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25 Degrees: Behold the Fifteen Dollar Burger

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How much do you love burgers?

Maybe you know all the secret menu items available at In-n-Out, or maybe you're a regular fixture at Father's Office. Who's got the best burger and just what elements make a burger the best is an oft-debated topic here on LAist and elsewhere. Are the determining factors the toppings? Kind of meat? Affordability? History? Size? The variables are multifold, I know.

I like burgers. I'm no crazy burger maven, though, and can generally satisfy the basic craving for meat-on-bun action at Fatburger or am happy to dress up my burger in some finery at The Counter. But since it's opening last year, I've been intrigued by the frequently discussed burgers offered up at 25 Degrees, a swank 24-hour burger joint located inside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. So when the opportunity came up for me to accept their invitation to taste test their wares, I jumped at the chance. I brought a teenager with me--who knows better about this food genre than that age group?--and we both gleefully assembled our own $15 burgers.

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Of course, first came the tough part: Deciding what to order. Here's how the 25 Degrees menu works. You can pick one of three pre-set burger + toppings concoctions ($12), or you can go all Home Depot and DIY. We went for the latter, so first we had to pick our meat-stuff (ground sirloin at $9 or turkey burger for $8, a hot dog is $7) and both of us went for the beef. Once you start to piece apart the cheese selection you're bound to have one of those "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore moments" because the selection is pretty phenomenal, and goes way beyond your "Swiss or American" b-flat basics. Here the choices include tempting options like the gouda-style "midnight moon," a smoked mozzarella, a tart and semi-hard st. george, the triple cream of red hawk, or the saltier prelibato gogonzola, all at $1.50 each. My choice was the emmi gruyere, a hearty cheese from the swiss alps, and my partner in crime zeroed in on the gorgonzola.

At this point we haven't even seen a lick of food and already we're drooling, and now we have to navigate the "extras" that run $1 each. Onto my order goes some bacon, arugula, and caramelized onions, and for my fellow taste-tester the avocado and shitaki mushrooms--we left behind options like green chili, jalapeno, fried egg, or proscuitto, among others. Just when you think you're done piling it on, your eyes alight on the sauce choices, which can get slathered on your burger and can also be the dips for the fries and rings you know you're gluttonous enough to order. We both asked for dijon sauce (it's a sauce, not the straight up mustard, we were told) for our burger masterpieces, and then we got a little giddy getting sauces for our fries and rings combo ($5). Our server said her favorite was the garlic parmesan, and as soon as a sauce laden french fry met our lips we were in agreement. Because the burgers are so mega-thick they take a bit longer to emerge from the kitchen than you might expect, so the fries are sent out first to tide you over, much like what I experienced at The Counter--only here at 25 Degrees the burgers follow at a reasonable pace and by rights you should still have lots of the giant, crispy rings to give you a break from biting into that giant, juicy burger.

So, how was the $15 burger (well, okay, for those doing the math my burger tallied up to $14 before tax and tip, but my question is, why are you doing math in the middle of reading a restaurant write up?) you might ask? I'll tell you, it was pretty damn good. The meat was cooked nicely, and just as thick as we were warned by our server. My dijon sauce was probably a little overwhelmed by the tangy gruyere cheese and the smokiness of the caramelized onion and the bite of the arugula, along with the delicious and thick slices of bacon. But the best and most indulgent part of it all wasn't the sirloin or the accoutrements, but the bun. Yes--oh, lordy yes--the bun. Made of brioche, their buns are sinfully good thanks to the copious amount of butter used in the making of the dough and resulting in something as decadent and flaky as you'd expect a French baked good to be.

It's pretty obvious that despite being a burger joint with 24 hour service to boot, 25 Degrees is no Denny's. Although you may sink your sight-seeing, movie-going, or club-hopping bones into their roomy leather banquettes and drink in the somewhat dubious scenery of Hollywood Boulevard as it moves past the windows, the room has a sophisticated and moody elegance that precludes any questionable late-night diner etiquette, like making condiment soups or hiding coins in the cups of ketchup (not that I've ever done that...since high school). It is a little "strange and strangely striking" as the reviewer at the LA CityBeat declared. Besides, if you're shelling out $14 or so for a burger, possibly even with a glass of wine, chances are you aren't that kind of patron, which makes for a nice dining experience all around. The servers are efficient and friendly, although with the layout of the restaurant being so open, they might want to rethink talking about their customers when they run into each other by the order window at the counter.

Both of us were beyond packed to the gills, which meant we had to put an ixnay on our initial aim of trying out their milkshakes or chocolate cake for dessert. In fact, we both could only work our way through half of our respective burgers and left with a very nice doggie bag in tow, which means that one way to grub at 25 Degrees and not bear the burden of a fifteen buck burger is to share the main attraction, which is emininently do-able. Skip the beer and wine (I love that they have Dry Sodas on the menu; I had the refreshing and fragrant lavender, but was tempted by the other choices of lemon grass, rhubarb, or kumquat) and you'll spend even less.

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Is 25 Degrees the best burger in town? Hell, I don't know. Like I said, I'm no maven. It certainly is the best in its league, and some local food bloggers have called it one of the best. Between the sirloin, those cheeses, and that incredible bun, I'm inclined to agree.

Incidentally, in case you were curious about how the restaurant got its name, the answer rests in the meat. Twenty-five degrees is the temperature variant between each of meat's degrees of doneness. Just a little conversation starter to toss out to your table-mates while you're sitting in one of those cozy booths, sipping on some ale and assembling your fifteen dollar burger.

25 Degrees
Inside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
7000 Hollywood Boulevard
(323) 785-7244

Photo by eunibabe via Flickr