It’s a common enough thing: an Australian will arrive in Los Angeles, and as soon as they make contact with a friend or willing tour-guide, they announce, “The first thing I’m doing is going straight to In-N-Out!”
Who can blame them? In the greater scheme of fast food burgers, In-N-Out’s efforts are pretty spot-on: just the right amount of toasting on the bun, the perfect ratio of vaguely bland tomato to artery-clogging American cheese, and of course the notorious “Animal” fries. As far as food-based religions go, it’s an understandable one. (Hysterically, In-N-Out fanatics have even worked out that The Parking Spot’s complimentary shuttle from LAX to their Sepulveda location works as a free trip to In-N-Out.)
Given this trans-Pacific rep as the holy grail of grease – a recent pop-up in Melbourne created mass panic in local believers – is the humble double-double Los Angeles’ best burger? No, no, and hell no. It’s not even close.
Furthermore, In-N-Out locations are frustratingly spread out – Studio City? Glendale? Rosemead?? – which is a hassle for any visitors who are not blessed with wheels. (Although, hot tip for those who are staying around Los Feliz, as most Aussies are wont to do, and aren’t sooks: for $1.75, catch the 2/302 bus to the Sunset location, or the 180/181 to Glendale and walk to the giant restaurant on Brand, and knock yourself out.)
With that in mind, here are five other Los Angeles burger purveyors who more than give In-N-Out a run for their money.
1. The Oinkster
While this “fast-casual” restaurant has just opened a Hollywood location, the original Eagle Rock location is the one to visit. Housed in an oh-so-mid-century A-frame (the former Jim’s Burgers) that is ripe for a Mad Men location shoot, Oinkster serve up outrageously cheap and incredibly good burgers. Yes, they also do roast chicken and pulled pork and the like, but benevolent overlord Andre Guerrero (a fine-dining chef by trade) has whipped up a magical selection of sandwiches, the jewel in the crown of which is the Classic 1/3 Pound Hamburger (no frills were wasted on naming the dishes here). Get it with American cheese and weep tears of joy while you watch the big game. Not that I’d know anything about that.
2. Fred 62
OK, I’ll freely admit: this one gets a mention because Fred was my local for the two years I lived in LA (and the staff still remember me today), but that doesn’t mean that Los Feliz’s finest 24-hour establishment isn’t worthy of a burger crown. On the contrary: their Juicy Lucy (cheddar cheese, tomato, red onion, iceberg lettuce, and F62 sauce – it’s basically Thousand Island) would have won my heart no matter where I consumed it. Although given I consumed a Juicy Lucy (it replaced my old favourite, the slightly smaller but otherwise identical Wimpy, late-2013) on average every two days, it’s basically in my DNA now, which has me worrying about accusations of a conflict of interest.
3. The Counter
If you’re more Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally when it comes to burger construction, then The Counter is for you. Their trademark is “custom built burgers”, and with five LA locations (including one at LAX’s international terminal for those who like to plug their stomachs before a long-haul), fussy aspiring burger chefs will be in heaven. Overcome by possibility, however, I was boring and went for one of their menu’s ready-made options: the Old School (you may be sensing a pattern in my burger tastes), minus everything except the Tillamook cheddar and dill pickle chips. I was defeated by this homely giant, and an hour or so later, was rolled to the car by my dining companion.
4. Doomie’s Home Cookin’
This wonderland tucked away in Hollywood (just near ArcLight’s Cinerama Dome, should you wish to either precede or follow a feature presentation) serves vegan soul food that is very much not in the Whole Foods model: the calorie counts on some of these meals go all the way to 11 (hundred). And while they serve a number of very good burgers, it’s the ~secret menu~ that will provide the most thrills: to wit, their Big Mac. The first time I ordered this monster, I became convinced that they had, in fact, “punk’d” me and just walked a block up Vine to procure an actual Big Mac; it’s that good. It is also nigh on impossible to finish, at least in my experience, so kudos to the visiting vegan (or curious omnivore) who manages to complete this mammoth task.
5. Steak ‘N Shake
Finally, the burger joint whose very recent arrival on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade was happy news for any Californians who are formerly Midwesterners. I attended with a member of the Steak ‘N Shake faithful, who assured me that a) The S.M location was way more shiny than the diners he remembered (big surprise); but that b) the food was more or less on point. Which is to say, The Original Double ‘N Cheese (ground steak patty, American cheese, dill pickles, tomato and lettuce) was pretty much spectacular, as were the cheese fries. There’s also something perversely satisfying about hoovering down a huge plate of yellow glop while typically Santa Monica-esque fitness types zoom past with their tiny dogs. Though, to their credit, more than a handful of them stopped to ask – given the fanfare that greeted the restaurant’s opening – if it was any good. We of course answered in the affirmative, and hopefully one day soon, they will join us in the sun.
(Lead image by punctuated/Flickr)
Clem Bastow is an award-winning writer and critic with a focus on popular culture, gender politics, mental health, and weird internet humour. She is currently based in Melbourne and is a sometime Angeleno. She has sat in each of the Back To The Future trilogy Deloreans, but can't drive. She's on Twitter at @clembastow