tokyo burger blog

burgers in tokyo and beyond

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

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3 Square

Abbot Kinney in Venice isn't just cute clothing boutiques, art galleries and vintage furniture shops. That's only 90% of Abbot Kinney. The other 10% is made up of casual fine dining establishments and precious cafes. 

If you were shooting a movie set in Venice, California (which means you'd probably be filming in Vancouver) and had to create a quintessential Abbot Kinney cafe from scratch (for the scene where the 30-something year old male lead - played by Tom Hanks - woos the 30-something year old female lead - played by Kristen Stewart), you would end up with something like 3 Square. There would be outdoor seating, an oh-so-casual feel to the space and the hostess would be beautiful but indie enough so she wasn't intimidating (let's go with Ellen Page - requisite Canadian). 


Check, check, check. 3 Square is the kind of cafe that a Venice-living celebrity photographer like Randall Slavin would walk over to, park his dog at the curb and have a leisurely weekend brunch (let's call it…Wednesday).

With all that, you might think the food would be an afterthought. I can't say I believed my friend Randall's high burger praise, but we went to check it out one fine California afternoon. I was willing to take that risk (yes, I like extreme sports like burger hunting).

3 Square was my second burger on this LA trip (after The Apple Pan), and it was fantastic. Pretzel bun, gooey melted cheese, and what's this - a fried egg on top? Okay, I'm sold. Throw in some fries, and I'm reminded of the one burger area that I feel the Japanese could use some additional practice. Let's just say it like this - when it comes to fried foods, don't fuck with America. The french fries at 3 Square were amazing - possibly better than the burger, and better than any fries I've had in Japan (crispy duck fat fries at the Park Hyatt are decent, but 3 Square is better and the fries were not $14 plus a $22 cover charge).


Days like this and I could almost imagine living in Venice again. Almost. 

Ambience 7/10, Burger 9/10, Fries 9/10 

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.


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.


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).


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