This is going to come off as bragging, and that’s because I totally am. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to eat at some of the top-rated restaurants in the world (The French Laundry, Tallivent, Joul Robuchon, Le Bernadin). As amazing and unique as these experiences were, there is still nothing more fulfilling than a delicious, well-made burger. I have spent a great deal of time and energy (I have very few friends) examining and investigating the plethora of great burger options in Orange County. My (life) goal is to find the top steamed hams that rise above mere grilled meat on toasted bread, combining flavors both sweet and savory into a fugue of epicurean delight. Every Friday for a 3-part roundup, I’ll be sharing my findings with you chosen few — culminating in a definitive ranking that we will all have to live by for years to come. Let’s get to it…
If you’re like me and you try to be privy to all the new shit concerning local burger happenings, you’ve no doubt heard of Peter’s Gourmade Grill. Truly a hidden gem, they recently moved out of their former gas station haunt to a real (tiny) restaurant space. Long lines around lunchtime are a guarantee, but what makes it worthwhile is their ABC Burger (avocado, bacon, and cheddar). Thick-sliced smoked bacon nestled in a gooey shredding of cheddar stuck to a hand-formed lacy-edged Angus beef patty, all topped with sliced avocado and tomato and wrapped in a toasted potato bun. From the first bite to the last, you know this thing was made with love. Also fat, but mostly, love.
14311 Newport Avenue, Ste. A, Tustin
Having just opened a few weeks ago, OC’s first Umami is already garnering diehard fans. I, for one, have no idea why. Maybe I’m bitter at their taking over the space previously occupied by my beloved Valhalla Table, or maybe it’s because they’re all hype. Their signature burger is (surprise!) the Umami Burger; caramelized onions, shitake mushrooms, and a parmesan crisp sit atop a bland puck of beef served in a brioche bun. For a (supposedly) hand-formed patty, the meat was too tightly packed, adding dryness to the ever-growing list of issues, the most glaring being a complete lack of savor, or “umami” if you will. Oh, and they brand the top of their buns with their logo. Nope.
2981 Bristol Street (The Camp), Costa Mesa
Known as the most viable alternative to In N Out, The Habit chain serves up some pretty decent burgers. Their charburger lives up to the name: hefty specks of carbon dot a blackened, non-greasy patty. The thin mayonaisse smear on the bottom of the moist, eggy buns, the choice of cheeses and the condiment bar are a plus. What keeps me coming back is the smokiness of each juicy burger they make to order. That’s real umami.
2789 North Main Street, Santa Ana
I’ve been told repeatedly by some friends that the burger here is really good, and after trying the Kobe burger here, I now have less friends than I started out with because those people are dead to me. The patty here is thick, sure, but it’s dry and overly peppery, almost like a steak. Every other aspect of it is great: 2 slices of cheese, thousand island, proper caramelized onions, fresh veggies, solid bun. But if the meat’s no good (pretty sure it’s not Kobe beef), then what’s the point?
Irvine Spectrum, Fashion Island, Pretty Much Everywhere
Speaking of Kobe beef, the Kobe burger at the Beachcomber Cafe in Newport Coast was my absolute favorite burger in the county for about 2 years. It’s just…sinfully good. Cooked medium well, it tastes fresh, fatty, and is, for lack of a better word, huge. The downside is that it can leave you feeling overly full on occasion: with bacon, lettuce, red onions, tomatoes, cheese, coleslaw, and fries along for the ride, it’s like a vacation of excess in your stomach. Highly recommended (in moderation).
15 Crystal Cove, Newport Coast (walk or $1 shuttle down to the beach)
See you next week with the next OC Burger Roundup!