The most highly anticipated event in the Young household on April 29 was not that wedding on the other side of the pond, but instead the arrival of Five Guys Burgers and Fries in L.A., an East Coast up-and-comer invading the land of the In-N-Out burger.
Kenley has, after all, ranked Five Guys’ grand opening in Columbia on a par with the day we got married. I think he’s being serious.
When we ordered, we gushed at the manager about how excited we were to have a Five Guys so near us. He said he had met many East Coast expats on opening day.
The burger was just as good as we remembered.
We should have gotten it for free since Kenley’s 2005 headline from The State newspaper back home — “Fine dining of hamburgers” — is now featured on Five Guys’ marketing materials.
The eatery’s arrival caused quite a stir on the L.A. food scene, where ranking, debating and defending the best burgers in town is a regular obsession.
In the weeks leading up to and after the arrival of Five Guys, Kenley and I taste-tested five notable burgers. Good timing, since May happens to be National Hamburger Month. Here’s our ranking:
- Father’s Office: Best gourmet burger. You’ll take the burger the way they make it (with caramelized onions, applewood bacon, gruyere, maytag blue cheese, arugula and no ketchup), and you’ll love it. Plus, you can rinse it down with a craft beer.
- Five Guys: Best good ol’ cheeseburger. The bread is delicious, the burger is a little crispy, and you can choose your own toppings, though I like mine plain. Bonus points for the peanuts while you wait, as well as the hands-down best fries.
- Counter Burger: Best variety. A fast-casual chain with locations on the East Coast where you get to pick your burger, cheese, toppings, sauce and bun. I like a turkey burger with brie and cranberries on top.
- In-N-Out: Best cult classic, with a not-so-secret menu. The tomatoes are always fresh, and the lettuce is never soggy. Much better than that other little Southern California native, McDonald’s.
- Umami: Best gourmet runner-up. GQ named the Umami burger as its Burger of the Year in December 2010. Umami offers you a choice of nine burgers. Their patties are juicy, and their homemade ketchup tops Heinz. However, the umami flavor seemed too rich and overpowering for my palate, and I prefer melted cheese to the cheese crisp on the top of their eponymous burger. (For those of you who aren’t married to a man who used to edit SmartBrief newsletters for the Culinary Institute of America, umami is the mysterious — and often contested — fifth taste, along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It is most simply described as “savory.” Umami-rich foods include beef, pork, tomatoes, soy sauce, shiitake mushrooms, truffles, Parmesan cheese, sweet potatoes — things often paired with burgers.)
We know we haven’t tried every great burger spot: Apple Pan, Comme Ca, The Foundry, etc. Kenley is especially excited about my discovery of Baby’s Badass Burgers, a food truck that features female servers in stilettos.
But in a nod to our Columbia, S.C., friends, we’ll always compare any burger we try to the late Five Points Diner burger (Kenley is shedding a tear), and Rockaways will always hold a special place in our hearts for its pimento-cheese yumminess. Pawley’s Porch also ranks up there and has a similar concept as Counter Burger, with a Lowcountry twist.
Poe’s in Charleston, S.C., and Good Stuff Eatery in Washington, D.C., also rank in my Top 10 burgers in the country.
Neither Fatburger nor Texas’ What-a-burger — which we tried on our drive out here — makes the cut.
How about you? Who boasts the best burger? Enter the debate by leaving your comments below.