7 or 8 years ago I started to do a comprehensive survey of the best cheeseburger in Los Angeles. To that end I made a list of restaurants, read all the "best burger" lists -- I'd eaten most of those places already, as it happened -- and started eating burgers and taking notes.
I soon realized I was never going to finish. New restaurants open too quickly. Burger variations pop up at places you've eaten at before. Rather than an article summarizing the best burgers in Los Angeles and picking a winner, I realized that the best I was going to be able to do was keep a running tally, updating as I had the chance --
The scale goes 1 to 10 -- and there are negative number burgers -- Jack in the Box, which serves meat that actually killed four people back in the early 90s, for example. Even when they don't kill you, every Jack in the Box burger gets (and merits) a negative number. I risk my life (for you, the Consumer) every few years to verify that the burgers are still as lousy as ever there, and my expectation has never been disappointed.
A 1 is a burger I'd eat for free if I was hungry; a 10 is perfection. There are only three 10s.
The current three Best Burgers in Los Angeles are:
10. The Apple Pan on Pico Blvd., west of Westwood Blvd..
I've been eating at the Apple Pan for twenty plus years, and the restaurant itself has been on the same location on Pico Blvd. since 1947. The burgers are consistently perfect. They serve a "steak burger," which is a 10, and a barbecue burger, which is a 9.
Apple Pan is seriously old school. There's a counter -- you stand and wait until a seat becomes available, and then you eat, and pay, and leave, because there are people waiting for your seat. The fries, pie, coffee and drinks are all good, but the burgers are why you come.
The burger comes on a slightly greasy toasted bun, lettuce, Tillamook cheddar, pickles, mayo, and what's probably the best burger relish anywhere in the known universe, a sweet red ketchup relish that takes a great burger and makes it perfect.
If you're visiting Los Angeles and have time for only one burger, make it this one. I've eaten here dozens of times over the years, and not only is the burger great, the consistency can't be beat. It's the same perfect burger every time.
About $7 for the burger alone.
10. The Pie'n'Burger in Pasadena, California Blvd. east of Lake.
I've only eaten here once, and the burger is a surprise to me, because on description I wouldn't have expected perfection ... the Pie'n'Burger resembles the Apple Pan – thin, well-done patty, soft toasted bun, a big chunk of lettuce, good pickles, onions and tomato if you ask for them – raw onions actually make me physically ill, so I skipped that, but I asked for tomato.
Apple-Pannish, so far. But the cheese is American, which I don't normally like, and the dressing is thousand island, which I also don't normally like – but here it works. A 10 and though I haven't been back in the year or so since I first ate here -- I don't get to Pasadena too often -- I will be back, and I'm pretty sure the quality of the burger will be the same.
I've heard people complain about the cleanliness at Pie'n'Burger, but the one time I was there it was as clean as any other diner.
Didn't note the price. Usually I try to, but sometimes I forget. Around $7, if I recall.
10. The Crocodile Café, 3 locations
I used to eat here more often -- there used to be four Crocodile Cafes, scattered around the L.A. area: one in Santa Monica near the pier, where I ate at frequently; one on Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena; one on Lake in Pasadena; and one in old Burbank. All but the Lake Avenue location are gone (there are only three Crocodile Cafes left anywhere: San Diego, Glendale, and Pasadena.)
Writing this summary, I glanced at the menu for the Pasadena location -- and this burger may be gone. There are now three burgers listed on the menu, all marked "NEW" -- a "Kobe Cheese Burger," a "Ranch House Burger" with barbecue, and a "California Cheese Burger," none of which sound like close matches to the classic Oakwood cheeseburger.
The classic Oakwood cheeseburger was a thick patty, which I always ordered medium rare. The seasoned beef was cooked over a 900 degree oak fire, resulting in a taste really unlike any other burger I've had elsewhere. It came with shredded lettuce, mustard, pickles, tomato, on a bun thick enough to deal with the juice – when a burger can be ordered medium rare, I do.
I'd guess you can still order that classic burger, even if it's off-menu now; they still call it an "Oakwood" burger, in any event. I can't vouch for any of the new items.
About $10 for the burger alone.
Those are the three best, out of about 300 reviewed and written down in the last decade. Yesterday I had lunch at Hamburger Mary's, a chain with locations in half a dozen places. It had the chain feel. I ate at the location on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood.
Had the Kobe Burger, medium rare. The pickles weren't burger pickles, they were chunky half-sours, the bun was a fairly thick sesame seed, good cheddar cheese, and a nice hunk of iceberg lettuce.
The beef didn't come medium rare, it came medium, just a hint of pink in the center. And the odds of it being real Kobe are very small -- the burger was $16, which sounds like a lot for a burger but isn't much for Kobe. Most likely it's American Wagyu – a good chunk of what's sold in America as Kobe beef isn't, and I'm pretty sure this is one of those cases.
A good burger -- a 7 -- but not worth what it costs. I may head back and try one of the other burgers -- they have quite a selection.