tokyo burger blog

burgers in tokyo and beyond

an obsessive journey through Tokyo, Japan to find the best Japanese hamburger

Filtering by Tag: los angeles

Stout Burgers & Beer

Sometimes people who drink beer miss out on the finer things in life.

When you order a beer, generally you say, "I'll have a Stella." Or a Heineken. Or a Budweiser. Or maybe a draft micro-brew if you're trying to be pretentious. But when it comes to pretentious affectation, beer guzzlers can't compete with wine connoisseurs.

"I'd like something dry but not too earthy. I'm ordering escargot, so I want tannins that will just barely cut through the butter."

Beer drinkers miss out. Partially because beer just doesn't pair well with your pheasant (I'm assuming - I really have no clue) and fancy restaurants generally have wine cellars, not kegs. This is because they want you to enjoy all the flavors that a delicate wine will bring out in their cuisine, and also because there is a much higher markup and profit margin on wine. Mostly the latter.

Stout Burgers & Beer, on the other hand, offers the Los Angeles burger and beer set more access to such pretension. Each burger is described in loving detail, along with suggestions on what ale might pair well to bring out the terroir of your ego.

Now, I'm not really a beer drinker - but I do love me some pretension. I only eat real dark chocolate (no, your 56% dark chocolate barely qualifies as chocolate, let alone dark chocolate). Those artisan chocolate producers are cute, but they can't get the particle size small enough with their equipment, so the chocolate mouthfeel is gritty and doesn't melt the same way as a large Swiss or Belgian producer's bar.

Damn. Now that I've used the word 'mouthfeel', I have to take a quick shower.

Ok, I think I've established my pretension bona fides. (Fides should be pronounced as two syllables to get maximum pretension). Stout should really be up my alley. They also have some very nice wines by the glass for quite reasonable prices. They offer french fries with an off-the-menu preparation (melted cheese all over it - of course we agreed to this modification, unable to resist even a semi-secret menu).

The delicious fries were a nice way to ease into the meal. Unfortunately the burger that followed it didn't live up to my expectations. The server warned me that the Six Weeker was sweet. Apparently the Six Weeker's fig jam and brie laden burger pairs well with belgian ales, white porters and lagers. I generally lean toward simple orders, but Stout didn't really have a 'simple' burger. Their signature Stout Burger comes with bacon (I generally avoid bacon on burgers), roasted tomatoes, horseradish, etc. You can ask them to leave something off a burger, but no substitutions.

So yes, although quite pretty, the burger was overly sweet. Even after I wiped off most of the fig jam, it was still rather sweet - but more importantly, the texture and flavor of the beef was underwhelming. The condiments tried to make up for a lack of seasoning. For a burger joint that proudly advertises they grind their own meat daily in-house, I expected more. It wasn't a bad burger, but I didn't finish it.

I don't mind some fanciness. I'm fine with bougie. Whatever you call it. Yet it all starts with the core ingredients. A great chunk of beef cooked well is gonna taste pretty good. This is why steakhouses often can create a pretty decent burger. So while I'm generally a purist at heart (plain dark chocolate, no secret sauce on my burger, etc), I don't mind some flair. Unless the flair is covering up what's underneath.

Ambience 8/10, Burger 6.5/10, Fries 7.5/10

Mo Better Burgers

A long time ago, there was a burger joint in Los Angeles called Mo Better Meatty Meat Burgers. Besides being an enjoyable mouthful to say (try it now - I'll wait), they also produced a pretty fantastic burger in a slightly run down looking structure at Fairfax and Pico. An even longer time ago, that same burger joint was located on Melrose back when Melrose actually felt kinda cool. (Yes, this was the mid 90's).

Alas, Mo Better Meatty Meat Burgers closed down. There were complaints - it was slow, it wasn't in the nicest location, it was kinda expensive, etc. Still, I missed it.

So I was excited to see that Mo Better Meatty Meat Burgers had reopened on LaBrea, although now it had been truncated to Mo Better Burgers. I had been burger hunting in Asia for months and had been unable to visit, but recently I met up with photographer (and Instagrammer extraordinaire) Pete Halvorsen for lunch at their new location.

Let's get a few things out of the way. It's in a weird mini-mall. I've lived in this general area for years and it's always been a weird mini-mall. The patron saint of mini-malls must have cursed it. Still, the interior of the shop is pretty comfy, so I can't deduct too much for the location. At least on the day I went the parking lot seemed pretty open, which slightly improved my disposition as I was truly feeling nostalgic for the wonderful train system in Tokyo.

Similar to the old incarnation, this is not fast food. It's gonna take you 15-20 minutes to get your burger on a quick day. I think it might've taken us longer, but it wasn't uncomfortably long as we knew what to expect (and they warned us).

