We spend a bit of a few short hours in L.A. at a burger icon
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This is not a burger.
Well, it is. In the sense that it is a sandwich. There is visible surprise from patrons who order it for the first time, with Amazonian levels of rocket leaf foliage spewing from an oval bun that looks like the love-child of a dinner roll and French stick.
There is no single thing that brings on more grimace-inducing disconsolation than going somewhere and not being able to eat a burger.
The French Dip: a sandwich that is justifiably, if way too slowly, creeping onto menus in our fair town. It's about fucking time as well, what gravy loving nation isn't going to love a meat roll that you dunk into meat juice?
New fast food innovations tend to be pretty hit and miss.
This could easily be the start to a post about some new porkaterian cocktaileria in Dalston.
But it isn't.
Sometimes an idea comes along that is so simple, and yet so totally ingenious that you just have to stand up and slow clap the dudes that thought it up, ‘Lucas’ style. So we applaud the comfort food genius that is Los Angeles’ Grilled Cheese Truck.
What’s all the more awesome is that these guys take such a staple, classic, comfort food and reinvent it with panache too. It’s testament to how well they do it that I’ve seen queues for this mobile eatery easily stretch 20-plus long. Our first visit attempt was at the fairly legendary Abbot Kinney First Fridays festival in Venice. The trouble was we’d already tried five trucks by the time we spotted them. Dammit.
And those queues are there for good reason; their Cheesy Mac And Rib is hugely satisfying. The barbecue pork was saucy-sweet, soft and worthy of a place all of its own on a menu. The mac ‘n cheese was heavy on the gooey cheese, sticky yet still trying to escape from every opening, and hinted a savouriness that balanced with the pork brilliantly. One hell of a sandwich.
I’m pretty sure I put this away in under ten mouthfuls it was so good, and if we weren’t going on to somewhere else for more food, I would have had another. A bang up job, and a must for anyone In L.A. who has only got time to visit a handful of food trucks.
We were drunk. We were in Downtown Los Angeles. We wanted some junk food. A bouncer told us to bowl down to Spring Street, and there, we found L.A. Café. That bouncer was a right geezer.
I was in somewhat of a touchy mood when we finally arrived at the Santa Monica branch of this rapidly growing little chain (there are five outposts in LA now, with more on the way). Principally, because nothing on the website tells you it’s in a fucking Fred Segal store, and partly, because Google Maps sucks. So we walked circled a couple of blocks for fifteen minutes trying to find it.
So, note to any non Santa Monica residents looking for this place, if you see spot Fred fucking Segal, you’ve found it.
I ordered the SoCal burger and my dining companion ordered the Manly Burger (because he so is). When they arrived they looked brilliant, like straight-out-of-the-dressing-room pretty. Mood swiftly reversed.
The bun gets top billing here, as it’s amongst the best I’ve ever tasted, probably THE best.
It’s got the shine of a brioche (with their signature ‘U’ toasted into the top half), but isn’t really a brioche. It’s chewy, but super-squidgy. Substantial, but not stodgy. A superb example of how well a burger bun can be made.
And there’s definitely a can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it extra dimensional taste to the patty that makes it unique, an almost kinda hint of gravy. That signature umami. Hard to describe without over-hyphenating.
You can see from the pictures the meat is soft and ever so loosely formed; the result being it crumbles away in your mouth after each bite, mingling with everything else in the burger: the full hit in every bite. The consistency of the cheese is spot on and the house sauce, a homage to In ‘n Out’s ‘Spread’ if I’m not mistaken, adds a fresh tang without overwhelming it.
The only terribly small issue: the loose grind of the meat and the slightly anaemic bottom bun caused the burger to fall apart about three quarters of the way through, so the final few bites were frantic, morsel-rescuing mouthfuls.
The Manly Burger, their take on a bacon cheeseburger - with it’s thick lardons and crispy onion strings - looked, and apparently tasted, bloody epic.
“No unsettling flavour combinations or trickery. It’s just a good burger. Craft over science.”
There’s certainly a touch of Heston Blumenthalerie in the way these guys go about experimenting with different flavours and ingredients, not to mention their namesake fifth taste. The dude that owns the chain certainly talks almost evangelically about the painstaking construction of each burger. And it shows. Everything in it is crafted from scratch, and we applaud the wicked craftsmanship on display. Unlike Heston though, there’s nothing weird here. No unsettling flavour combinations or trickery.
It’s just a good burger. Craft over science.
Umami is an important place. Arguably, they’re at the epicentre of the quality mid-priced resurgence which is having a major impact on this side of the pond too. And for that reason, as well as a damn fine and totally unique burger, Umami is smack bang at the top of our Essential LA Burgers list, cosying up to In-n-Out. Go.
“I guess I expected more from something with ‘Kobe’ in the title…”
Sadly, the story of where I had to go to find this truck is *far* more interesting than the food that came from it: I found myself on USC’s Fraternity Row during some mental party night. Not only did I feel like a weird, peckish paedophile - trying not to look at any of the scantily clad sorority girls walking from frat house to frat house. But simultaneously, I felt like I was in some irreverent college film, so familiar did the surroundings feel to my moviephile self. Odd.
The beef sliders were distinctly unimpressive.
After adding some ketchup to them they tasted almost identical to McDonald’s cheeseburgers, just with slightly better meat - not necessarily a bad thing, I like the way they taste, but I guess I expected more from something with ‘Kobe’ in the title.
The pork sliders looked great, but the pork was really dry, with no BBQ sauce to accompany it. The slaw, whilst a colourful spectacle, tasted like crunchy-but-watery mayo and failed to moisten the pork.
In their defence, I did catch the place just as it was about to close, so maybe I didn’t get the freshest peak-time fare, but it turned me off going back there, and left me thinking that a good slider is always hard to find, even in the States.