bun and you’ve got a beachfront property in burger form.
The Greasy Wiener
As the name suggests, The Greasy Wiener‘s main focus is hot dogs, and the roaming food truck nailed the frankfurter game with Coney Island-like precision. It offers everything from your basic wiener with mustard and pickles to a German-inspired bratwurst stuffed with aged cheddar to bacon-wrapped chili cheese indulgence. But the lone G-Burger on the menu is the unsung hero of this footlong franchise on wheels. Like Yuca’s, their hand formed, half-pound Angus patty benefits from buddying up on the grill as hot dog juices impart a smoky flavor to the beef, instantly elevating the otherwise simple toppings of gooey American cheese, grilled onions, and a sliced Kosher dill to otherworldly heights. Encased in a squishy bun that melds all the tastes together in a buttery wrapper, this is a feat of culinary alchemy, proving a cacophony of flavors is greater than the sum of its parts.
The next time you’re craving a burger, skip the usual spots and maybe give that Thai place or Greek restaurant a try. Chances are, it’s better than you imagined with a unique blend of flavors you’d never even considered before. We can’t think of a better way to expand your food horizons than with a comfort food classic, so proudly order that cheeseburger at your local Izakaya. Your palate is refined.