Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Los Angeles' Best Eats...Eastside Edition-Part 3

See Part One here and Part two here.

The Best of L.A. food lists seem to stop at downtown. We're trying to rectify that by building a "best of list" for the east side of things...

There was a time, not too many years ago, where I was willing to make the not easy drive to the tip of the Palos Verdes peninsula, pay $10 to park, and then pay another $80 for lunch for the three of us.

Yes, the view (on top of an ocean bluff) was legendary (still is -Ed) and the service great but what really made this lunch worth the effort and every penny spent was a burger...the Nelson's burger at Nelson's grill at the Terranea Resort.

Five years ago, this burger would cost $16 dollars, with add-ons, ours came out to $19 but what a burger it was (pictured at top)...1/3 pound of prime ground beef, arugula, garlic aoli, thick slice of fresh beefsteak tomato, bleu cheese and two thick slices of applewood smoked bacon.  I know it sounds like anyone can make it but no one made it like Nelson's.

Now, you can't get it at any price.  A new chef came in, changed the burger (you may still see a 'Nelson's burger' on the menu but it's not the same, it's just the same kind of 'gourmet' burger you can get anywhere), and the best burger of our lives is just a memory. I'm not dropping $90 on a lunch for three that I can get pretty much anywhere for at least half the cost.

Luckily, we have a very worthy runner-up that will take on the responsibilities of the former winner and their best version is in the eastern stretches of our county.

Eureka! is a growing west coast chain (currently 22 locations) that make outstanding burgers and are committed to local and American suppliers. We've been to a few locations, and they're nice, but the best one is in the Village of the college town of Claremont, about 30 miles east of the Los Angeles City Hall.

Although there is a healthy list of outstanding burgers (all start at 1/3 pound but you can double that), there are two here that I really love.  The cowboy burger comes on a slightly toasted bun with housemade spicy beer barbecue sauce topped with two huge thick slices of applewood smoked bacon, cheddar, and a pile of crispy onion straws. You can tell that care was taken when you realize just how savory and juicy that patty of meat is. The onions and barbecue sauce bring to mind the smoky flavors of sitting around a bonfire at a summer beach party and you suddenly think "damn, that's one hell of a burger." Each burger is served with their very good shoestring fries but you can also upgrade to sweet potato fries, salad, soup, or mac 'n cheese balls for an extra two bucks.

The other burger, and to be fair this is really my favorite and Tim's favorite on the menu, is the sublime bone marrow burger. This is actually a very simple meal consisting of the patty, a roasted roma tomato, a slice of onion, and a kind of bone marrow butter spread across the top of the patty, served on a poppy seed bun. If you've enjoyed sucking the marrow out of the bones on a plate of osso buco, just imagine that fatty, buttery, beefy flavor spread across the top of the burger.  There's no need for cheese or other condiments, the marrow packs in so much flavor it renders everything else moot.

There's much more to enjoy here too on the burger menu along...the fig burger, the bison burger, the jalapeno egg burger...oh yeah, you can add a fried egg to any burger for an extra buck and a half...and a fine bleu cheese burger.

Along with that, there's another extensive menu of sandwiches, salads, steak, and ribs. There's a full bar..only craft beer is served (most of it from local breweries) and everything behind the bar (with the exception of their tequila) is all-American made.

Did I also mention it's fairly cheap? A cheeseburger with fries starts at $10.50. The cowboy burger is $12.50, the marrow burger is the most expensive burger on the menu at $16.50.  A daily 'hoppy hour' from 3-6 gives you a discount on the booze and appetizers, too. You can also take comfort in the fact that you didn't pay all that much for the best burgers you can get in Southern California at any price.

Moving along, I know just about everybody in the world has heard the legend of this burger but I'd truly be remiss if I did not include this definite eastside classic...the double-double from In 'n Out.

The massive family-owned chain, started by the Snyder family over 60 years ago in Baldwin Park...about 20 miles due east along the San Bernardino Freeway from downtown L.A...keeps things very simple. Two burgers, fries, sodas, and shakes. That makes up the entire menu. This allows them to streamline operations so that everything is as fresh as it can be. Famously, there are no freezers in any of the restaurants.

The signature burger, the double-double, comes with two patties (total makes up about a quarter pound), two slices of cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and thousand island sauce. Onions are optional and can be grilled diced, raw diced, or a whole raw slice. The other burger on the menu is the same with only one patty and one slice of cheese. It's all served on a toasted sponge-bread bun.  Very basic but very good at only $3.90.

A lot of people tell me "what about Shake Shack? what about the habit? what about Five Guys?" When any of those can make a decent burger for $3.90, I'll reconsider.

Famously, you can mix and match or change your burger to your heart's content. There is a very well known 'secret' menu. It's secret because it is not displayed on their menu boards but you can go online at the company's website to see it, it's at this link: In 'n Out Secret Menu.

While my wife likes hers just the way they come...with onions...Tim likes his animal style, minus the lettuce and tomato. I like mine with tomato, grilled onions, mustard and ketchup. If I'm extra hungry, I might also make mine a 3x3 (three patties and cheese). In 'n Out will make up to a 4x4, if you're hungry enough.

The French fries here are the subject of many debates. Some people love 'em and some don't. I'm on the 'don't' side of the ledger, so I skip them...and before you purists comment...yes, I have tried them 'well done.' Still not my cup of tea.

The shakes are very good. In fact, my perfect meal at In 'n Out is a double-double (or 3x3), made to the specifications outlined above, alongside their fabulous chocolate shake. That's my meal pictured above.

There are hundreds of locations in the western states but a lot of people make the pilgrimage to store #1 in Baldwin Park at the Francisquito exit of the San Bernardino Freeway. This is the location next to the company headquarters and is across the parking lot from IOU...In 'n Out University, a training center for managers...where there is also a well-stocked gift shop.

Some might be disappointed that it is a modern, dining room equipped location and not the original they were hoping to see. The original location is actually on the other side of the freeway. Unfortunately, the company demolished it in 2011. Fortunately, they built a replica on the same site and you can stop by for a selfie to post.  The closest original style In 'n Out to the Baldwin Park location is about a mile away at 15259 Amar Road in La Puente.

Well, I was going to do a couple of more restaurants in this chapter but I've rambled on enough about these delicious burgers. We'll continue this list next time.

Darryl Musick
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