This past week, after receiving numerous suggestions from Facebook readers, I began my search for The Best Hamburgers in Laguna Beach. (I also increased my number of spin classes at the Art of Fitness, I’ll have you know.)
Now, a brief editorial note: I’ve learned from my blogging years that people form very firm opinions on this sort of subject matter, and I’d prefer that I not be stoned in the streets. So, permit a few caveats before we begin this slippery slope of a review:
- My focus was on gourmet hamburgers you don’t expect to find in our finer dining establishments.
- I wasn’t able to try every hamburger (or veggie burger) in town.
- These are ranked alphabetically. I’m giving you four favorites and that’s all the further I’m going to venture in pecking order.
- Yes, we have a number of great vegetarian and vegan burgers in town that are worthy of their own column.
- You might have a favorite burger in one of our fine dining establishments that’s not mentioned here. We welcome your vote and commentary on this terribly serious subject at our Best of Laguna Beach Facebook page.
There are four hamburgers you definitely need to know about in Laguna Beach. Find a way to try each of these, and consider incorporating their finer nuances into your own backyard burgers this summer season.
Towering Edifices of Wonder
“When I came to the U.S. and took over this restaurant, I knew I had to add a hamburger to the menu,” says Thomas Crijns, the Chef and Chief Proprietor of Brussels Bistro. “You cannot operate a restaurant in the USA and forget about the burger.”
No truer words could be said.
Even as Laguna Beach sports a number of great burger-centric restaurants – Umami Burger, Johnny Rockets, Hennessey’s Tavern, Hearties, Ruby’s Diner and the venerable Husky Boy Burgers – you’ll find that the chefs at every fine dining restaurant in town bow to the burger, too.
These chefs, though … they don’t make normal food, and they certainly don’t make normal hamburgers. What I discovered this week in my Best Burger Search were 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 on the best hamburgers in Laguna Beach:
Brussels Bistro’s 10-Ounce Burger
This fabulous mother lode burger starts with 10 ounces of Angus ground chuck “with 15% fat to keep it juicy and wonderful,” says Chef Thomas.
Creation date: June 2004 when Chef Thomas took over the kitchen.
Any changes to the burger since then? Not one.
Sold per week: 80-100. (The burger is somewhat overshadowed with Brussels Bistro’s bestseller – 400 pounds of mussels weekly. I think this burger deserves more crowd love, assuredly.)
What makes the Bistro Burger’s towering edifice: Gruyere cheese, Belgium endive, caramelized onions and Bibb lettuce on a freshly baked Ciabatta bun.
Chef Thomas’ Secrets: Chef Thomas chose Gruyere cheese for added flavor, and caramelizes both the Belgium endive and the onions. “Belgium endive has a nice bite to it, and when you caramelize it, the endive takes on this deep richness that contrasts perfectly with the Gruyere,” he says.
Thomas chose a fresh-baked Ciabatta bun “to sop up some of those hamburger drippings without melting away to sogginess.” A fantastic choice on his part.
Served with: Brussel’s Burger is served with Belgian fries. If you’ve ever visited Belgium, you know that “frit kots” (food trucks devoted strictly to Belgian fries) circle the cities endlessly. Belgian fries are something of a national monument and are always prepared the same way – cooked once at 160 degrees Celsius (320 F), and then again at 180 degrees Celsius (356 F), each at a rigorously set time. The end result is a perfectly crispy, but not too crispy fry.
Chef Thomas serves the burger and fries with a tossed salad, a ramekin of ketchup and a ramekin of house made cocktail sauce devised of ketchup, mayonnaise and whiskey. (Yep, you read that right.)
The Lumberyard’s Signature Burger
Waddling due east on Forest Avenue from Brussels Bistro, I find my way to the Lumberyard (which many local foodie fans refer to as “The Yumberyard.”)
At y request, Owner Cary Redfearn and Chef Armando Ortega whip up their Signature Burger, a half-pound Angus ground chuck that is probably the prettiest burger I’ve seen.
Creation date: Day 1, 2008 when the restaurant opened.
Any changes to the burger since then? Not one.
Sold per week: 200+
What makes the Lumberyard Signature’s towering edifice: Bleu cheese, Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, bacon, mushroom chips, Bibb lettuce and fresh slices of tomato on a lightly toasted, freshly baked wheat bun.
Chef Armando’s Secrets: Chef Armando’s unusual mix of Bleu and Swiss cheeses creates a union happier than any past, present or future détente between France and Switzerland.
