If GQ Says You Must, Then Pack Your Bags for Burgers

GQ July 2005 Issue, The Twenty Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die by Alan Richman
It’s been two months now since the July 2005 issue of GQ has been out, but I am only just now getting to gather my thoughts about it. On the cover, it’s all-American girl, Jessica Simpson in a very patriotic barely-kini, dogtags nestled between…blue and white stars on one little triangle, red and white stripes on the other, and a pair of camoflouge cargo pants unzipped and hanging by a thread to her hips. Awww, isn’t she super cute and confused, donning military camo, but holding up a peace sign? ;) Oh well, the July issue probably sold out of newsstands pretty fast anyway.

GQ July 2005, Cheezboiger! Cheezboiger! In Search of the Greatest Hamburger in the Nation
burgers in the shadow of jessica’s bikini clad body

I will admit to loving this girl, but Mrs. Lachey is not the reason I have a copy of a men’s magazine on my desk. I don’t read that many magazines to begin with, and after Bon Appetit this month, well, I can now safely say I will not be read any at all. (Don’t ask about the stack of FHMs in the corner – they are not mine.) When it doesn’t make me too mad to put logical, coherent thoughts together, I will post my feelings about the September 2005 Bon Appetit issue in a few days, but for now, I’ll just hint at the subject: LA and sushi. *breathe* I don’t even want to get started right now.

So it’s about GQ’s July 2005. Way down in the lower right hand corner of the cover, there’s a tiny headline that I can’t even imagine any guy who actually reads GQ would care about – “Cheezboiger! Cheezboiger! In Search of the Greatest Hamburger.” To think that all this time, I thought Alan Richman just fell off the face of the earth after co-hosting a tv show about restaurants. That was eons ago – and I must have been a newborn at the time ;) No, Alan Richman, now a “GQ correspondent,” travels the country, samples hundreds of hamburgers, and picks not just the Top Twenty, but the Twenty You Must Eat Before You Die. Wow. Before I die? That’s pretty intense. And I thought I was melodramatic and hyperbolic.

Before I even opened the magazine, I thought that the article would simply catapult me into an amateur discourse on all things burger-theticcal, which I have attempted a few times with to-dine lists for burgers in L.A. and other such things related to purple dinosaurs. Certainly, in my mind, I can envision the perfect burger – hundreds of tiny gems of choice ground beef softly packed into one thick jewel, not so much a thin, uniform patty, but more a just barely flattened softball; the meat perspiring a simple shimmery pink potion that is one third gravy juices, one third shiny translucent grease and one third pure blood, that soaks into the bun that’s been daubed with butter then toasted to golden tan on the outside but at soft and sweet as Wonder sanwich white on the inside. On top, there is cheese, right at the oozing point that it starts to take on the divots and bumps in the texture of the ground beef, edges of the cheese just beginning to curl over and hug the edge of patty. Thinly sliced onions made caramel sweet on the grill, juicy red tomatoes, fresh crisp iceberg lettuce, and if I’m feeling especially naughty, slathered all over with creamy dreamy white mayo, swirled with spicy mustard.

GQ July 2005, number 15 the counter, santa monica
build your own burger at the counter

The article talks about burgers, what Alan did and where he went, what makes a great burger, blah blah blah. There was nothing too outrageous or unexpected in the narrative, but I’m pretty surprised that among fifty states, with hundreds of cities to choose from, two of his twenty choices (that’s 10% for the poets out there) were in L.A.! Not just anywhere in L.A., either, but both of them in Santa Monica. Strange. The last thing I think about Santa Monica is big and fat, neither food like a big fat juicy burger, nor physique, like what you weigh after ditching yoga to go grab a burger with the boys every night. But the biggest surprise isn’t that there were two establishments in L.A., nor that they were both in Santa Monica. No, the biggest surprise is that one of the chosen establishments in L.A. is, I cringe to type it, Houston’s. The other one is The Counter, which I will leave out of this commentary because I have not yet eaten there.

GQ July 2005, number 6 houston's, santa monica
what will people think of l.a. now?

