Burgers abound in our fair county, and not just at the obvious favorites of In-N-Out and Fatburger. Those are a given. If you didn't know about them, I would have to assume that you are vegan or just arrived from space. For this reason, I didn't include them in my list of five favorites although both are staples of my diet already. In any case, your favorite five might be different. So let's share.
Read on to read my list in no particular order:
Marc Burger at Macy's Signature Kitchen at South Coast Plaza's Crystal Court.
Its got a textbook-thick, loosely-packed patty that's cooked to the correct shade of rosy. One of the juiciest burgers in our dominion, all of it components works. The Swiss is melted properly. The lettuce is the fancy kind that curls on the edges. The tomatoes are perky. And the onions are shaved thin. But best of all, the buns are toasted to a lovely crunch with lots of butter — so much that you can taste it seeping out of the bread.
TK Burger in Huntington Beach.
How could I have a list like this and not include TK Burgers. TK's is notable because this is one place where the bun makes the burger. The blond, potato-starch pillow is sourced from a bakery in Carson and engineered to hold its integrity against moisture — neither too porous nor too dense. Between them, TK's ground beef is dusted with a shower of seasoned salt as they sizzle, elevating the quarter-pound patties to levels of flavor where McDonald's fears to tread. And the toppings never waver from the time-tested and traditional: house-made Thousand Island, thin-sliced red onion, tomato, pickles and iceberg lettuce. And if you eat one at the Huntington Beach store, the fresh ocean air and the views could also be considered a topping.
25 Degrees in Huntington Beach.
25 Degrees is one of the few “gourmet” burgers that can wear the title proudly. Though there are locations in L.A. and others (read: it's a chain) it's pedigree is fine-dining — the owner's are O.C. restaurateurs of some acclaim, The Goodells. For the most decadently-sloppy, grease-on your-face-and-fingers sandwich, get The Number One. You won't need another meal for days after consuming this gut bomb, which is rich and oozing with gorgonzola and crescenza cheeses, dripping with caramelized onions, Thousand Island and for good measure, some crispy bacon. Greenery? There's a bit of arugula in there too, not for fiber but for irony.
Red Robin in Costa Mesa.
Yes, it is a chain. Yes, it is the same one that touts those baskets of bottomless fries, which are a great gimmick even if it's wholly unnecessary for a small eater like me. But oh, that Royal Burger of theirs. Bacon, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and the crowning touch: a fried egg. I believe Homer Simpson once drooled over a commercial advertising a burger whereupon piles upon piles meat, cheese, and eggs top a ground beef patty. Then the announcer purrs, “And we call it 'The Good-Morning Burger'”. This is as close to that as it gets. But paradoxically, it's not excessive. There is a nice balance of ingredients, working to complement the other and, yes, done in the regimented fashion of a national chain.
The Counter in Irvine.
Like with all custom-built burger joints, I'm a proponent of saying “No.” “No” to customizing. “No” to experimentation. Experimentation is for curious college co-eds and scientists. In other words, put down the pencil. If you want a Counter burger that doesn't fall apart as soon as you breathe on it, just order “The Old School”. It is, in my opinion, the perfect burger, already designed with the essentials: Cheddar, lettuce, tomato, pickle, shaved red onion and bun. No froufrou toppings. Best of all, doing this makes a burger that fits snugly in your hands. And that's what you want isn't it? A burger? Not chopped steak that you eat with a fork and a side of bun?