He also flash fries fresh mushrooms into “chips,” which provides an “earthier, mellower balance to the cheeses.” The caramelized onions are Sweet Vidalia, to add yet another nuance of mellow, nutty sweetness to the cheeses. And, the star of the show – Nueske Bacon from Wisconsin – drapes the burger in glory. “There’s nothing like Nueske,” says Redfearn. “It’s double-thick Applewood smoked bacon and it goes with everything. It’s magical stuff.”
Served with: Your choice of sweet potato fries or steak fries, both of which are beautiful additions
Three Seventy Common Kitchen’s 10-Napkin Burger
If you’ve ever wondered why 370 Common gives you a cloth dinner napkin the size of a dishtowel, it’s because of this burger. Chef Ryan wasn’t kidding when he named this signature dish, as it’s heavenly drippiness for all the right reasons.
The burger itself is an all-natural proprietary blend of ground chuck, skirt steak, short ribs and hanger steak. It’s ground fresh daily in the restaurant, and they will never tell you the percentages of meats used, so don’t even ask.
Creation Date: Shortly after re-opening as 370 Common, Chef Ryan Adams added this burger to the foodie-famous menu as “it was the burger I was always prepping for myself at the end of a shift,” he says.
Any changes to the burger since? The fried egg was added shortly thereafter.
Sold per week: 100-150
What makes the 370 10-Napkin Burger’s towering edifice: White cheddar, arugula, fried egg, smoked bacon, mushrooms, roasted chile, caramelized onions, and Chef’s secret aioli sauce on a freshly baked potato bun.
Chef Ryan’s Secrets: For starters, if you’re definitely not a fan of eggs, you can ask to have it omitted. If, however, you haven’t ever tried a fried egg on your hamburger, it’s time to take the leap. Its flavorful addition is beyond the word “sublime.”
The chile is an authentic Hatch, New Mexico fire-roasted chile, and this is no dinky chile. Its smoky goodness blends perfectly with the sautéed mushrooms and all-natural Applewood bacon. The 2-year-aged white cheddar comes from the Grafton village of Vermont, chosen specifically for its high butterfat and mellow smoothness. “It has the perfect melting point for our burger,” says Lori McLean, the restaurant’s supervisor.
Served with: Hand-cut fries (deadly good) and house made spicy ketchup.
Sapphire Pantry & Sapphire Restaurant’s Kobe Beef Cheeseburger
This last in our decadent burger review began quietly at Sapphire Restaurant’s shop next door, The Sapphire Pantry. Its popularity exploded to such an extent that Chef Azmin Ghahreman was quick to add it to the restaurant menu, too.
The real love here starts with the beef itself. This is Snake River Farms Kobe beef, where cows are given daily neck massages and guzzle beer. The Japanese culture “invented” Kobe beef on the belief that happy cows made for stellar meat. Having tried this burger, I’m all for happy cows.
Creation Date: Day 1, 2007 when the restaurant opened.
Any changes to the burger since? Not one.
Sold per week: 200-250
What makes the Kobe Cheeseburger’s towering edifice: Havarti cheese, caramelized onion, fresh arugula, Heirloom tomato on a brioche bun.
Chef Azmin’s Secrets: Azmin tops his happy beef with a thick slice of Havarti cheese “because its mild creaminess melds so nicely with the bite of the arugula,” says Mitch Gillan, Azmin’s Chef de Cuisine.
Azmin is all about contrast. Sweet caramelized onions set atop the mild Heirloom tomato slices, while the buttery, sweet Brioche bun is brushed with a house made Dijon aioli.
Served with: House made dill pickle and thin-cut garlic fries (I gobbled two handfuls before I was able to consciously slap myself into putting the fries down.)
Far From a Last Resort
Any time you venture into a finer dining establishment, I know it can be terribly hard to think of ordering something as mundane as a hamburger when there’s all that other glory on the menu to be had. Remember, though – if this Chef has foodie talent, you can bet his house burger is a far cry from a snoozer. Really … it’s your patriotic duty to give these burgers a try.
Brussels Bistro, 222 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, CA. 92651 (949) 376-7955
The Lumberyard, 384 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, CA. 92651 (949) 715-3900
370 Common, 370 Glenneyre Street, Laguna Beach, CA. 92651 (949) 494-8686
Sapphire Restaurant & Pantry, 1200 S. Coast Highway, #101, Laguna Beach, CA. 92651 (949) 715-9888