I can has cheezburger?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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17 thoughts on “I can has cheezburger?

  1. No mention of Rush’s? I think the chilli cheeseburger ranks up there with the best I’ve had. Of course, Atlanta has its fair share of great burgers as well. Wall Street Journal ranked both The EARL and Ann’s Snack Shop (http://lauraturning30.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/day-thirteen-going-ghetto/) in their top 5 in the country. The Cowboy (burger topped with ham and bbq sauce) at the Vortex is still pretty great on those days when nothing but a food coma will do. I wasn’t a fan of Five Guys at first (too much hype?), but it’s growing on me for sure…

  2. Hey Patrick, I don’t think I’ve had the burger at The Earl. Will have to try it the next time I’m in town. The Vortex definitely ranks pretty high — somewhere in the Top 10.

    Rush’s, I’m not so sure. I guess I would give it the Best Columbia cult-classic award. It’s definitely better than most fast food burgers, including What-a-burger and Fatburger. How would you compare it to In-N-Out?

  3. The Vortex in Li’l 5 Perntz was indeed a fave when Criminal Records was at their old place. And Ray’s Hell Burgers in D.C. is better than Ray’s The Steaks, even. Speaking of Rush’s, please do a chicken sandwich and/or biscuit study next. To wit, the only one I think that could possibly one-up my own pleasure – the No. 3 from S. Truett Cathy’s Chic-fil-A (ATL represent, yet again!) – is the late, great P.D. Quix (née Cruiser’s) in Georgetown, South Carolina. Better still, they weren’t closed on Sundays!

  4. Logan, you guys on the East Coast are going to have to do the chicken biscuit ranking because as far as I can tell they are few and far between out here. Anyone in L.A. know a good place for a chicken biscuit, or a fried chicken sandwich will do?

  5. I don’t know about L.A., but I agree with Logan regarding Rush’s chicken sandwich, and P.D. Quix is sorely missed by many burger lovers in G’town.

    As for Chicago burgers, Kuma’s is amazing although not amazing enough to justify the usual 2 hour wait for a table. The Counter is also tasty. My favorite is actually at a little neighborhood restaurant called Yoshi’s. Burgers aren’t their specialty, but they have a very special burger. Yum!

    When you’re done with the burgers, head on over to Hot Doug’s for a dog and fries cooked in duck fat. Oh. My.

  6. Logan, I TOTALLY mentioned to Shellevator that Ray’s Hellburger in D.C. was among my favorites. But she, alas, has never had one, so she didn’t want to include it. Still, it’d say it warrants a spot in the top 10, for sure. I still want to try Elevation Burger (mostly East Coast, so not sure when that will happen), as well as Bobby’s Burger Palace in the Northeast (chef Bobby Flay’s take on the dish).

  7. I vote for Rockaway’s if you’re in Columbia.
    As a Nashville native, I must encourage you to try Rotier’s in Elliston Place for a grilled cheeseburger. Yes, the menu includes cheeseburger and grilled cheeseburger. Forget the regular cheeseburger as the latter comes on crispy, buttery toast rather than a bun. Pair it with fries and Coke in the traditional contour bottle.

  8. Five Guys is great, but the best burger I’ve had in a while came from Shake Shack in NYC.

    I guess I could also mention In and Out but I haven’t been there in a while.

  9. Sticking to just the LA area I would say Juicy Burger wins for best fast food burger and Go Burger at Hollywood & Vine for best gourmet burger. I have not tried every place mentioned so I hope someone proves me wrong when I try them : )

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