After months of drooling over the hedonistically obscene images of burgers, tacos and other meat and carb pornography my friends had been sending me, I finally had the chance to check out the source of their obsession: LA Burger.
Along with a whimsical selection of traditionally western burgers, the restaurant, from fraternal owners Ben and John Lee, have put together a menu that's equal parts playful and traditional, offering Korean-inspired tacos and sandwiches.
Portions at LA Burger range from decent to monstrous; even the three salads offered at the casual order-at-the-counter joint are impressively generous. Why waste time on salads, however, when the gist of the restaurant leans towards the gluttonous.
After wading through the options of salmon burgers, chili cheeseburgers, Cali burgers, and "Seoul" dogs (hotdogs covered in Korean beef bulgogi and kimchi), co-owner John suggested I try the ultimate house specialty burger, the LA Burger. A combination of the Cali Burger (with its over-easy egg and cheddar) and the Kimchi burger (with fried kimchi and secret spicy sauce), John assured me it would be the best of both worlds. I was a bit suspicious about the kimchi, but I happily complied and added on an order of tacos for good measure.
The tacos, as well as the hogi, come with a choice of bulgogi, a Korean pork dejigogi or chicken. For $4.95, there are three tacos per order, and one can mix and match to get all three meats per order. I opted for the bulgogi and the pork dejigogi.
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When my dishes arrived, I couldn't help but notice the contrast of the zen-like neatness of the tacos and the almost-comical sloppiness of the burger. Both were beautiful in their different ways, but the burger's intimidation factor pushed me to try the tacos first. The bulgogi was sweet and savory, but somewhat delicate in flavor. I could almost understand why a friend who had previously tried the mildly flavored beef on the hogi had suggested I opt for the taco instead. The beef wouldn't stand a chance against a thick French roll. The pork deji, on the other hand, is a different story. A bite of the deji taco sent my palate to crack-like induced pleasure and back. It was a fireworks of spicy, sweet, salty and pork! (Days after this bliss-filled experience, I was still kicking myself for not ordering a deji hogi to try.) Although the deji packed the more powerful flavor punch, both tacos were surprisingly simple-tasting despite the complexity of the meats' seasonings. This is a compliment. The tacos consist of a small heap of meat on corn tortillas, sprinkled with fresh onion and cilantro and finished off with the restaurant's secret sauces. A squeeze of lime brightens all the ingredients.
When one of the brothers, Ben, came by to check on my meal, I tried to snoop out his secret behind the sauces and seasonings for the meat. Although I wasn't successful in finding out the goods, he did stay to chat about his and his brother's inspiration. Having grown up in Los Angeles, the brothers were surrounded by Korean tacos. Ben explained that every Korean family has its own secret recipes and marinades for its meats. He was just lucky enough to inherit fine ones to incorporate into his restaurant. As for how LA Burger likes their tacos, he explained, "Mexicans know how they like their tacos. Simple. Meat, a little bit of onion, cilantro, lime. That's it. We just wanted to combine the best of both worlds and leave everything else alone." The formula works.
As for the insane burger, once I tackled it, the kimchi made complete sense. I had feared that the fermented cabbage would be too pungent and would overwhelm the other ingredients, but it did not. The frying and oiliness of the kimchi took the power of the flavor down a notch and added a nice acidity (akin to a salty pickle) to the burger. In keeping with LA Burger's streak of seasoning meats nicely, the Angus beef patty was a tad on the salty side, but in a good way. Many burger places that stack on ancillary ingredients tend to use the patty as a vessel nowadays, but the slight saltiness of LA Burger's ground beef reminds the diner that it's all about the beef, after all. Jalapenos and a secret spicy red sauce add a hint of smokiness, but the heat of the spiciness is mild and doesn't distract. Be warned that between all the sauces, the runny egg, the cheddar, and the grease, the burgers can get very messy and aren't for tidy eaters. The restaurant's buns do their best to contain the mess, but it's an unwinnable battle. Grab a spoon, an extra bun, or lick your hands to sop up all that good stuff. You might hate yourself after this meal, but it's going to feel so good at the time that you might just not care.
10045 N. MacArthur Blvd., Ste 113