Now the important part. It's very similar (in a good way) to the old Mo Better Meatty Meat Burger, with a perfect char on the 5oz patty and simple tasty toppings atop a nicely squishy bun. Shredded lettuce, raw or grilled onions, tomato, mayo, etc. I haven't been to the old shop in about ten years, but I  remember the beef seasoning to be stronger. Maybe when they removed the Meatty Meat from the name, they removed a bit of the heavy handed seasoning. I actually preferred the old seasoning, but this was still a really good burger; I'm quibbling based on a ten year old comparison to a cult favorite. Of course my memory is always reliable, so I'm sure I remember it perfectly.

Compared to Japanese burgers, there's a common difference. Good American shops get the beef cuts and grind absolutely perfect. The meat texture here couldn't be any better. Yet I feel that the Japanese shops actually do a better job with condiments, toppings, sauces and sometimes seasonings (although I'd say seasoning is a tie - except for Shake Shack which kills it with their seasoning - all hail the king). The fries were similar to the old shop, although I wouldn't mind them a bit crunchier (I had the same complaint ten years ago).

The menu is quite simple (offering a beef burger, steak burger and turkey burger). It does not have tacos on it. Why is this notable? Because they secretly serve tacos as well, although I haven't tried them. When Pete and I were standing in the parking lot afterwards, the shopkeeper (maybe the owner?) came out to give us coupons for free tacos on our next visit, so I will eventually report back. Any self respecting Los Angeles establishment has to have a secret menu, secret entrance, secret cult affiliation. Just something secret.

This is a good burger on a stretch of LaBrea without too many good burgers (Umami Burger closed this location - but I always think they're overly heavy anyways). If you want a taste of the old Mo Better Meatty Meat Burger, this satisfies the urge pretty nicely.

Ambience 7.5/10, Burger 8.5/10, Fries 7.5/10

The Apple Pan

When I occasionally watch silly programs on the Food Network with titles like The Top 10 Places to Get Your Shoes Shined While Eating Soft Serve Ice Cream, it makes me wonder if those places are really worth the hype. They make all of them look fantastic, but when you have personal experience, sometimes the hype falls flat. I saw a glowing review (might have been on the Travel Channel, to be fair) of The Stinking Rose in Los Angeles. This is not a bad restaurant. This is a terrible restaurant. If you love garlic, which I do, it seems like a slam dunk. To give them credit, they manage to do very difficult things - like making garlic taste and smell unappetizing.

Anyways, the Top 10 Burger lists often include a small shack in Los Angeles called The Apple Pan.  I used to go there when I was at UCLA. It was run (and I believe owned) by a big, somewhat ruddy man who would interrupt you halfway through your order. "Hi, I'd like a Hicko-" and he'd cut you off with a brusque, "Ok, what else?" I believe he sold it, but now it is run by a smaller, somewhat darker complected man who is slightly less brusque. Besides that, I don't think it's changed in 60 years.

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And that's a good thing. The Apple Pan is a benchmark. It's heavy and the taste is rich, and they practically throw the burger at you (although I feel like the old owner had perfected the art of throwing the burger - now it just feels like it's slapped down quickly as opposed to being an actual projectile). The Hickory Burger - great. It's one mass of taste. The Steakburger - great. The fries - well, I'll stick with very good. I'll leave the pie to others - suffice to say I like the pie. Pie is the answer - not sure what the question was.  But the burger is the star. The taste, texture and sauce are all perfect and distinctive.

My one criticism is that somehow the whole things pulls together with a bit of a heaviness that I don't like.  Hard to describe, but Umami Burger has a similar feeling; it sits in your stomach and takes about two months to digest. Meanwhile, I feel like In-N-Out is light and fluffy like a cloud. Well, maybe not exactly like a cloud - maybe like a rainbow. Ahem. Anyways.

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After coming back from Japan recently, I went to The Apple Pan for my first meal. The burger is great; it easily matches anything in Tokyo. However, it's jarring to compare the perfect plating of Tokyo establishments to the workman-like atmosphere in an American joint. The Tokyo restaurants attempt to carefully replicate the "perfectly" sloppy plating of American burger joints; you'll learn more about Japanese culture comparing burgers than majoring in college (I've tried both).

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The interior is the same. It works. You sit at a diner style counter with people standing behind you waiting for their turn. They probably throw a new coat of paint on the walls every 20 years. Yet it has the raw authenticity that the Japanese try to copy (and often succeed). Which is better? Try both and let me know. I'm on the fence. I like authenticity, but I don't mind "new and improved" authenticity.

Ambience 8/10, Burger 8.5/10, Fries 7.5/10

http://goo.gl/maps/cS1Us