—Betty Hallock, Linda Burum, Miles Clements and C. Thi Nguyen
This sweetly nostalgic waffle stand in Old Town Orange sells s'mores-stuffed and prosciutto-packed Belgian waffle sandwiches that fulfill the fantasies of every syrup-soaked childhood and late-night binge. It's also modern, self-aware and crawling with students from nearby Chapman University. Leavened not by baking powder but by yeast, the waffles are crisp yet delicate, a honeycomb of airy pockets that strikes just the right balance: pliable enough to be folded over sweet and savory fillings, sturdy enough to support a serious sandwich. The burger is juicy Angus beef crowned with cheddar, sweet-sour pickles, lettuce and tomato. It's not a showcase of dry-aged prime or condiments chosen with curatorial deliberation. Bruxie's burger is simply a fine example of a reengineered classic, one joined with a wink and a nudge by an order of waffle fries.
292 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 633-3900, http://www.bruxie.com.
Toni's Soul Burger
Toni Malone's towering burgers may be the most ambitious in all of Los Angeles. Yet there are no contrivances here: no custom-ground meat blends, no willful denial of ketchup and no flavors fortified by what might otherwise amount to a chemistry experiment. Instead, the restaurant's signature burger is a tender, hand-formed turkey patty, a crispy lattice of turkey bacon, a firmly fried egg, a single slice of cheese, sweet mashed yams and wilted collard greens on a gently toasted sesame-seed bun. It's a triumph of maximalism, a burger in expert balance despite its seeming overabundance of ingredients. And each soul burger is constructed in a tiny storefront so close to Hollywood Park that you can nearly hear hooves hitting dirt.
1035 S. Prairie Ave., Suite 2, Inglewood, (310) 419-7685, http://www.tonissoulburger.com.
The menu at this tiny Jamaican gem in Studio City is instantly intriguing. Scanning the menu you quickly realize, we're not in Kingston anymore, Toto. The soul and spice of Jamaica may shape chef-owner Tony Hyde's cooking, but he weaves the Caribbean's brilliant fusion of European, African and East Indian tastes along with his own inventive twists into an imaginative style he likes to call "my new vibration of Jamaican flavor." He's got a fun lineup of burgers (chicken, salmon, vegetarian), each with its own flavorings. A beef version topped with soft, almost caramelized onions gets its ultra flavor jolt from a sheen of Jamaica-fied "ketchup," a fresh pepper and fruit-paste blend that includes Jamaican Scotch bonnets.
11320 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 766-3696, http://www.sattdownjamaicangrill.com.
Red Chili Express
At Red Chili Pakistani restaurant in Northridge, smoke-laden aromas from spice-crusted, tandoori-charred meats float above the crowd. But at Red Chili Express — its sister restaurant in a stylishly converted doughnut shop in the same strip mall — sandwiches stand in place of the expected curries and kebabs. They almost seem lifted from menus of the hippest of gastropubs: a chicken tikka burger topped with pepper jack cheese or with mango barbecue sauce; a wasabi steak melt; a veggie melt with chipotle coleslaw. There are buffalo wings and a couple of teriyaki bowls too, and all dishes are halal — the Muslim equivalent of kosher. "It's for the young people," says Red Chili co-owner Syed Shahzad.
18112 Parthenia St. (in Parthenia Center), Northridge, (818) 775-0633.
King's Burgers/Got Sushi?
And if you happen to want sushi with your burger, this is the spot. Truffles shaved onto wild-caught yellowtail sashimi or kanpachi nigiri splashed with black caviar might begin your omakase at Got Sushi? Or the chef might enrobe supple ribbons of pristine snapper in creamy cured uni brightened with the sharp citrus snap of yuzu and house-made soy sauce. Close your eyes and for a moment it's easy to forget that this tiny sushi bar is squeezed into a corner of King's Burgers, a fully operational burger joint in Northridge. There is omakase, and then there are the fully loaded pastrami burgers.
9345 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, (818) 885-6456.