This week, July 11th – 17th, launches “Burger Week” across Orange County, Long Beach and L.A. County. All told, about 80 restaurants and chains are participating.
In Laguna Beach, exactly ONE restaurant is participating. Sapphire. Cellar. Craft. Cook is featuring their famed best-seller, the Wagyu Beef Burger. Sapphire’s talented Chef Jared Cook has pulled out all the stops, with Spanish cheddar cheese, sweet gem lettuce, house made pickles, shaved onion, hot house tomato and a secret sauce. Piled all together in a soft challah bun, it is certainly a crowning moment for burgers everywhere.
And, as Sapphire is known to do, the team has paired the Wagyu with a specialty cocktail just for Burger Week. “Dad’s Root Beer” is a frothy blend of Old Forester bourbon, house-made root simple, sweet vermouth, amaro and cinnamon “smoke.” (I think the smoke alone is worth a curious try, don’t you?)
The Other Great Burgers in Laguna Beach
Granted, these busy summer months have likely kept some Laguna restaurateurs from participating in Burger Week. In the spirit of all things burgers, however, I figured I’d roll out my personal “Best of Laguna Beach” favorites so that we can all enjoy this great American past time. (And yes, Sapphire’s Wagyu definitely made my list.)
I find that my readers are extremely opinionated about burgers, tacos and soup in this town, so please permit me a few caveats before I 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 more than 10 burgers this week.
- The burgers in this column are considered gourmet burgers from dining establishments that are more well known for foodie fare.
- I’m telling you my absolute favorite first. Then, the list is ranked alphabetically, period.
My Favorite Burger: Royal Hawaiian
Leave it to our resident Argentinian chef (read: meat specialist) Chef Maro Molteni, to craft a supreme gift to us all, the Royal Hawaiian Burger.
Because so many people ask for substitutions on their burgers, and in the interest of keeping his busy kitchen moving smoothly along, Chef Maro only offers this burger at lunch. (If we all stop asking for substitutions, we might be rewarded with the burger’s return to the dinner menu.) For me, I don’t ask for a single substitution or removal of any item because this is sheer, unadulterated craftsmanship.
Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill’s burger is wood grilled to perfection, then topped with bacon, beefsteak tomato, plenty of pickles, iceberg, lettuce, pickled red onions and cave-aged white cheddar cheese. The slather of house made garlic aioli is an impeccable finish.
“I just want to put everything together that tastes good together so …there’s a lot of stuff on this burger,” said Chef Maro with a shrug. “It’s what we do.”
The Other Fabulous Burgers in Town Starting With “AHHHH”
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 Owner Nick Bennett says his burger is one of the top two sellers on the menu. Small wonder as this spicy gem is a memorable one.
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 slather of spicy secret sauce aioli that warms you all the way to your toes.
GG’s Bistro Burger
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.
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.
When Owner Cary Redfearn predicted supply chain issues in 2019, neither of us figured those chains would already be in trouble less than a year 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.)
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. Topped with crisp lettuce, sprouts and tomato, it’s a hearty, fulfilling bite.
(For the record, Lumberyard’s Half Pound Angus Chuck Cheeseburger is still one of my reigning favorites, too, and I believe it’s the only restaurant to serve my favorite on cheeseburgers – melty blue cheese.)
Reunion Kitchen Classic Cheeseburger
Probably the highest tower of them all, Scott McIntosh’s Classic Cheeseburger at Reunion Kitchen 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.
A half-pound patty of ground chuck serves as the base to sliced tomato, house-made pickle slices, crisp lettuce, melted cheese and crispy fried onion strips with house sauce (a spicier version of Thousand Island dressing). Avocado, fried egg and bacon are optional add-ons (2 of the 3 are pictured in my photo).
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 to our Reunion burger. 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 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.”
The burger is made up of 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.
Other Burger Votes …
As noted, I haven’t yet been able to try these popular votes from my Best of Laguna community readers, but they’re definitely worth a visit and a comment in my social.
Harley Laguna Beach’s Double Cheeseburger. Yet another sizable stack, Chef Greg’s burger is two hearty slabs of Niman Ranch beef with Tillamook cheddar, lettuce, tomato and onion served on a potato bun.
Oak Laguna Beach’s Oak Burger. I’ve heard people fairly faint in rhapsody over this one. Chef Chris stacks Wagyu beef, jack cheese, tomato and pickled onion on a house made Thousand Island-slathered bun. Add fried egg, bacon or avocado mousse as extras.
Selanne Steak Tavern’s “Flash” Burger. This is an 8-ounce wagyu blend burger with baconaise, white Tillamook cheddar, tomato, arugula and what Chef calls “angry onions.”