When Father’s Office chef-owner Sang Yoon replaced American cheese with blue and iceberg with arugula on his gastropub’s signature hamburger, he kicked off a gourmet burger trend that lingered for more than a decade.
Today, L.A. is in the midst of a new kind of burger boom. High-end garnishes are going the way of barbecue chicken pizza, as chefs are striving for a purist combination of meat, bun, cheese, and maybe—just maybe—a lettuce leaf or two. Old school spots like Bill’s and Apple Pan have long aspired for simplicity, but lately chains like sustainably focused Belcampo and New York’s Shake Shack, and even fine-dining chefs like Everson Royce Bar’s Matt Molina and Ledlow’s Josef Centeno have been getting back to basics.
Though the reason for streamlining might differ from chef to chef—it’s nostalgia for some, a reaction against over-the-top burger chains Umami for others—the appeal among diners seems universal: These stripped-down burgers just taste more, well, burger-y. We ranked six of our favorite new-school classics from across the city.
6. Burgerlords—Double Cheeseburger ($7)
943 N. Broadway., 323-405-4012 or burgerlords.com
The Meat: Custom blend of 76 percent lean/24 percent fat Angus brisket, chuck, and short rib.
The Bun: Sponge bun from a local bakery.
The Bonus: The perfect proportion of Thousand Island to beef to cheese to produce.
The Word: “We just wanted to scale everything down and keep it as simple as possible,” says co-owner Frederick Guerrero. “We went through that big culinary wave where you saw Umami and everything, but it’s cool that old-school is coming back.”
5. Shake Shack—ShackBurger ($5.29)
8520 Santa Monica Blvd., 323-488-3010 or shakeshack.com
The Meat: 100 percent freshly ground Angus beef.
The Bun: Martin’s potato roll, which has supplanted brioche as America’s breadstuff darling.
The Bonus: A smashed-style patty results in deliciously crispy edges.
The Word: “We like to keep it simple by selecting only a few high-quality ingredients—American cheese, green leaf lettuce, plum tomato, and our ShackSauce—to complement the real star of the show: our beef,” says Shake Shack culinary director Mark Rosati.
4. Cassell’s—1/3 Lb Cheese Burger ($9.99)
3600 W. 6th St., 213-387-5502 or cassellshamburgers.com
The Meat: A 78/22 mix of ground Colorado Angus chuck and brisket.
The Bun: Parker House roll from La Brea Bakery.
The Bonus: A chance to witness minimalism taken to its furthest extreme.
The Mouthpiece: “The burger should be all about the beef, and that’s what we’re going for here,” says chef-owner Christian Page. “All these crazy toppings and crazy buns just distract from the flavor of the meat. We don’t even toast our buns with butter.”
3. Belcampo—Fastburger ($5)
8053 W. 3rd St., 323-937-0170 or belcampo.com
The Meat: 80/20 steak trimmings from Angus, Hereford, and Wagyu steers.
The Bun: Martin’s potato roll.
The Bonus: Sustainably raised cows mean your burger is delicious and eco-conscious.
The Word: “Aside from our grass-fed beef, the potato bun is the most crucial ingredient,” says Belcampo CEO Anya Fernald. “They are light and fluffy, but they still hold up. It’s easy to have a great bun for the first few bites; the real test is how the bun is doing for the final few bites.”
2. Everson Royce Bar—Single Burger ($10)
1936 E. 7th St., 213-335-6166 or erbla.com
The Meat: Nancy Silverton’s signature 80/20 burger blend from Huntington Prime Meats.
The Bun: Plain brioche from an unidentified bakery.
The Bonus: A hard-griddled bun with a relatively indulgent smear of Dijonnaise absorbs just the right amount of burger juice.
The Word: “I didn’t want to mess the burger up with lettuce or tomato because, for one, the growing seasons are so short,” says chef and co-owner Matt Molina.
1. Ledlow—Griddled Cheeseburger ($14)
400 S. Main St., 213-687-7015 or ledlowla.com
The Meat: 75/25 ground chuck, short rib, and a secret cut whose name shall never be uttered.
The Bun: House-made poppy seed brioche.
The Bonus: Crisp iceberg yields pure In-N-Out nostalgia.
The Word: “It’s inspired by my trips across the country eating at different short-order burger joints,” says chef-owner Josef Centeno. “But in the case of the Ledlow burger, it’s my meat blend and poppy seed bun that make it.”