Published Apr 1, 2017 8:00 AM
Bruins are known for pursuing excellence, so we took to Facebook to ask them to name the best burgers in L.A. Here are the top five.
The quintessential fast-food burger joint of California, loved by locals and a first stop on the itinerary of many visitors, In-N-Out arrived in Westwood 20 years ago. It’s no surprise that Bruins voted this their top burger pick.
The menu is tried and true, and the ingredients are fresh. The chain is so committed to freshness, in fact, that every hamburger patty is delivered from one of In-N-Out’s own patty-making distribution centers. Each restaurant location must be within one day’s drive of a center, ensuring that the burgers are never frozen or reheated. The hand-leafed lettuce, 100-percent pure beef patties, American cheese, tomatoes and onions that go into a traditional burger are delivered fresh to every store as well. This dedication to freshness makes the chain’s expansion slow, but guarantees quality.
Given simple menu options, customers have gotten inventive over the years, creating a secret menu with twists on the traditional choices. Instead of a standard burger, for example, you can order one “animal style,” which means the beef patty will be cooked with mustard on top, and you’ll receive extra spread and grilled onions. Or to forgo the bun, you can ask for your burger “protein style,” and it will come lettuce-wrapped instead. For a twist on the regular shake options of chocolate, vanilla or strawberry, request a “Neapolitan shake” to get all three swirled together.
In-N-Out reached Westwood in 1997, opening its 119th store on Gayley Avenue. Architect Stephen Kanner designed the location with an angular style, harkening back to the jet-age Googie architecture of the 1950s — the time when In-N-Out began to slowly expand from the original 1948 location in Baldwin Park, California.
The Westwood store has become a bustling addition to the lineup of fast-food options in the village. The traditional drive-through line often snakes far into the street, and the scene inside is lively almost any time.
— Kristen Hardy ’17
The Apple Pan
Near the corner of Pico and Westwood boulevards sits an L.A. treasure, what the Los Angeles Times once described as a “living time capsule … a tiny building that houses a world.” And in fact, the Apple Pan — whose mouthwatering, signature Hickoryburgers and Steakburgers (augmented by lettuce, mayo, ketchup, tomato and the Pan’s legendary pickle relish) have been eaten by the famous, the locals and burger cognoscenti everywhere for decades — is as close to heaven as many of us are ever likely to get.
Since it opened on April 11, 1947, the “Pan-oply” has been virtually unchanged: burgers, fries, sandwiches and pies. But it’s the burgers that truly deliver the “Pan-ache” — along with the staff, the folks who make the food with lightning speed and serve the faithful at the old-time counter (with stools; there are no tables). And the family that founded the joint still runs it.
What makes their hamburgers so special? No one really knows, since the recipe has never been shared with outsiders, or even customers. Perhaps, like everything else about the Apple Pan, it’s the timeless aura around the restaurant’s signature dish. The burgers come wrapped in paper, enclosed in a bag and served on their side.
“Probably my earliest memory of the Pan was seeing the apple pies being made,” says manager Sunny Sherman, granddaughter of founders Ellen and Alan Baker and daughter of Martha Gamble, the Pan’s first waitress.
As for the menu, Sherman says, “The only thing different from the day we opened is that we don’t have ‘Kelly’s Corned Beef’ anymore. The rest is the same.”
A place like the Apple Pan is a repository of incredible memories, from the many locals to the long list of celebrities who have sat at the counter. (Sherman still remembers the times Eric Clapton and Warren Buffett stopped by.)
“Probably the best thing is that a lot of our customers tell me that they first came with their parents,” she says, “and when they started their own family, they brought their kids here. And now those kids are continuing the tradition of bringing their own kids here.”
— Jack Feuer
George Petrelli's Steakhouse
There are only two burgers on the menu at George Petrelli’s Steakhouse in Culver City: “hamburger” and “cheeseburger.”
Nothing more is needed. Lean, juicy and flavorful, the burgers are made with dry-aged filet mignon, freshly ground at the restaurant each day. Order one with Petrelli’s famous onion rings and a squirt of the family’s homemade steak sauce, and you’re in burger heaven.
“That’s the secret. It’s high-quality meat,” says Marie Petrelli, who took over the family business with her mother, Sophie, after her father, George — the restaurant’s namesake — died in 2014. “You don’t get any of that fat.”
The Petrelli family has been in the restaurant business since 1931, when Marie’s Great-Uncle Joe opened his first eatery, the Airport Café, across from the Culver City Airport. He taught his nephew, George, everything he knew about the business, including meat cutting. (George ultimately served as the meat cutter for the restaurant for more than 50 years.)
After Joe died in a car accident in 1958, George took over, determined to carry on the family legacy. He started adding Italian and vegetarian dishes to the menu and opened the current restaurant, George Petrelli’s Steakhouse, in 1995.
