This is the third installment in a three-part series.
Last Thanksgiving, while most of us were at home preparing our turkey and mashed potatoes, newly minted restaurateur Matt Peek was teaching himself how to cook.
In that one day, he crafted recipes for the fledgling menu at Not A Burger Stand, a Riverside Drive hangout in the rancho district. Fortunately for the burger-loving public, the name is ironic.
For just $5.75 Peek offers a nicely cooked patty with mild onions, some simple French’s mustard and two melted creamy slices of Swiss cheese. It is mouthwatering, it is a delicate balance of meat and accessories, and it is delicious in its simplicity.
“That’s as classic as you get. No point in messing with the good stuff,” Peek said.
This burger is among the best in Burbank, a city with a satisfyingly large pool of places that offer truly welcome spins on the traditional American burger.
For three months, Jack Swiker of thedangersandwich.blogspot.com and I waded through some truly terrible cheeseburgers, neck-deep in watery mayo and overly chunky lettuce wafers. We were then beached on solid ground with char-broiled sandwiches at some of Burbank’s longest-running burger joints. Today, we venture to the golden temple of the fatty, melty goodness of Burbank’s best.
Peek’s homage to simplicity is closely edged out by the buttery hickory burger at Hook Burger and Bistro in the Empire Center. The star is the beef patty, a slightly small concoction that packs a lot of taste.
This neo-chic restaurant aces the burger basics, but competes with two other Burbank hot spots in its presentation of gooey cheddar, crispy onion straws and salty smoky bacon.
Tinhorn Flats on Magnolia Avenue as well as Hollywood Way Barbecue, Bar and Grill (on Hollywood Way, naturally) also produce spins on the hickory burger with better results. Tinhorn’s Western Burger is so tall it might as well come with its own fire escape.
A generously layered mix of onion rings, crispy bacon and 8 ounces of beef, it is bound by a tangy barbecue sauce that tickles the back of your tongue though never quite steals the show from the beef and bacon.
Tinhorn gets its ingredients from nearby Handy Market, adding a satisfying freshness to what may be the best burger deal in Burbank — it’s just $7 on Tuesdays and any day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (otherwise, it’s $9).
At Hollywood Way, the Memphis Burger makes no attempt at being A) heart-friendly, B) dainty or C) polite.
“What the hell is that?” asks Greg Deloree sitting at the bar next to me. “They should call that the Heart Attack.”
The mounded burger delightfully drips in the juices of three separate meats: beef, bacon and pulled pork. Topped with a slathering of barbecue sauce, this monstrosity satisfies and engages every possible sense. OK maybe not sight — the Memphis is an intimidating pile of meat.
More sensible fare may be found at Moore’s Delicatessen on Third Street, which has a praiseworthy gem in its $8 Deli Burger.
Though other eateries do better with the bun, Moore’s offers a sprightly take on the classic formula, substituting silky field greens for lettuce. The griddled patty is a pillowy platform for the piping melted cheese. The meat itself is amply seasoned but not overly so; allowing for a tart char to permeate every bite but not overpower it.
A slightly better option is at Mo’s on Riverside. Though it’s joined by Bob’s next door (and the upcoming Umami Burger across the street) Mo’s really offers a unique cheeseburger. Simple preparation of the patty is augmented by a patented double-broiler system that cooks the meat evenly, providing a reliable taste every time.
We tried the ménage-a-trois burger and from the first bite it’s evident that Mo’s carefully thinks through every aspect of this experience. A juicy grilled patty is perfectly matched by creamy avocado and Swiss, bookended by a spongy whole wheat bun. This burger simply sings — salty bacon adds a twang like a trill in a country melody.
At $12.95, Mo’s offers one of the most expensive burgers in Burbank, narrowly edging the $12.50 Black & Bleu burger at Granville Café on San Fernando Boulevard in downtown Burbank.
This burger is the complete package — grass-fed Colorado beef is ground, grilled and great. The crumbled bleu cheese punches the tongue but the tang is tempered by bitter arugula greens. Topped with grilled onions and mushrooms, the most popular burger at Granville has rightly earned this distinction. It is sweet, salty, sensory and divine.
Eventually, my notes trail off for the Black & Bleu. It induced some kind of meat-Nirvana in which I dreamed of cheeseburgers in the wild, roaming the field-green countryside and taking sips of mustard and ketchup from their condiment troughs below a “Welcome to Burbank” sign.
It is a delicious place to be.
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he’s not apologizing to his arteries for eating 24 cheeseburgers in four months, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter at @818NewGuy.Copyright © 2015, CT Now