To my four loyal readers (assuming my parents, brother, and Callie still read this blog): sorry I’ve been MIA for a minute. Since I last posted I graduated college, moved, started a new job, and ate a lot of amazing food that I can’t wait to write about, crazy how time flies! Lately I’ve wanted to take things in a bit of a different direction with my food writing: more story based, thematic posts, and less laundry lists of ingredients. So consider this a fresh start, and what better way to restart than focusing on BURGERS. I actually find it funny how into burgers I’ve gotten the past few months, because for a few years I wouldn’t eat them after an unfortunate food poisoning incident the day after I got home from my freshman year of college. But I digress, I love them now and for the past few months I’ve been on a mission to find the best burgers in LA and also to figure out what exactly distinguishes a good burger from a great burger.
My friend Emily came to visit a few months ago and she’s one of few people who loves food as much as I do. Needless to say we did plenty of research on food in preparation for her trip to make sure we hit some of LA’s best restaurants. (<–) That guide is one of the best I’ve found, it breaks it down by type of food as well as neighborhood, so whatever your approach to food research, it’s got you covered. Within burgers there was a list of iconic and essential Los Angeles burgers, which was pretty clever of the authors. I found the essential list to be more of a winner than the iconic list. Feel free to do your own field work and form an opinion, but I just found the iconic list to have too much fast food.
Anyways, one burger stood out to us on the essential LA burgers list. The restaurant that serves it, Petit Trois, appeared again in the section organized by neighborhood, and Petit Trois popped up AGAIN on a list of LA’s best secret menu items, at which point I was sold. And let me tell you, THIS BURGER. OH MY GOD. I’ve told everyone about this burger. Everyone from foodie friends who can’t wait to hear about it to Uber drivers who are definitely confused and probably bored by a complete stranger talking so passionately and incessantly about a ground beef patty. BUT SERIOUSLY. EVERYONE. NEEDS. TO. TRY. THIS. BURGER. I remember the experience so viscerally. We pulled up to a strip mall most prominently containing a Yum Yum Donuts and tucked away in the back, the tiniest French restaurant. They don’t take reservations and we made the incredibly smart decision to show up around 9 on a Saturday night having eaten nothing since a taco at noon. After waiting an hour, standing, in heels, and watching the other diners’ food go by we were finally seated. After some great bread and butter (because what would a French restaurant be without a fresh baguette), our burgers arrived. Emily took a bite first and got really serious all of a sudden and then said she didn’t want to say anything until I had a bite (because really, food spoilers can be just as disappointing as movie spoilers).
The Big Mec is the only burger on the menu and it’s actually very simple. A double patty cooked perfectly medium rare with melted gooey American cheese, garlic aioli, and a foie gras infused bordelaise sauce on a perfectly toasted, buttery, fluffy bun.
For those of you who don’t know, foie gras is duck or goose liver, and bordelaise sauce is a classic sauce in French cuisine made from demi-glace (a sauce base made from espagnole sauce, one of five French mother sauces, and veal stock), dry red wine, bone marrow, shallots, and butter. Okay, so it doesn’t sound simple when you list all that out, but really we’re just talking meat, cheese, and two sauces. No crazy laundry list of toppings to the point where you can’t even remember what you’re eating.
The burger comes sitting in a puddle of the bordelaise sauce, which means you can keep dipping and experience every ounce of this life changing sauce that really is good to the last drop. Despite the moat of sauce surrounding it, the bun somehow doesn’t get too soggy and the golden brown toast gives it the perfect textural distinction from the patty. When you bite into the Big Mec you don’t taste a patty, cheese, sauce, and a bun; every bite is an incredible cohesive experience that’s so deeply satisfying it temporarily fulfills all your needs.
Once I was able to catch up to Emily, I told her that not only was it the best burger I’d ever had, it was the best bite of food I had ever tasted, a statement with which she was quick to agree. The Big Mec doesn’t come cheap. It’s served a la carte and was $18 when I had it but I’m pretty sure they’ve since upped the price to $25. We ordered a side of clarified butter fries which were also delicious dipped in the bordelaise sauce. And at a place like this how could we not order wine and end the meal with chocolate mousse? It’s definitely not a meal I can afford to eat every day, but for what it was it was worth every penny. Rumor has it you can go off menu and order the “Petit Mec” which is the same burger with a single patty rather than double for those with smaller appetites, though I don’t know whether that’s cheaper. If I had known I probably would have gone with this option, because this thing is massive and not super conducive to leftovers due to the amount of sauce seeping into the bun.
