There are few pleasures in life as simple as a good burger. You needn't much. Ground-beef patty sizzled to a brown crust, then tucked between halves of a toasted bun. If the meat is juicy and the bread fluffy, everything else fades away, including the surroundings. Rider's Club in San Clemente, the original TK Burgers in Huntington Beach—these are burger institutions housed in little more than roadside shacks. But you go because you can hear the meat hiss on the grill and smell the atomized beef fumes, and then eat the burgers hot, messy and dripping.
BLK Burgrz is nothing like those places. On the patio, where most of the customers gather, there's a tree covered in fiber-optic lights that make it look as though a jellyfish escaped from Disneyland's Electrical Parade. In front of a U-shaped wicker couch, there's not just one flat-screen set inside marble, but two. At night, the TVs compete for eyeballs with a fire pit that, when the wind hits it just right, erupts into a tornado of flames. This whole outdoor area resembles the tricked-out Coto de Caza back yard of a Real Housewife. On Saturday nights, a string quartet plays covers of Lady Gaga and Queen to rapturous applause.
If the restaurant has any peers, they would be Slater's 50/50 and the Counter. As at Slater's, there's a bacon-and-ground-beef-hybrid patty. And as at the Counter, you're given a checklist of possible toppings. But BLK Burgrz blows past both as one of the most expensive burger restaurants in the county. Since every burger is Kobe—or rather, American Wagyu sourced from Snake River Farms, an outfit you may have never heard of until it's mentioned in restaurants such as this—the cheapest burger will cost $17.
Seventeen bucks. The waiters will inform you of the beef's pedigree as soon as you sit down. Are they telling you this to justify the price? To remind you you're not in a normal burger joint? Maybe. But you realize that yourself when you look at the menu, which features deep-fried burgers and others for which lamb or sausage is blended with the Kobe-grade ground beef. And then there's a $55 Kobe steak dinner that comes with a certificate of authenticity.
This, friends, is an über-burger joint. Nothing here is simple. When you order a burger, a checklist gives you 10 bun options, 11 cheese options and 18 spreads. Toppings? There are 18 regular and 12 “Over the Top” choices. So will it be a pretzel bun or the brioche? Would the goat cheese overpower the Kobe, or should you play it safe with the blue? What is the difference between the fire-roasted ketchup and the spicy ketchup? Since a nearly $20 burger is riding on it, these are decisions you don't make lightly.
The process is easier if you opt for one of the stuffed burgers. Choose the Swiss Bacon BLK Stuffed Burgr, and you needn't bother picking out any additional cheese, mushrooms or even the bacon—all are already tucked into a patty bursting with juice and flavor. In fact, you should always favor this burger over the aforementioned bacon-beef hybrid. But then, even the latter trumps Slater's 50/50's half-and-half bacon burgers. Unlike Slater's, BLK Burgrz doesn't mix the bacon into the ground beef; it welds the patty onto the bacon as it cooks on the griddle, resulting in a burger that isn't nearly as dry.
But just when BLK Burgrz strikes you as a burger joint that eschews the basics for Frankenstein creations, you see the plain half-pound or three-quarter-pound burgers for which the exact doneness can be specified. And then there's the way it's served: brought out sputtering on a hot iron pan, then transferred ever so gingerly atop your bread by your waiter. I saw a 10-year-old eat one, the massive sandwich eclipsing his head.
You should know that every burger automatically comes with a choice of sides. The onion rings—halfway between tempura and something a British chip shop would fry—are quite possibly the best onion rings not made by Fatburger. The fries are good and crisp, the sweet potato version sprinkled with herbs. But if you want your $17 to count, take the chili, which is house-made with the same Kobe-grade beef used for the burgers.
That chili is also offered as a full-on starter. But spending money on appetizers here—even the cylindrically molded tuna tower with mango and edamame or the seared ahi topped with tumbleweeds of deep-fried ginger—seems unnecessary. When you sit down, a whole basket of feather-light, house-fried potato chips is offered for free. Why? Well, perhaps because BLK Burgrz also knows that, as paying customers, there are few pleasures in life as gratifying as getting something for nothing.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.