Are These The Best Burgers In Los Angeles?

3 January 2015

Bun, patty, pickle, cheese – it's the holy quad of taste. Who doesn't love to wrap their jaw around a big, juicy burger?

Shove in some bacon, smother it with ketchup, sidle it up to a serve of fries, sprinkle on some greenery if you really have to. That's the beauty of a burger – it's not one-taste-fits-all. As long as there's a chunk of something delicious cuddled by a bun, you've got yourself a burger.

As the birthplace of McDonald's and In-N-Out, Southern California is no stranger to double-handed deliciousness, with Los Angeles very much embracing the Sir Mix-a-Lot school of thought: don't want none unless you got buns, hon.

Celebrities, yogis and tech-heads alike can be spotted getting intimate with a burger in LA. Burgers are the great unifier – there's no sophisticated way to eat one. At the end of the day, we all have mustard on our lapels. So, without further adieu, here is your gastronomic guide to LA's must-eat burgers.

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Fast food done right: In-N-Out Burger

25+ locations in LA including S. Sepulveda Blvd near LAX
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 An In-N-Out Feast (Image: Melinda Halloran)

In-N-Out Burger is a Cali institution. Chef turned professional travel eater Anthony Bourdain says grabbing an In-N-Out burger when you fly into LAX is a ritual. Julia Child was so smitten with the franchise she carried a list of store locations in her pocketbook.

While you might be thinking quick 'n' dirty, In-N-Out burgers are never frozen or pre-packed. "In-N-Out Burger was surprisingly fresh and didn't feel as fatty as, say, a McDonalds or KFC burger from Oz," says Gold Coast photographer Brogan Chidley of her recent sojourn to La-La Land. "They have cutest little stores with the real 'diner' feel."

Your choices are a classic cheeseburger, hamburger or double-double, all assembled on glossy white buns with deep yellow American cheese, onion, lettuce, tomato, sauce (the recipe remains unchanged since 1948), and 100% pure beef patties. Veggos needn't feel neglected with an off-menu 'wish burger' i.e. "I wish there was meat on this burger".

The ultimate order?

A double-double animal style – two fresh, cheese-slathered patties, caramelised onions, lettuce tomato, pickles and signature sauce. Add fries (ask for "well done" to get them super crunchy) and a Neopolitan shake (chocolate, strawberry and vanilla swirl).

What about the 'secret menu'?

In-N-Out's secret menu is not so secret these days. A 4x4 (four meat patties, four slices of cheese) and 'animal fries' are rather pedestrian. However, rumour has it there is a genuine top secret menu based on DIY creations from the In-N-Out cooks.

Bacon fries and bun doughnuts are said to be among the classified menu items, but the chefs will not - I repeat, will NOT - put fries on your burger. There's a line, people.

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Pile on the style: Umami Burger

Anaheim, Burbank, Hollywood, LAX, et al.
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 Umami's Cali Burger

The deliciousness is right there in the name: ooh-mami! While In-N-Out brings tradition to Los Angeles burgerdom, Umami is all about the now. A Japanese spin on an American classic? It could have gone so wrong, but Umami have nailed it. The taste is big - you'll either love it or you'll hate it.

Umami's signature flavour is what sets it apart. "It's half beef and half beyond belief," says GQ's Alan Richman, who crowned Umami as Burger of the Year back in 2010. Umami burgers are more cheffed up than your average buns, from thoughtful flavour profiles to the swanky restaurant fitouts, each with its own personality.

Unlike most burger franchises that strive for consistency, Umami Burger locales are proud to stand out from the pack. You'll find exclusive burgers at every joint, like the Oxtail Burger at Santa Monica, the Breakfast Burger at Studio City and the Welsh Rabbit Burger in Anaheim.

The ultimate order?

The heart-stopping Manly Burger – beef blend patty with bacon lardons, crispy smoked-salt onion strings, beer-cheddar cheese, Umami house ketchup and mustard. Add a house pickle plate to cleanse the palate.

Can't quite put your tongue on it?

Umami, meaning "pleasant savoury taste" in Japanese, is said to be one of the five basic tastes along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Think of that hard-to-define Burger Rings flavour.

The burgers' unique flavours come from the soy-based Umami Sauce and Umami Dust, which is made from ground-up dried procini mushrooms and dried fish heads. The crunchy disc of cheese? That's parmesan.

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Middle of the road: The Oinkster

Eagle Rock & Hollywood
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 The Oinkster's Classic ⅓lb Cheeseburger

The brainchild of fine-dining chef Andre Guerrero, The Oinkster is bound to satisfy the greedy little piggy in all of us. This concept restaurant embraces a 'slow fast food' philosophy and is a delicious mash-up of top notch grub in a low-key setting.

The Oinkster has recently doubled its presence, opening a second eatery on Hollywood's Vine Street along with its original site at Eagle Rock. There's no 'plastic' cheese in sight here. Instead, The Oinkster favours high quality gruyere and sharp cheddar. All dressings, rubs and condiments are house-made; the shakes hand-scooped; the fries hand-cut.

What really draws a crowd, however, is Eagle Rock's annual Burger Week. Past concoctions that have graced the Oinksters's griddle have included the Pantera (an ode to heavy metal laden with deep fried mac 'n' cheese) and the Turdurken (duck pastrami and deep-fried chicken breast with all the fixins).

The ultimate order?

The Royale – a Nebraska Angus patty with bacon, gooey chilli, pastrami, dill pickles, onions, tomato, lettuce, drizzled with Thousand Island Dressing sauce and your choice of cheese. Add a side of Belgian Fries with garlic aioli and a rootbeer float.

Not a burger lover?

The Oinkster is actually known best for its sandwiches, including the signature two-week cured applewood-smoked House Pastrami.

The BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich, brined with soy and honey and slowly roasted, is a popular burger alternative. You can even buy the pastrami and pulled pork by the pound. It doesn't get much more 'merican than that.

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More drool-worthy mentions...

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The Apple Pan's classic hickory-smoked burger with a soda in a paper cone cup and a slice of pie for dessert, straight outta 1947.

The Hungry Cat's epic Pug Burger. This is a beast of a burger that looks very out of place on a seafood menu. Organic beef, house-smoked bacon, avocado, blue cheese and a fried egg. Good luck.

The Burger from Golden State. Harris Ranch beef, glazed applewood-smoked bacon, arugula (aka rocket), aioli, ketchup, cheddar cheese. Golden!

The Father's Office Office Burger. Dry-aged beef, caramelised onions, gruyere and maytag cheese, smoked bacon compote and arugula. This is the anti In-N-Out: no modifications allowed!

And now for something completely different: Wood Spoon's pork burger on potato bread with roasted cabbage, onion and yam fries. It's like Thanksgiving all year round.

Ashton Rigg

When I'm not at home in Brisbane, you’ll find me wanderlusting around hipster bars, eclectic boutiques and arty nooks. From bagels in Brooklyn to strudel in Salzburg, I believe the best way to experience a destination is by taking a bite! Tweets & 'grams at @AshtonRigg