Breakfast Burgers Are Here To Beef Up Your Morning
Long Beach-based smash burger pop-up Hamburgers Nice has a secret weapon. It starts with a patty of sage-tinged pork and beef that's smeared with tart raspberry jam, topped with grilled onions, crowned with a sunny-side up egg then tucked into a potato bun. Behold... the breakfast burger.
"Hamburgers for breakfast, I just love saying that," Hamburgers Nice founder Jairo Bogarin says with a grin. "It sounds weird and I think that's what I like about it, that it's a little off-putting. I like that it throws people off."
As a kid, Bogarin, 34, used to dress his McMuffins with jelly. (I did the same thing although I preferred strawberry while he went for grape.) Those early culinary experiments have paid off. All grown up and commanding flavors without effort, he launched his own burger business in 2019. His creations combine savory and spicy elements with creamy, fatty, smokey and tangy ones in unexpected ways. The chorizo burger is dressed with a fiery chile de arbol sauce, an egg and queso Oaxaca while the lunch burger, which you might recognize as a smash burger, is topped with grilled onions and fresh jalapenos. His breakfast burger, however, is his masterpiece. It's what sets Hamburger Nice apart from the dozens of other smash burger contenders. It also represents Bogarin's biggest challenge.
"The word 'burger' catches people off guard. People still make faces when I'm explaining it. My goal is to help normalize it. I'm confident in my approach and am soft and patient in explaining that it's no different than your [typical] breakfast sammich," Bogarin says.
If your typical breakfast is a cold-pressed juice or scrambled egg whites with spinach, the breakfast burger probably isn't for you. And that's cool, do your thing. But why, on a cultural level, is a breakfast burger so taboo? Is it any less healthy than a breakfast burrito, a stack of pancakes, chilaquiles, Eggs Benedict or ricotta and moldy jam toast? Is it any worse for you than a bowl of sugary breakfast cereal? Silly rabbit, of course not. The real stigma surrounding the breakfast burger isn't its caloric sucker punch, it's the idea that some things just aren't eaten for breakfast. But it doesn't have to be that way.
In Austin, Texas, people line up at 6 or 7 a.m. to get their smoked meat fix from Franklin's BBQ. For breakfast in Guadalajara, you'll find ecstatic Tapatios wolfing down torta ahogadas filled with carnitas. Clearly, the resistance to breakfast burgers is as much cultural as it is culinary — and Bogarin is happy to fight this battle.
"Skip your heavy dinner and have burgers for breakfast," he says.
Bogarin isn't the first or only purveyor of breakfast burgers in greater Los Angeles. You can order a burger for breakfast at Jim's, Tam's, Lucky Boy or almost any old school SoCal fast food stand. And don't forget Denny's, with its Bacon Slamburger, or newer contenders like Eggslut, Cassell's and Stout.
Pop-up AM Smash makes a breakfast sandwich that pays homage to the McMuffin. "I still like McDonald's, here and again," says Chris Schaldenbrand, who in late 2019 co-founded AM Smash with his wife, Stefanie Schaldenbrand. "It makes you happy."
Like Bogarin, the Schaldenbrands wanted to set themselves apart in a crowded field, so they decided to make a breakfast sandwich in the style of a smash burger. (For the last four or five years, smash burgers, known for their ultra-thin burger patties grilled on a ripping hot plancha to create a crisp, lacy sear, have been all the rage in Southern California.) Where a typical sausage patty is highly processed, they throw down a coarsely ground ball of high-quality Niman Ranch, smash it on a flattop, slide it onto a toasted Thomas' English muffin and top it with American cheese, a fried egg and a maple-infused secret sauce.
Unlike Bogarin, they don't call it a burger. They refer to their creation, The Smash, as a breakfast sandwich because they want to tempt customers who might be averse to eating an early morning burger. They also offer a vegetarian version, the "Breakfast with No Hog," which subs out the pork for mashed avocado, although it's unclear if that's what Ice Cube meant in "A Good Day." AM Smash has taken creative liberties.
"If you will eat our sandwich for breakfast, you should eat a cheeseburger for breakfast. It's no different. You're literally just swapping beef for pork," Stefanie Schaldenbrand says.
Here we come to the cursed questions at the meaty core of this dish. Can any burger become a breakfast burger just by slapping an egg on top? Is every burger eaten at breakfast automatically a breakfast burger? If, through some gastronomic parkour, you take a breakfast burger and call it a breakfast sandwich, why does it suddenly become an acceptable A.M. food?