More than eight decades after the family opened its first eatery, customers still flock to Petrelli’s. Loyal diners include a group of retired Hughes Aircraft employees who still come to lunch every couple of weeks, and who book their holiday dinner at the restaurant every Christmas. “We make 100 hamburgers with grilled onions for their banquet, because they still reminisce about Petrelli’s hamburgers,” Marie says. “It’s amazing!”
With its classic steakhouse feel, Petrelli’s isn’t your typical burger joint. Customers relax on black leather seats in wooden booths, framed photos of historic Culver City decorate the walls, and in the middle of the dining room hangs a chandelier made of antlers. But while steaks are the specialty, burgers remain a popular menu item. Last year, the restaurant celebrated its 85th anniversary with 85-cent hamburgers and fries, an event that drew 1,800 customers.
“We started serving at around noon, and we just kept on going,” Marie says. “We said we were going to stop at 8, but we didn’t get home until around 11. My older brother came with those long, portable grills, so he did some barbecuing outside as well. It was a family event!”
Marie, a graduate of USC who transitioned from pharmacist to restaurateur, is tickled that so many Bruins picked Petrelli’s burger as their favorite. She says that every two months, the steakhouse offers a “five hamburger patty” challenge: Finish a towering five-patty sandwich and fries, and win a prize (usually dinner for two). Marie is considering expanding the challenge to seven patties. And she invites Bruins to take the challenge — “just for fun!”
— Wendy Soderburg ’82
Rich, flavorful and deeply satisfying, the Office Burger hits many of the same soul-stirring notes as a savory bowl of French onion soup, which is just as chef/owner Sang Yoon intended when he created what has become an Angeleno obsession for nearly two decades.
At the beginning of this century, Yoon took over Father’s Office, a Santa Monica beer bar styled like a ’50s dive that he frequented when he was executive chef at Michael’s, a few blocks away. He set out to design a burger in which the beef is the true star, just as a lovingly crafted beef broth is the heart and soul of soupe à l’oignon. Yoon’s creation — which features beef that’s been dry-aged to enhance the meat’s character, caramelized onions, bacon, Maytag blue, Gruyère and arugula, all stacked on a slightly crunchy, toasted, garlic-buttered bun — achieved that and more. In addition to becoming a fixation for local diners, the Office Burger sparked the imagination of top chefs near and far, kicking off a gourmet burger revolution that’s still going strong.
With his reimagining of this retro watering hole as a place to serve craft beer to accompany small tapas-style bites — a new concept back in 2000 — Yoon simultaneously lit the fire under the gastropub movement in L.A. Father’s Office was the first establishment to offer a vast selection of signature craft brews — Yoon is considered an expert in this arena — alongside a well-thought-out menu featuring elevated pub fare. In addition to the famous burger, patrons can indulge in deliciously crispy frites served with garlic parsley aioli and organic Brussels sprouts (cooked to crackly perfection with pine nuts, sherry vinegar and crispy serrano), along with a handful of other small dishes, entrees and sides.
What diners notoriously cannot do is ask for substitutions, modifications or alterations to any menu item, burger included. Ketchup lovers, you’ve been warned. At first, this was due to the establishment’s tiny kitchen, which had room for only the barest essentials. “Eventually, though,” Chef Yoon told Eater LA with regard to the Office Burger, “it became obvious that this was a dish, not a blank canvas. ... I realized that the only way to get people to have the same experience was to be strict about the no-modification policy, even if it came at the risk of pissing a few people off.”
— Jennifer Shaklan
Plan Check Kitchen + Bar
What distinguishes the Plan Check Burger from its competitors is ketchup leather, a Plan Check invention made of tomato paste, soy sauce and garlic. Using an ancient food preparation technique — dehydration — chefs turn the ingredients into a thin, leathery sheet that resembles a fruit roll-up. Once on the burger, the sheet melts like cheese and doesn’t soak into the bread in the way ordinary ketchup can, and voilá! — no soggy bun. But the jury seems to be out on how much of an improvement ketchup leather is over plain old Heinz. To some burger buffs, a soggy bun is part of the appeal.
Also inside the Plan Check’s panko-crusted bun are Americanized dashi cheese; schmaltz onions grilled in chicken fat; kosher-style kombu pickles made in brine that contains kombu seeds; and bacon.
Plan Check Kitchen + Bar has four locations — Santa Monica, Fairfax Avenue, Sawtelle Boulevard and downtown L.A. It derives its name from its first location, on Sawtelle. There, the restaurant was adjacent to the City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, where hundreds of architects, developers, designers and engineers reviewed plans for permitting. The name was chosen to embody the architectural/creative lifestyle and culture — and in keeping with the name, the four Plan Checks blend vintage architectural office elements with industrial pieces to accompany all that ketchup leather.
— Mary Daily