The 10 Best Burgers in Los Angeles: 2011 Edition

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Go Burger. Photo by Farley Elliott / LAist.

Last year, LAist did it. We took a stand. When other sites were making ‘feel good lists’ that gave everybody gold stars just for entering the race, we stood up and said, ‘No’. HERE are the best burgers in Los Angeles. And now, we’re about to do it again.

See, 2010 was a great year for burgers in Los Angeles. GQ named local talent Umami Burger as the best in the nation, while In-N-Out shook things up by announcing a stop outside Dallas, TX. Nancy Silverton started finalizing plans for the much-anticipated Market Burger. Those ghoulishly great Grill ‘Em All guys brought home gold in The Great Food Truck Race. Many new contenders opened (Go Burger, Kalbi Burger, Burger Kitchen), and a few notables shuttered (Anisette Brasserie, Bastide’s short-lived Monday burger nights). Now the scene is bigger and tastier than ever before, and burger correspondent Farley Elliott spent a calendar year taking it all in. Burgers, that is.

When our Best Burger list first emerged in 2010, we had been to roughly 45 of the most notable beef spots in town. For 2011, we doubled it. Now, with 90+ burgers under our suddenly tighter belts, we’re ready to show you just how right we are. These are The Best Burgers in Los Angeles.

But first: a recap of the classifications, lifted straight from last year’s listings.

Burger Classifications

Simply put, there are two elementally different types of burgers: the ‘basic’ and the ‘gourmet’. Pub burgers, sloppers, Jucy Lucy’s, smash burgers, broilers, and ad nauseum (literally) all essentially fit into one of these two burger categories, and what separates the two is equally as essential. Basic burgers are cheap, at least a little messy, usually a thinner patty on a no-frills bun. Now, don’t get your brioche in a bunch and start screaming that toasted or buttered or seasoned or grilled buns go beyond ‘no-frills’, because you’re wrong. For us, frills means brioche, french bakery, English muffin. That’s frills. A basic burger needs to be something you’d feel like eating standing up, with condiments dripping across a slice of tomato, oily cheese, and some 20 cent lettuce. And don’t forget the egg, please.

Gourmet burgers are a more subtle, refined beast - but don’t let the square plates and heavy silverware fool you, these things pack a gut punch. You’re likely to find a gourmet burger resting atop a fresh-made in-house flaky-crust bun with arugula and fontina cheese, caressed in some type of compote or aioli made from the sweat of the 10 foodservice engineers it took to broil this bad boy to perfection. Your thick-pattied gourmet burger is brimming with confidence about its beef blend or its aging or something, and even if you can’t see the hole yourself you know somebody stuck a thermometer in the middle to make sure it was just right. It’s a delicious beef monstrosity that will take a little bit of squeezing just to get it from top to bottom in one bite, but isn’t that the fun? Just imagine your new best burger buddy is Daniel Craig as Bond: dressed up nicely but a little too beefy to be contained in such a delicate package.

The Best Basic

Why mess with a good thing? After more than doubling our sample size, the top five basic burgers in Los Angeles remained almost entirely intact. That’s not to say we didn’t find any exciting new spots that are worth making the drive, though. Bill’s Hamburgers in Van Nuys is the type of old-school stand in a parking lot that you don’t see much of these days, where the seasoning pours freely from an unlabeled shaker, and Bill himself still flips patties. The Market Grill in Monrovia is changing the way we think about ‘fresh’ and ‘local’ when it comes to burgers, and who knew Yuca’s had a burger worth forgoing tacos for? But in the end, a great basic burger always shines through.

5. Apple Pan, 10801 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Apple Pan will forever be a polarizing force in the LA burger community, but the Love camp will always outweigh the Hate. Smoky-sweet hickory burgers are a revelation, while even mild-mannered thin patty cheeseburgers stand out.

4. Ercoles, 1101 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach. Ercoles serves up the absolute essence of a no-frills bar burger. The patties are coarse-ground and medium-thickness, with a great char from the small grilling station tucked behind the bar. The phenomenal beef blend itself comes from the butcher right next store, so don’t be surprised if your next burp comes out as more of a ‘moo’.

