Mai Tai Tom & Tracy’s Best Burgers: 2021/2022
May is National Hamburger Month and, just for our loyal subscribers and readers, Tracy and I have consumed quite a few burgers throughout the past year, compiling a list of our favorites and adding a few extra pounds along the way.
Because Southern California (Baldwin Park) is home to the original In-N-Out Burger, we naturally had to mention it, although at the risk of sparking a controversy, it is not our favorite burger. That being said, every few months I do have an urge to wait a half hour in line for one. Call it habit.
Speaking of habit, our favorite go-to fast food burger is … Habit Burger! HB is a chain restaurant which originated in Santa Barbara, California, in 1969. I recommend the Teriyaki Charburger (grilled pineapple, teriyaki sauce, crisp lettuce, fresh tomato, caramelized onions, pickle, and mayo on a toasted bun). Of course, I pass on the pickle. Tracy loves their tempura green beans. AND you can get a Habit Burger at 5:30 a.m. at LAX for pre-flight fueling. Nothing like a burger before a 12-hour flight.
While it may seem like all we do is eat, we couldn’t possibly taste all the burgers out there, so for better or worse, here are the ones we feel are worth the calories:
HiHo Cheeseburger – Santa Monica – January 2022: Hi-Ho Burger, away!!!! THE BEST BURGER we have tasted yet. 100% grass fed Wagyu beef with cheese, ketchup and pickles. Simple perfection. And, amazingly, not too filling. There are only 3 choices – the HiHo Cheeseburger, Classic Cheeseburger and the Vegetarian HiHo. We both went with the mustard-grilled HiHo Cheeseburger, double patties with cheese, ketchup, onion jam, lettuce, and house-made pickles (none for me, thank you).
For $1.50 extra you can Make it Spicy, which is what Tracy ordered, but whatever the spicy ingredient was, she didn’t even notice (then again, Tracy eats Calabrian chiles out of the jar so maybe her taste buds are muted). There is outdoor seating on the street, which is where we dined with Remi. Plenty of street parking and parking garages nearby.
And the fries? Stupendous. The fries are served in an ingenious bag with holes so they don’t get steamed and remain crunchy and golden delicious. We shared the fries but I would recommend getting your own order. However, sharing did leave room for a slice of the Key Lime Pie, which was pretty darn good, too. It’s not overly tart, like so many Key Lime pies can be, and has a thick graham cracker crust. We don’t even want to think about how many calories we consumed on this outing … but we’ll definitely be back!
The Spot – Carpinteria – February 2022: The Spot is well worth the drive to Carpenteria and is a close second in our informal poll. Allegedly Julia Child told a famed L.A. Times TV critic that the burgers here were fantastic. Never doubt Julia.
The Spot still steams their buns, and the secret sauce puts it over the top.
To go with the burger, we were undecided on french fries or onion rings. No problem. They have a combo bag of both. We have to return sometime for the Banana-Chocolate Chip milk shake which gets rave reviews.
Here’s the rest of the best burgers (in alphabetical order) we’ve had in the past year or so.
Bob’s Big Boy – Toluca Lake/Burbank – Often: I’ve been going to Bob’s since the 1960s, and it remains a favorite of mine to this day. Known as “The home of the Double-Deck Hamburger,” when you have a craving for Bob’s, you have to go. Just one bite into those “never frozen” burgers, lettuce, cheese, mayo and special red relish, and I’m in heaven.
The Cave – Camarillo – April 2021 & November 2021: Loved the Ventura Cave Burger; half pound all-beef patty, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and basil aioli with French fries. If you are not in the mood for a burger, try The Cave’s Crabby Patty Sliders; 3 sliders with warm crab salad on a brioche bun with spicy aioli and julienne romaine.
Clark Street Bakery – Echo Park – June 2021: Where can you get a tasty burger at 7:30 in the morning (besides LAX)? Clark Street Bakery. Featuring “Marin Sun Farms organic beef, American cheese, lettuce, heirloom tomato, red onion, pickles & special sauce” all served on a fresh house-baked sesame seed bun. This burger literally oozes cheese and deliciousness. If you aren’t feeling a burger for breakfast, there are plenty of fabulous baked goods and breakfast items available. We took a Cheddar & Chive scone and a snickerdoodle cookie to go. Come early as parking is very, very limited.Dog Haus – Pasadena – Numerous times (and many locations): Since Pasadena is where the cheeseburger was invented (sorry pretenders!), that’s what we usually order at the Dog Haus. My favorite (right): The Holy Aioli; White American cheese, smoked bacon, caramelized onions and garlic aioli on that scrumptious King’s Hawaiian bun (photo from its website).
