“A burger? What’s so haute about a burger?” A few years ago, I’d have been the first one saying that. But in recent months, many of LA’s best chefs have become obsessed with reinventing this popular wheel. While many will still stand by classics like In N Out’s 2×2, the venerable hickory-smoked Apple Pan patty, or the no-substitutions selections at Father’s Office, for the adventuresome meater, there are certainly many others worth sampling. Here’s my Haute 5:
1 The Counter
How good could a chain be? This good. The Counter’s dense, meaty, almost-fall-apart patties come in three weights (and chicken, turkey, veggie varieties), in your selection of buns or a bowl if you’re carb-averse, and include a choice of 12 cheeses, up to four toppings (from roasted chiles to dried cranberries) and over 20 sauces. Over a dozen nice wines and artisan beers are available. And the rosemary-parmesan fries (above) are actually quite elegant.
2 Umami Burger
The Umami burger is a beef patty (what cuts and grade aren’t specified) studded with a proprietary natural rub that emphasizes the elusive fifth flavor (I thought they used to call that MSG, but what do I know?). There are several topping varieties, with a few specialties at each of the four outlets. “The Umami" is a straight-up patty on a soft sweet eggy bun delivering good beef flavor within a crispy but not overly smoky char. The Hatch burger adds a crispy cheese fritter and four fried green chiles to the formula, giving the burger a nice sneaky slow burn that balances the meat’s fatty flavor well. Nice selection of beers.
3 Upper West
Chef Nick Shipp (who probably cooked for you at the Oscars when he was with Wolfgang Puck) likes to experiment at his unassuming minimalist-chic Santa Monica bistro. So even though he puts out a note-perfect house-ground dry-aged burger on an eggy Portuguese bun (above), he’ll still push it over the top with balsamic walla walla onion marmalade and pasilla goat cheese. You’ll be thrilled just ordering it plain. The chipotle-sauced fries, a South of the Border twist on poutine, are irresistible.
This dark horse spot doesn’t get as much notice as it ought to (though their baked goods certainly have many local supporters), but their big imperfectly shaped Angus burger is as homespun as you could expect from a restaurant. Juicy, beefy, and real. Yam fries are exactly what they should be—crisp, just a little sweet, just a little salty, Oh, and low key celeb sightings are commonplace. It’s an Owen Wilson, Pierce Brosnan kinda place.