Future Nosh: Plan Check Meets Little Saigon

Bacon with fish sauce caramel gives this burger Vietnamese funk

Thanks to Craigslist, I once shared a 600-square-foot apartment with two Italian soccer hooligans.

They claimed to despise American food, but they couldn’t get enough of it—In-N-Out was like catnip for them. They’d blast America for normalizing obesity while hate-watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, then go out and slam six Doritos Locos Tacos after a Friday night bar crawl. It was kind of beautiful in a perverse-melting-pot sort of way.

No food was as heavily adored and fetishized by mie nuove amici than burgers and fries. That meaty, starchy, ketchup-drenched combo has been, and always will be, the quintessence of America, and they wanted it in and around their mouths.

One day, Gabriele came up to me and insisted, “Josh, tonight we are going to get the best $%&#ing burger and fry in LA” (he liked curse words and hated plurals).

So where did I take them? Apple Pan? Father’s Office? No chance. Rustic Canyon? Honorable mention, but, still, no. We hopped in their ’97 Jeep Wrangler and drove down to Plan Check on Sawtelle (looking back, neither of them had driver’s licenses).

It’s just so damn good. Everything chef Ernesto Uchimura touches at Plan Check turns to edible gold. We ordered a flight of burgers—Truffle Mushroom Swiss, Machismo, and Chef’s Choice—some sweet-potato waffle fries, and then went off-menu for chorizo chili cheese fries.

The Italians had never heard of chili, but before I could explain, they had already decided what it was—ragù Americano. They swooned over all the food.

This was back when Plan Check was just “that new gastropub in Little Osaka,” and before the Fairfax and Downtown Plan Checks were even a glint in owner Terry Heller’s eye. The coolest thing to watch as Plan Check manifest-destinies across L.A. is how each restaurant’s menu pays homage to the surrounding neighborhoods. Their original Little Osaka location features the PCB with Americanized dashi cheese and kombu pickles, the Fairfax location has a salmon pastrami dish with squid-ink cream cheese, and the Downtown location has that Epic KBBQ Burger with kimcheese and gochujang BBQ sauce.

So, what’s next (other than the rumored Pasadena location)? Let’s look five years into the future, after they’ve swept through Inglewood, Carson, Long Beach, Huntington Beach, and finally find themselves rooted in Westminster—the heart of Little Saigon.

This is my attempt at an LSB, aka the Bun Bo Burger, aka the Banh Beef. Chef Uchimura has already done banh mi burgers as specials, so I wanted to go in a different direction that still evoked the same Vietnamese flavor profiles.

Start out with a 6-ounce beef patty cooked to a perfect medium-rare, just like the dudes do at Plan Check. Perch that atop an hoisin onion jam—which is your standard onion marmalade, plus a little bit of that vinegary, sugary, soybean goodness.

Melting over the meat patty is American sambal cheese. One of Plan Check’s best attributes is their willingness to Americanize their own cheeses, which you can do at home with a sauce pot, some grated cheddar cheese, sambal, and a touch of heavy cream and instant gelatin.

The real crux of funky Vietnamese flavor on this burger is the bacon candied in fish sauce caramel. Fish sauce caramel, aka nuoc mau, is just what it sounds like—dark caramel de-glazed with what is essentially fermented anchovy juice. And it just punches you in the face when you slather it on bacon.

To brighten up the dish, and because people insist that vegetables are necessary, I threw on some daikon pickles, jalapeno, mint, and basil, to really bring out all that dank herbaceousness you’ve come to know and love from Vietnamese food.

When all those things are combined in a brioche bun—I was too lazy to try to home-bake their tempura-crunch bun—you get that gooey, funky mess pictured above.