Just because our world is topsy-turvy and my favorite Memorial Day Pancake Breakfast has been cancelled does not mean that all traditions for the first true weekend of summer should be kicked to the curb.
We still have our burgers. And when you have great burgers, you’ve got the world by the tail. Of the eight burgers I’m mentioning here, all but one are available now for take-out or delivery.
Of course, a handful of our great chefs in town think an “old fashioned burger” should be more of a decadent celebration, too. So, I’m updating my list of Best Hamburgers in Laguna Beach this week just in case you, dear reader, feel the tug of a summery-minded culinary venture this weekend and beyond.
An Editorial Note:
Permit a few caveats before we begin this slippery slope of a review:
- I wasn’t able to try every hamburger in town. In fact, I mention three at the end of this article that came recommended by readers, but there just wasn’t enough time to digest eight burgers this week.
- The burgers in this column are considered gourmet burgers from dining establishments that are more well known for foodie fare above the humble burger.
- The list below is ranked alphabetically, period.
- You might have a favorite burger in one of our fine dining establishments that’s not mentioned here. I welcome your vote and commentary on this terribly serious subject at either my BestofLagunaBeach Instagram page or Facebook page.
Towering Edifices of Wonder
Even as Laguna Beach sports a number of great burger-centric restaurants, the chefs at our finer dining restaurants bow to the burger, too.
These chefs, though … they don’t make normal food, and they certainly don’t make normal hamburgers. I discovered towering edifices of wonder with unique combinations of ingredients and detailed preparation steps that would leave the ordinary backyard grill guy agog.
Grab your dinner napkins and let’s get started.
The AhbA Burger
AhbA is back! Chef/Owner Nick Bennett and uber-talented Chef Jayro Martinez quietly re-opened for take-out and curbside pick-up last week. Unassuming return and unassuming little café is where that word stops. The food at this place is some of the most memorable Laguna Beach has ever seen. Leave it to Chef Jayro to make a burger to equal all the rest of these great menu items.
Creation Date: August 2019
What makes the AhbA Burger memorable: Chef starts with two prime beef patties smothered in cheese. He adds a hefty dollop of caramelized sweet onions, which prove a perfect balance to the spicy surprise of sliced, pickled Fresno pepper rings and a scant slather of secret sauce aioli that warms you all the way to your toes.
AhbA Secrets: It’s all in the sauce, and Chef Jayro is not talking. You’re going to have to pry that one yourself.
GG’s Bistro Angus Burger
Better known for its popular Bistro Burger, GG’s was inspired in this COVID haze to add a winning newbie to its list.
Creation Date: May 2019
What makes the GG’s Angus Burger memorable: Personally, you can do no wrong with anything that resides inside a freshly-baked Brioche bun. The bun could be heavenly just on its own. This burger, though, holds up to the task with its “basics” being fresh Angus patty, lettuce, tomato, perky slices of red onion and yet another slather of secret sauce that no chef seems to want to share.
GG’s Secrets: Avocado slices, crispy bacon and sautéed mushrooms are offered as extras. I’d suggest getting them all. (It’s a holiday after all and avocado is good for dieters, ha.)
Lumberyard (Non-Meat) Beyond Burger
At first, I was a Doubting Thomas, I’ve got to admit. Lumberyard’s Beyond Burger is a non-meat gluten-free, soy-free and non-GMO solution that ranks in equal calories to a burger patty but provides as much protein and iron with less fat and saturated fat.
More important to me (the Foodie Queen) is that this burger looks, smells and tastes like a true-blue grilled hamburger.
Creation Date: Summer 2019
What makes the Lumberyard Beyond Burger memorable: When Owner Cary Redfearn predicted supply chain issues in the future, neither of us figured those chains would already be in trouble less than six months later. It’s part of the reason for his decision to carry the Beyond burger.
On the chew factor, it’s a little denser than your common burger patty. It’s more like biting into a ground sirloin burger. Its taste, though, is so closely matched to a backyard grill burger that you can’t even discern where the scientists at Beyond Burger tried to get it right. (I would have loved to have been a fly on that wall.)
Lumberyard’s Secrets: The Lumberyard serves it with a slather of tomato marmalade to keep the patty juicy, but I don’t detect the normal patty dryness that I’ve tasted in other “almost-beef” products. It even looks like a medium rare burger, compliments of a dash of beet juice in the manufacture.
Reunion Kitchen Classic Cheeseburger
Probably the highest tower of them all, Scott McIntosh’s Classic Cheeseburger is more like a national monument. Add optional avocado, bacon or fried egg, and you have a replica of The Leaning Tower of Pisa on your hands.
Creation Date: At his first Reunion Kitchen in Anaheim, Dec. 2013
What makes the Reunion Classic Cheeseburger memorable: A half-pound patty of ground chuck serves as the base to sliced tomato, thick house-made pickle slices, crisp lettuce, melted cheese (type of cheese is your option), and crispy fried onion strips with house sauce (a house-made, spicier version of Thousand Island dressing with the restaurant’s own secret pickle relish combo), slathered on both halves of the potato bun. Avocado, fried egg and bacon are optional add-ons (2 of the 3 are pictured in my photo).
Scott McIntosh’s Secrets: After selling many burgers at many different restaurants over the years, McIntosh learned a “French technique” while working with Restaurateur David Wilhelm at French 75.
“We served a ‘Butter Burger’ at French 75, which was actually stuffed with about a tablespoon of butter,” says McIntosh. “I carried that idea over with about a half tablespoon in our Reunion burger. It’s just enough that, when the patty hits the grill, the butter bubbles out and over and gives it that rich flavor.
This popular burger harkens back to that nostalgic taste of In-N-Out. Sometimes you just want a classic burger that’s just messy enough but can still be held in your hand without falling apart everywhere. Chef says he created this burger for people who have that ‘classic burger’ heart.”
Creation Date: May 2016
What makes the Skyloft Cheeseburger memorable: Two tenderized 4-ounce patties hard-seared on the griddle, two “just melty” slices of white American cheese, a rabble of small-diced fresh tomato, red onion and pickles, and crisp iceberg lettuce. It’s finished with a healthy slather of top-secret black peppercorn aioli on a cushy bun.
And, Definitely Bookmark Royal Hawaiian’s Burger When it Returns to the Menu
Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill’s burger is fantastic, ranking somewhere at the top of my list. It’s wood-grilled to perfection, then topped with complimentary love (and even an optional pineapple). I begged Chef Maro to put the burger back on his list for the Memorial Weekend, but he’s too busy cooking up all the other goodness you people keep ordering.
Also Worth Mentioning (That I Wasn’t Able To Try) …
The Oak Laguna Burger made with Wagyu beef. I tried – and enjoyed this – ages ago, but it’s time for a re-taste test.
The new Sapphire. Cellar.Craft.Cook Wagyu burger that pays homage to Chef Azmin’s famed burger.
Selanne Steak Tavern‘s “Flash” Burger, also fashioned with Wagyu beef.
I’m on these before Labor Day’s update!