Everson Royce Bar – DTLA – June 2021: Thanks to a gift card from subscriber, Jenny (thanks!), we traveled to DTLA to try the burger voted among the best by the Infatuation. Unfortunately, due to Tracy’s failure to read the fine print, the gift card is only good at the wine store, not the restaurant, but the burger was good. A simple burger topped with Tillamook cheddar (we stopped by the factory when in Oregon) …
… and mayo that allows the burger to shine (not the prettiest burger, but plenty tasty).
Plus, the outdoor patio was a nice place to spend 90 minutes. Yes, there is a 90-minute limit. They write the time of your arrival on your table. Not sure if this is a Covid issue or if they just want to flip tables, but still worth a stop if you are in the area. There is a parking lot next door.
Father’s Office – Culver City – March 2021: I have to confess we went here originally because we were intrigued by the “No children or under-21; no ketchup; no substitutions” rules. Plus, the Culver City location is in the Historic Helms Bakery District.
A hamburger without ketchup you ask? This burger is topped with caramelized onions, bacon compote, a Gruyere and Maytag blue cheese combo and finished with a sprinkling of peppery arugula resulting in a salty sweet combination that definitely does not need ketchup.
We had a side of skinny crunchy fries sprinkled with herbs, some delicious deviled eggs and garlic parsley aioli and a colorful salad.
Father’s Office original location is in Santa Monica.
Spoke Café – Frogtown, Los Angeles – Many Times: We love this place which serves breakfast and lunch all day and has a dog-friendly patio. We tried both their burgers. I ordered the Spoke Burger made with grass-fed California beef, aged cheddar, applewood-smoked bacon, lettuce, heirloom tomato, pickled onions and special sauce.
In a surprise move, Tracy ordered the Spoke House-Made Veggie Burger which is a smoked mushroom and beet patty with tempeh bacon, arugula, heirloom tomato and garlic aioli. This “burger” was so delicious, even I liked it. If it wasn’t for the mouth-watering Spoke Burger sitting in front of me, I may have ordered the Veggie Burger.
The burgers are served on a vegan brioche bun from Bub & Grandma’s (best bread in LA!) and come with a side salad or the waffle fries. Get the waffle fries, you won’t be disappointed. This is a place Remi and her late, great brother Frankie loved to visit.
The Stand – Pasadena – April 2021: There are so many burgers and options to choose from on this menu that it is a tad overwhelming. Fortunately, they have a list of burger combinations posted on the wall to help you decide. I went with the (rather decadent) French Onion Soup Burger, a double patty smothered in grilled red wine onions, crispy onion strings and gruyere topped with a parmesan-crusted bun and served with a side of onion soup au jus for dipping. Tracy opted for the original Stand Burger featuring grilled onions, lettuce, tomato pickles and the Stand burger sauce with a perfectly toasted brioche bun. Both were terrific!
Last but not least, I would be remiss for not giving a shoutout to a couple of burger joints we ate at on our journey to Oregon in May 2021.
A&W – Florence – May 2021: A nostalgic stop for sure. Like Bob’s, Tracy and I grew up with A&W burgers. Although, they no longer serve our favorite (the Mama Burger), the Papa Burger (“two juicy 100% U.S. Beef patties with two slices of melted American cheese, finished off with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and classic A&W Papa Sauce all on a lightly toasted bun”) was a tasty substitute (last photo of post). Oh, and that root beer float I remembered from my youth. Refreshing!
MaiTai Tom Fun Fact: “A&W started as a root beer stand in Lodi, California, in 1919, and in 1963 became the first chain restaurant to serve a bacon cheeseburger! And, for you rock and roll music lovers out there, Bob Seger wrote portions of ‘Night Moves’ at a Michigan A&W drive-in.
Phil’s Frosty – Shady Cove – May 2021: Phil’s Frosty, in the tiny town of Shady Cove, was a great stop after we worked up an appetite visiting nearby Crater Lake. A delicious burger that hit the spot, but it seems our big mistake here was not ordering the ice cream as a trucker stopped in the middle of the road just to pick up a cone. They must be darn good cones.
Public Coast Brewing Company – Cannon Beach – May 2021: An Oregon Grass-Fed Beef Burger was a great lunch choice here. “Slapped on a brioche bun with our twist on classic mayo (a sweet + savory bacon jam spread), plus cheddar, sweet onion, lettuce, and tomato,” this burger fit the bill perfectly.
… our group tried two burgers (lamb and fish), both garnering rave reviews.
Of course, if you don’t want to go out and prefer to make your own burger, try the Bacon Burger with Pancetta and Balsamic Onion Jam or the Pork Burgers with Chorizo Seasonings and Radish and Jicama Slaw with Lime Vinaigrette (below) from MaiTai Tracy’s Kitchen. Both are terrific if I do say so myself!
We have already started on our next great burger quest for May 2023.
I’ll be sure to ask for extra napkins.