The variants served by Hamburgers Nice and AM Smash aren't just patties with eggs. They're deliberate inventions, a burger sub-species, if you will, and that's what makes them so special.
One day while I was eating The Smash, a man approached me and asked, "Is that a homemade sausage McMuffin?" I replied, "Yeah, man. It is." As he walked away, he jumped in the air and clicked his heels in delight.
After the success of Bogarin's first breakfast burger, he wanted to innovate. When his butcher presented him with a fantastic chorizo, Bogarin ran with the idea. In 2020, Hamburgers Nice debuted a chorizo breakfast burger. The patty is made from a blend of ground beef and spicy pork chorizo then topped with grilled onions, jalapenos, a creamy chile de arbol sauce and queso Oaxaca.
"Inspired by my mom's cooking, I wanted to present something that reminded me of breakfast at my family's home," Bogarin says. It was a hit. "Some regulars kinda switched to having that. It's not as greasy as the sausage."
Although Bogarin has become a burger acolyte these last few years, his journey didn't start with meat and buns. It didn't even start with food. It started with craft beer. "My personal hobbies have kinda been one of the driving forces that catapulted me into different phases of my life," he says.
While attending Cal State Dominguez Hills, he landed a job at the school pub, DH Sports Lounge, aka "the bar." Bogarin helped the venue move away from the Bud Light/Shock Top vibe and expose young college students to what he calls, "the full spectrum [of] flavors craft beer provided" — Strand Brewing Co's Atticus IPA, Old Rasputin Imperial stout, or Deschutes' Chainbreaker white IPA.
When he's not slanging hamburguesas, you can find Bogarin at Monkish Brewing Co. in Torrance, where he brings in food trucks and pop-ups to serve eats to hungry patrons. While building relationships with these vendors, he decided it was time to launch a venture of his own.
Initially, Bogarin wanted to do a Mexican food pop-up but he abandoned the idea when he saw how much his friends liked his burgers. In 2019, he started making fried onion burgers for his homies, using a technique he learned by watching YouTube videos of smash burger maestro George Motz.
Alan Gomez tried one of Bogarin's burgers and offered him a morning pop-up slot at Commodity Coffee in Long Beach. "What really sets [his burgers] apart is love. You can't get great tasting food without putting love into it. [Jairo] loves making these burgers and it shows," Gomez says.
Before Bogarin had decided on a menu or settled on a name, he said yes to Gomez. "I was upset that I hadn't started Tacos Jairo. I had to do something before my head exploded," he says. He settled on Hamburgers Nice as a tribute to the many Mexican restaurants with no-frills names.
"My hamburgers reflect my personal taste. I never wanted a 4x4 [from In-n-Out] or a burger that falls apart in your hand. I'm trying to present something simple and packed with flavor," Bogarin says.
When it comes to what makes a burger, breakfast or otherwise, great, Bogarin has only one rule — balance.
His burgers are unpretentious and packed with flavor and they never cross the line from indulgence to excess. Whether it's a dab of mustard, a smear of jam or a spiral of ketchup, the sauces and toppings exist in harmony with each other and don't overshadow the meat.
Nostalgia is another crucial component driving demand for Bogarin's burgers. In 2017, Burgers Never Say Die set the Los Angeles smash burger standard with what is essentially a classier version of a McDonald's cheeseburger. The modern smash burger often feels like an upscale version of one of America's favorite fast foods. It plays on familiarity, comfort and the subconscious burger literacy that we, as Angelenos and Americans, share.
With his western burger, Bogarin wants to evoke your first bite of a Carl's Jr. bacon western cheeseburger, when it all felt a little too much and barely enough. Or take his salad burger, a playful tribute to the charbroiled burger so common at local joints, with thin slices of tomato and an excess of shredded lettuce. Although this is the burger Bogarin loves to eat, he's most proud of his chorizo breakfast burger. It's his personal piece of nostalgia, recalling the sensory experience of eating his mom's huevos con chorizo.
If you want to try it (and you should want that) your best bet is to swing by Commodity Coffee on Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. but be sure to check their IG for details. You can order on-site or pre-order by sliding into their DMs. Outside of Long Beach, you'll sometimes find Hamburgers Nice at Milpa Grille in Boyle Heights and Sara's Market in City Terrace.
"I have a lot of love for East L.A. To go out there and have people come out, it fills my heart," Bogarin says. "This is why I'm doing this. What a blessing, dude, to have the support of that community."