3. The Oinkster, 2005 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock. Stars continue to align for this Eagle Rock burger outpost, as their entire menu has been garnering more praise as of late. On any given night there could be a line out the door, and it’s not hard to see why: the well-salted medium patties, commercial sesame buns and gooey American cheese are out of this world.

2. Capitol Burger, 4301 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. Not that we’re bragging, but Capitol’s stock seems to have risen precipitously in 2010, when we put them at this same spot on our list. A year later and a few more burger bloggers sniffing around, these guys haven’t changed. The buns are still white-and-squishy, the American cheese is still gooey, and the whole experience is, as always, a delight.

And the winner is…

1. Hawkin’s House of Burgers, 11603 Slater Street, Watts. Hawkin’s deserves this spot for the second year in a row, but the sad truth is: people just don’t want to hear that the best basic burger is in Watts. Forget what you think you know, and make the drive for loose-packed, griddled, greasy, delicious burgers. You won’t regret it.

The Best Gourmet

For gourmet burgers, what a difference a year makes. This year’s top five looks markedly different from 2010’s list, albeit with a few familiar names. The biggest hurdle to compiling this portion of the list is the sheer numbers of it all. Every corner bistro with a griddle and a guy-who-knows-a-guy-who-knows-a-baker has thrown their chef’s hat into the ring, vying for LA burger supremacy. And with a full-court press on for hidden gems, a few local notables even started rising up the ranks. Simmzy’s in Manhattan Beach was a true surprise, even if the South Bay boys have known about it for a while. Bouchon even opened its heavy wooden doors to the lunchtime burger crowd, for those of us craving white linens and a see-and-be-seen crowd with our beef. And more than a few notable burgers from last year's Best Of list are nowhere to be found this time around. This time, it takes more than a star chef to earn the highest burger praise. And these top five burgers have what it takes.

5. Father’s Office, 3229 Helms Ave., Los Angeles. Last year’s #2 barely holds on after a year that brought intense competition to the forefront. F.O.’s burger has managed to remain among the elite, with their juicy and delicious patties (however unchangeable) a thing of beauty.

4. Susan Feniger’s STREET, 742 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles. Better known for her Mexican dishes and funky takes on global street food, Feniger has managed to create a masterful burger that flew under the radar most of year, despite how much we talked about it. The brioche cheeseburger comes standard with Vermont white cheddar, homemade pickles and a ‘yuzu kosho’ sauce that blows the doors off of any aioli or secret sauce you’ve had.

3. Umami Burger, 850 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. Umami deserved to move up a spot from last year, as they have maintained a steady growth while not losing sight of the product. Burgers are still king here, as the unadorned plates and attention to detail shows well. Juicy and unique, with the savory umami sense we’re all still trying to define, these babies have long been meant for the spotlight.

2. CommeCa, 8479 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. Maybe the New York Times was more right than we know. Last year, they not-so-quietly crowned CommeCa with the title of ‘perfection’, and upon a second (and third) visit here, we’re nearly inclined to agree. The beef itself remains unmatched in its preparation and flavor, while the bun and cole-slaw-ish toppings round out the burger with first-rate effect.

And the winner is…

1. Rustic Canyon, 1119 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. When you name your standard burger the Niman Ranch burger, you have to assume it’s good. When you add a perfect slice of sharp white cheddar, onion fondue, and an exquisite crust on a juicy, medium-rare patty, you know the burger is something special. When they start sponsoring full-on burger nights (where they create unique burger concoctions) while still locally sourcing their produce? You know you’ve found the best burger in LA.

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With over 90 burger spots cataloged, we’re not sure what next year holds for these rankings. But the future is bright, and the emphasis on America’s favorite beef and bun combination isn’t leaving the Los Angeles culinary mindset any time soon. So keep on chowing down, and let us know in the comments if there’s some amazingly tasty place we just can’t live without.