Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops by Stick A Fork In It to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!
Let's face it: downtown HB blows. I was literally right in the middle of things when the 1986 OP Pro riots started and, by the time I made my escape back to my then-home in the 909, there were cop-cars-a-burnin' and every dirtbag in town was getting clubbed by the riot police.
The place has never been the same since.
I sure miss the good old days before all the MMA jackasses started hanging out, and there were a few cool places to catch some live music and a cold brew. I long for the old Jack's on the corner before the whole place turned into the Glendale Galleria By-The-Sea nightmare it is now. The cops suck, the food is generally just awful (peep Dos Toros and explain to me how a bunch of guys in the kitchen can fuck up an order of taquitos) and, quite simply put, the whole scene there reminds me of what would happen if Riverside and Jersey Shore had a baby that was adopted/raised by Hemet and the Kardashians. El Don Liquor is basically the last holdout and I'm counting the seconds until it turns into a vape shop or pot dispensary.
There is one notable highlight though, just off the main drag, and that is the quiet sanctuary of TK Burger. Like a tiny surfer monastery populated with high-as-fuck locals fresh out of the water instead of monks, it has modestly preached its burger belief to the masses and has grown beyond the borders of its otherwise lame environs. Charles Lam here at The Weekly did a great side by side Bristol Street showdown awhile back – Umami Burger versus TK – and TK came out on top if you factored in price. I'd go as far as to say, even if you don't factor in the dollar signs, it would still come out on top. It's just a great burger.
There are a lot of hypotheticals in The Biz. There are also lots of thing that defy explanation and are as mysterious and enigmatic as the Bermuda Triangle. One of them is this – just exactly why is TK Burger so good? It's reminiscent of ol' Rumsfeld's "unknown unknowns" and this particular question is as slippery as trying to pin him down on WMDs.
They do the usual fresh ground beef thing. That's not groundbreaking but it's a plus. You can almost taste the grill at the original location much like the steak at La Cave has a distinct flavor to it that only comes from a broiler that has been in use for decades. They also use what I think it's the best bun in the county, with a medium-firm texture and just a hint of rye flour that smacks your nose just before you bite in. I am an iceberg lettuce guy, although I usually prefer the fine shred at the Greek burger joints like Orange's epic Omega Burger which–despite its interior being about as comfortable as a DMV–has a stand out burger and loyal following. (I'm also a big fan of Fantastic Cafe). The wax peppers on the side are great, even when they are warm from sitting out in the sun; in fact, it's sort of endearing. Their fries are fairly stock but whatever Lawry's Seasoned Salt-adjacent stuff they sprinkle on them fits perfectly. Even the sloppy wrap of the burger makes it approachable and unpretentious.
Maybe what makes TK Burger so good is its spiritus, its anime, maybe even mojo … but whatever it is, I'll take it. It's the gut feeling you get when you walk in with the janky menu board and stickers everywhere that tells you these guys aren't trying to be something they are not and don't have anything to prove except they make a solid, solid burger. And sitting on that patio with sand on your feet right after a paddle out at the cliffs makes it all the better.
Burgers are like people: you judge the good ones by choosing which you would want to be stuck on a desert island with. If I had to pick a Man Friday to my Robinson Crusoe, well, TK would get the nod to wash up onshore with me any day of the week.