Sincere apologies for our protracted absence. We recently attempted (unsuccessfully so far) to transfer our blog to a new host. And while our Grubtrotters motto is “chow, fun,” we also spent the past month recovering from a decidedly un-fun family health crisis that coincided with our nation’s economic collapse. We’ll spare you the details, but aside from being homebound making soups and stews and wallowing in despair, it was not the wisest or most seemly time to be spending money eating out.
But things are looking up on all fronts. The country has hope, and so do we. Onward, as Victor says. So to mark our return, I thought I’d share some thoughts on a story I wrote for DineLA.com calledHamburgers — The Recession-Proof Food.
To research this story, I sampled burgers all over the city. I tasted the classic steakburger at Apple Pan, the frozen-in-time Westwood joint with its cranky counter men wearing paper hats. I tried Five Guys, the East Coast chain with a cult following rivaling that of In-N-Out here, which just opened its first SoCal spot in Carson. I tried two of the fancy 8 oz. burgers from Govind Armstrong, who breaks down the meat on premises and ages it in a Himalayan salt locker before grilling it over oak wood. I spent a pretty penny concocting something special at The Counter in Marina Del Rey. And of course, I have eaten the animal style burger at In-N-Out, the Fatburger, The Original Tommy’s dripping mess of a chili burger and the famous Father’s Office burger.
Each of these burgers has its charms. Father’s Office still wins the prize for best burger at any cost. However, I have a new pick for best gourmet burger at a value. And let’s face it, we’re all looking for a bargain these days. Unless you live in the neighborhood, you probably haven’t stumbled across Hole in the Wall burger joint in West Los Angeles. Believe me, the name is appropriate. The address is on Santa Monica Blvd, but it’s tucked behind a Winchell’s Donut shop in the strip mall on the southeast corner of Santa Monica and Sepulveda. To confuse you further, the entrance is actually on Bentley. You’d never find this place if you didn’t know it was there and might not even if you do.
But it’s worth the hunt. The owner, chef Bill Dertouzos, was the founder of Dainties Cupcakes, but he turned his attention to burgers when the cupcake competition grew too intense. “The city got flooded with cupcake stores, and every month I saw my market share cut in half,” says Dertouzos. Hole in the Wall shares space with his catering business, hence the odd location. The burgers here are not fast-food cheap, and you can’t get as many choices as you will find at The Counter. But the quality is incredible, and as Dertouzos points out, do you really need 300,000 burger combinations? He tried offering some fancier cheese options, such as brie, but they didn’t sell so well.
So now he sticks to the basics. You can get a beef, turkey or veggie burger on a pretzel, whole wheat or old-fashioned bun for $7.95. Pick from have a handful of topping options. Dertouzos makes his own pickles and condiments. The burgers are thick and delicious. The turkey burger, with its distinct fennel flavor, is so juicy that it’s hard to believe it’s turkey. His fries are made from Kennebec potatoes, and don’t get me started on the sweet potato fries. You’ll be eating it all at a casual sidewalk table.
I’m sure I won’t settle LA’s burger battle here. If you want your burger with gruyere in a fancy setting, head to The Counter with its modern decor and wine bar. If you want to step into the past and taste an old-fashioned classic, try Apple Pan. But if you want a great gourmet burger without the frills or the Father’s Office pricetag, head to Hole in the Wall. You heard it here. – Jenny.
–Hole in the Wall, 11058 Santa Monica Blvd., at South Bentley Ave., 310.312.7013
–Father’s Office, 1018 Montana Ave, Santa Monica, 310.736.2224; 3229 Helms Ave, Culver City, 310.736.2224
–Five Guys, 20700 Avalon Blvd, Carson, 310.515.7700
–In-N-Out, multiple locations, www.in-n-out.com
–The Apple Pan, 10801 W. Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, 310.475.3585
–8 oz. Burger Bar, 7661 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, 323.852.0008
–The Counter, 2901 Ocean Park Blvd, Santa Monica, 310.399.8383; 4786 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey, 310.827.8600
–The Original Tommy’s, multiple locations, www.originaltommys.com
Photo of a burger from The Counter