Moving forward, I wasn’t sure how to feel about burgers, I didn’t know how I could ever enjoy another burger knowing what was out there. So naturally I spent the rest of the week trying burgers every chance I got. A couple days later, I had a diner burger that was tasty, but nothing to write home about. A few days after that, I had a fancy brunch burger with a fried egg, arugula, and truffle, basically all of my favorite ingredients, but it just didn’t live up to the Big Mec in any way. I ate that brunch burger slowly and intentionally, tasting every ingredient and trying to figure out what it was missing. At that point it hit me that my tasting every ingredient was exactly what was “missing.” As I mentioned earlier, you don’t taste separate ingredients when you eat the Big Mec. That’s when I knew that cohesion is the element that takes a burger to the next level, that makes it great instead of good. From here, I set my sights back on Eater LA’s list of essential burgers to see if any of them lived up to the cohesion I’d learned I had to look for. Next stop was the Single Burger from Everson Royce Bar in DTLA.
This burger was incredibly simple. According to the menu it’s made from prime beef chuck, tillamook cheddar, and a dill pickle on an egg brioche bun. But I will tell you, there’s garlic in this. I don’t know where, I don’t know how it’s prepared, but I know that it’s there and that there’s a lot of it. As someone who doubles if not triples the garlic in every recipe I cook, this was a major bonus for me. Another thing that I loved about this burger was that they didn’t ask how we wanted it cooked. I think that if the chef really knows what they’re doing, there’s no need to ask me how I want it cooked. I want the chef to have confidence in the food and deliver it to me exactly the way it’s supposed to be prepared. At Petit Trois there were two options: medium rare or well done. Historically I’ve been a liiiiiittle shy of meat that’s too pink, but ordering that burger well done would have felt like a sin, so I trusted the chef and they sure knew what they were doing. This made me confident when the waitress at Everson Royce Bar didn’t ask my cooking preferences. The ERB burger was excellent. At a much cheaper $10 price point, it was probably the second best burger I’ve ever had. It didn’t beat out the Big Mec though.
I firmly believe that Chicago is one of the greatest cities for food, if not the singular greatest. And food media seems to back me up on that, ranking Chicago as the restaurant city of the year in 2017. From Chicago classics like Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza and Portillo’s Italian beef to Michelin dining at Alinea, Chicago’s food scene knows what it’s doing. So it’s no shock to me that the Au Cheval Cheeseburger was rated the best burger in the United States. I hate to say it, but I’ve never had the Au Cheval burger, which the Big Mec is supposedly based off. However, from the research I’ve done, the Au Cheval burger honestly doesn’t sound as good as the Big Mec for two reasons. First, and probably most bothersome to me, you can customize it. The Au Cheval menu includes both a single and double cheeseburger with the options “add egg” and “add bacon.” If I understand correctly, you can also add foie gras. All these choices make me wonder, what is the Au Cheval cheeseburger? How would the chef prepare it if left to their own devices, and how should it really be eaten? Second, if you do add foie gras, it’s a thick foie gras patty. Imagining that as well as adding an egg and bacon, assuming that going with the works is in fact the best way to eat it, I just don’t know how it can have the cohesion and simplicity of the Big Mec or even the ERB burger. I don’t doubt that it’s an incredible burger, I just don’t know if it’s the best in the country. That being said, I’m going to make it a priority to try the Au Cheval burger next time I go home and keep you all posted!
The last piece of my burger journey, at least for now, was trying to see if learning what makes a great burger could help me make one myself. Turkey burgers are one of my go to meal prep recipes, and I’ve made a pretty decent salmon burger and veggie burger in my time experimenting in the kitchen. But I’ve never made a regular beef hamburger that I’ve enjoyed, until now. To be fair, this wasn’t a planned part of my burger journey, but I forgot to skip my Hello Fresh delivery the week after Emily left, and it happened to include a Cheddar Smash Burger. I’m not a big believer in this kind of thing, but it definitely felt like some type of synchronicity that I had chosen a burger for my Hello Fresh box for the first time ever AND forgotten to skip my delivery even though I had been consistently skipping it for weeks AND it happened the week after I had done extensive burger research. So I wondered if following someone else’s instructions could help me create a burger that I actually wanted to eat. And guys, this burger was great. The beef patty was literally smashed super thin which I think was the key to it. Beyond that it was again, super simple ingredients: cheddar, dill pickle, red onion, tomato, and chipotle ketchup. It was simple, it was cohesive, and I was thrilled that I made a great burger at home.
I’ve since wrapped up my brief obsession with trying every burger I can get my hands on and have moved on to continuing my mission to find the best of LA’s ubiquitous street tacos (currently narrowed down to two, but there are still many tacos to try). That being said, it was a fun and delicious journey that’s really more on pause than fully wrapped. Au Cheval, I’m coming for you next!