There aren't a lot of people who would attempt, or could stomach, tasting 30 burgers over the course of a few days, but that's exactly what Mendocino Farms owner Mario Del Pero and founding chef Jason Travi did. The beefy marathon had a purpose: The two set out to create "the city's most perfect burger" for Del Pero's Blue Cow Kitchen + Bar, a new sandwich "think tank" set to open in downtown Los Angeles this coming February. But they had to see what was out there first, and in the end, they found what they thought to be the top five burgers in L.A.
"We wanted to evaluate how other restaurants were executing the elements we knew would be integral to our own burger," says Del Pero. "The burger blend, the balance of buttery and savory taste, overall seasoning and grind; the bun; and the accoutrements, to see if they elevate or distract from the overall bite."
You'd think Travi, who's cooked in some of the best restaurants in the city (Spago, La Terza, Fraiche), could handle it. "Eating burgers through Los Angeles sounded like a great idea at first, and then it turned ugly," he says. "First you get the meat sweats, then the elevated heart rate."
But it paid off: Creating a great burger isn't easy. After all of their research, Travi took to the kitchen. He ground 32 different combinations of beef--Angus blends and grass-fed blends, from different cows and ranches around the state--to find the Blue Cow proprietary blend. Then he and Del Pero consulted with Dolce Forno Bakery to get a buttermilk bun made exclusively for the new restaurant, and with The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills to find just the right cheese (Point Reyes Toma). "We really pulled from artisans all over town to make this a quintessential L.A. burger," says Del Pero.
We have a feeling this list might change once Short Order, Nancy Silverton and the late Amy Pressman's burger joint opens in Original Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax this weekend, and after Blue Cow's official debut, but here are the restaurateur and chef's best burger picks.
5. Umami Burger
Del Pero: "The layering of flavors within the burger itself are excellent. There is a great balance of savory and buttery, but the seasoning overall is lighter than I would have liked. However, while the burger is cooked to temperature perfectly, the sear isn't as crisp as I prefer, and there aren't enough accoutrements to stand up to the intense burger flavor."
4. Comme Ca
Del Pero: "For me, this was my sleeper pick. I could taste that it wasn't a blend, it's pure house-ground chuck, I think, which creats a perfect balance. The seasoning is perfect, the sear incredible, and the bun is the best in LA. The only distraction is the mayonnaise-slaw that they top the burger with. It's a bit too overwhelming for me. "
Travi: "Ideal meaty flavor and the best bun of the lot. An expensive burger but worth the money. "
3. Father's Office
Del Pero: "As we all know, when you eat a Father's Office burger, you're eating Sang Yoon's burger, which is bold and in-your-face in the best of ways. He's decided to serve his burger his way, which is a philosophy we at Mendocino Farms can thoroughly relate to. While there is a great balance between the onions and bleu cheese, I feel they overwhelm the patty itself and became the stars."
Travi: "Great depths of flavor in the meat due to the addition of dry age to the mix. The only problem that people may have is that it comes with blue cheese and onion compote. If that doesn't work for you, there's nothing you can do about it."
2. Lazy Ox Canteen
Travi: " A very tasty burger, but there is so much I would rather eat at the Lazy Ox!"
Del Pero: "This burger represents how sheer simplicity is often the way to go. It has the best seasoning of all, it's cooked perfectly with a nice sear, has a great bun that balances the overall bite, and it's layered with a gentle mustard aioli. It would have been our favorite, except for...
1. Rustic Canyon
Del Pero: "Nothing can top the perfect balance and blend of the burger at Rustic Canyon. While it exhibits similar characteristics to my other top four (sear, seasoning, flavor, bun), it has a more savory-forward taste that I appreciate. Also, it has the best toppings: sharp cheddar, house-made pickles, spicy remoulade, and a confit of bacon. It's our generation's perfect bacon cheeseburger. "
Travi: "Great meaty flavor with thoughtful accompaniments. If money was a factor this would not be my top burger. Evan [Funke, the executive chef] has done a very good job."
Jason also adds that the four--Comme Ca, Father's Office, Lazy Ox, and Rustic Canyon--were the only ones he "truly enjoyed and would order again." But if had to pick a fifth burger: "It would be an In-N-Out Double-Double animal style. For the money it's hard to beat."