Everything on Mom's menu comes in a junior version; if it didn't, heart attacks would be imminent. Combos like The Chronic and The Colosso, with their audacious more-is-more aesthetic, have made Mom's Burgers semi-famous. Unwrap The Colosso ($8.03/$5.27), and it disgorges a mass of tender, salty pastrami masking the burger that lurks somewhere beneath the curling pink tongues of meat. Here, the classic is The Chronic ($5.38/$4.56) with American cheese, two slices of chewy, thick-cut bacon and a fried egg that somehow seems organic, integral even, to the burger. Mom's is one of the few places where the egg-on-burger meme works.
In the Cahuenga corridor where eateries are by nature heinous, trendy and overpriced, Stout, while popular, makes burgers on the more affordable side of the gastropub price scale ($10) -- and they taste good enough to make the nightmarish traffic and parking worth the trip. The brioche bun provides a solid framework for the thick, hearty burgers, the best of which is the Stout Burger. Stout tries to top Father's Office by topping their burger with blue cheese and gruyere, caramelized onions, horseradish sauce and thick-cut, rosemary-tinged bacon.
Inside a shack in Van Nuys, old school burgerman Bill Elwell has spent decades frying the quintessential American fast-food burger. Regulars will tell you the secret is in the grill, which has been around since the 1930s, accruing over 70 years of seasoning. Delivered fresh every day, the small, thin, peppery patties are cooked all the way through and served on a classic white bread bun with the flat side properly grilled. Lightly seasoned and juicy, they're topped with iceberg lettuce, a thin slice of tomato, a couple of pickle rounds, chopped onions and mayo. The $3.15 burger is on the smaller side, satisfying without leaving you immobile. Bigger appetites will definitely crave a double ($4.25).
It's no secret that French brasserie Comme Ça's $16 cheeseburger, now served for lunch and dinner, is considered one of the best in town. No mix-and-match toppings. No extreme sauces. No customization. Just rich, high-quality aged beef, juicy enough to marinate every bite in your mouth but not the least bit greasy. The patty is just the size it should be: only slightly larger than propriety demands but not enough to exhaust the eater. Covered in cheddar, topped with a scoop of rudimentary slaw (cabbage, mayo, a pinch of salt) and perched on the mother of all brioches, it's L.A.'s gourmet burger par excellence. (A gourmet burger ought to be accompanied by perfect fries, but let's not dwell on the disappointing frites here.) Now it can be told: This is not simply a burger, this is the burger.
Multiple Locations in Los Angeles, CA and Santa Monica, CA
What started as a humble burger shop has become a juggernaut of upscale fast food with half-a-dozen locations and more opening every minute. Despite that, Umami still makes a damn fine burger, which they consistently achieve by cooking the meat sous-vide before searing it on the grill. The menu is varied enough to please many tastes, but standouts include the Port & Stilton burger with rich, sweet caramelized onions, the spicy Hatch chile burger and the Triple Pork burger, amped up with manchego, smoky bacon and tart pimento mayo.
A hidden gem tucked behind the Winchell's at Sepulveda and Santa Monica, Hole in the Wall Burger Joint serves burgers that, at $7.95, can stand up against gourmet restaurant versions that cost twice as much. Full of flavor and fat, this is a coarsely ground, loosely packed, thick beef patty with enough savory meat juice to moisten the bun without becoming greasy. It comes with all the basics: choice of cheese, offbeat spreads (chipotle mayo) and veggies. Even those who don't relish the idea of relish may be tempted by the house-made mixture tinged with cinnamon, clove and sweet peppers. Get the bacon for an extra dollar (remember it's cash only): It's thick and brittle with a crispness that endures.
The bun is a standard brioche, but the toppings have been chosen for maximum impact; that's where the burger sings. Chef Evan Funke's tart, pickley, Thousand Island-esque dressing pulls it all together -- the sharp cheddar blanketing the burger, the caramelized onions, the heap of arugula. At $18, this is on the upper end of the gourmet burger price range, but that includes fries, which are among the best we've ever eaten.
When Greg Morris (The Spanish Kitchen, The Olive) offered a top-of-the-line burger for $11.50, he was issuing a challenge to all of L.A.'s high-end burgermeisters. Just off Beachwood Canyon, the cozy Oaks Gourmet Market is stocked with fancy victuals and obscure beers, which -- unfortunately -- cannot be imbibed on the premises. The crumbly, flavorful eight-ounce patty of dry-aged meat walks the line between the minimally seasoned and the heavily herbed. Plenty of burgers arrive blanketed in melted cheese, but here it's taleggio. The creamy texture and mellow, buttery flavor perfectly complement the sweetness of the smoked-jalapeño-and-pineapple compote. The burger's knockout punch is its ultrathick Black Forest bacon. A dichotomy of crisp and chewy with a hint of sweetness, is nothing less than genius.
Multiple Locations in Los Angeles, CA and Santa Monica, CA
Before every Los Angeles pub was "gastro," chef/owner Sang Yoon was hellbent on creating not just a better burger but the best burger. He came up with a formidable combination of sweet onion jam, Gruyere and Maytag blue cheeses, smoky bacon, arugula and tomato compote on top of dry-aged beef. Since then, everyone has either been imitating, trying to improve on or bellying up to the bar for a bite.
Chef Josef Centeno is known for aggressive flavors, and the $14 burger at his Lazy Ox Canteen is no meek, middle-of-the-road patty. Don't be fooled by its disarmingly petite stature. This vertical, not horizontal, beast rests on a toasted, house-made bun (a thing of beauty). Centeno's upscale take on classic toppings, including the bold choice of cantal, a tangy, sublime melting cheese, moves this chef-driven burger into the stratosphere. Prepared medium-rare, it has a concentrated, earthy flavor, reportedly from suet in the grind. No one puts a better char on a burger than the Lazy Ox. Savor the gratifying textural disparity between the rugged, singed exterior and the tender, pink interior. From a seat at the bar (the most entertaining spot in the house), watch as flame meets burger while you drink an esoteric beer from the Lazy Ox's carefully curated assortment.