Houston’s! *sigh* Alan ranked the California Burger at Houston’s as number six! Houston’s burger is in the top 10. I’m sure Alan’s burger was delicious while he was sitting there at the top of 3rd Street Promenade, possibly influenced by his catching a glimpse of majestic Pacific Ocean glittering like sapphires on his way from Parking Structure 2 to Houston’s front door. But I guess I was just shocked and awed that the number 6 comes from Houston’s. Houston’s is a chain restaurant. Houston’s has restaurants in California and Texas and maybe other states in the south and west. I’m not saying that just because they are a chain like Applebee’s and Red Lobster (oooh, that was a low blow, Sarah), that the food is necessarily bad. The food can be good. But Houston’s is a see-aych-
ay-ai-enn, chain. I just sort of wish that Mr. Richman had picked the California burger from Houston’s, but pinned it to a different city. Like Houston, Texas for fox ache! Which they can’t even do anyway because Houston’s doesn’t have a restaurant in Houston. Fakers! Focking chain-ass fakers! *sigh*

In case you have neighbors like mine and your GQ was was permanently “borrowed” from your mailbox last month, then along with Houston’s at number six, here are all of Mr. Richman’s rankings, one through 20:

01 Sirloin Burger, Le Tub, Hollywood, Florida
02 Luger Burger, Peter Luger Steakhouse, Brooklyn, New York
03 Not Just a Burger, Spiced Pear Restaurant, Chanler Hotel, Newport, Rhode Island
04 Rouge Bruger, Rouge, Philadelphia Pennsylvania
05 Kobe Sliders, Barclay Prime, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
06 California Burger, Houston’s, Santa Monica, California
07 Buckhorn Burger, Buckhorn, San Antonion, New Mexico
08 Hamburger, Miller’s Bar, Dearborn, Michigan
09 Cheeseburger, Burger Joint, Le Parker Meridien Hotel, New York City, New York
10 Number Five, Keller’s Drive-in, Dallas, Texas
11 Grilled Bistro Burger, Bistro Don Giovanni, Napa, California
12 Hamburger, Bobcat Bite, Santa Fe, New Mexico
13 Cheeseburger, Whita Manna, Hackensack, New Jersey
14 Hamburger, J.G. Melon, New York City, New York
15 Build Your Own Burger, The Counter, Santa Monica, California
16 Hamburger and Fries, Burger Joint, San Francisco, California
17 Double Bacon Deluxe with Cheese, Red Mill Burgers, Seattle, Washington
18 Hamburger, Poag Mahone’s Carvery and Alehouse, Chicago, Illinois
19 Our Famous Burger, Sidetrack Bar and Grill, Ypsilanti, Lichigan
20 Hamburger Sandwich, Louis’ Lunch, New Haven Connecticut

I doubt I will get to even half of these restaurants listed here. But I mean, if Houston’s is number 6, then I don’t think I’ll be missing much from burgers number seven through 20 anyway.

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  • Josh

    its complete crap that the burger at fathers office isnt on that list when it is consistently ranked in the la times and other magazines and newspapers as trhe best burger in LA or in the top 3. go there. get the burger and fries. you will not be disappointed..except your wallet will..its about $15.

  • sarah

    lacheesemonger: well, if you can’t play for rachael ray, maybe next time for d&d no 5 – i am already scheming a theme. probably won’t be as creative as celebrity host sam’s, but it’s always fun to go out and eat, right?

    josh: i was pretty surprised by the choices for l.a. i mean, there are a LOT of burger places in L.A. that get high marks. father’s office’s burger was good, but i’ll tell you, the hassle one has to go through for it sometimes makes that $15 seems like a LOT more, don’t you think? parking is hard to come by in that area of samo/b’wood, it’s extraordinarily crowded inside, there’s neither rhyme nor reason to the ordering process, and when you actually get your burger, you have to stand ass-to-ass hoping someone won’t knock over your mini cart of fries, because it’s likely you won’t be able to get one of the very few tables in the joint. a great burger, but hard to actually enjoy it in there.

  • Rachael

    Man, everyone loves a list don’t they, even on something so subjective as a burger. And now…

    OMG, I’ve had FIVE of those burgers! What kind of freak does that make me? Not as a big a freak as someone who goes to (steak mecca)Peter Luger and orders one for heavens sake! Why on earth would you bother? Yeeesh. Thats like having one at Nobu!

  • Rachael

    Oh for pities sake, I just re-read that…I’ve had SEVEN of them. Sheesh. And I have never been to The Counter. What I remember of Louis’ Lunch was that (at the time) I did proclaim it the best thing I had ever tasted…I also remember that place in Dallas, and thinking it wasnt my style at all. (BF at the time was in heaven though, so there you go.)

  • NS

    Sarah – since you are obviously quite the burger connoisseur, I’m curious to know whether you’ve ever been to Burger Bar in Las Vegas and, if so, what your reactions were. I have yet to go myself, but I have long been intrigued since Owner/Chef Hubert Keller is one of my favorite Bay Area chefs.

  • sarah

    rachael; that is pretty funny – you’ve eaten seven of them?! ypsilanti michigan can’t have been one of them, right? LOL!

    ns: i have just accused houston’s of a being a big fat faker, and alas, i am a a big fat hypocritical faker as well! i am not a burger connoisseur. i appreciate and love a good burger, but i don’t quite fit the definition of “connoisseur,” which is (according to dictionary.com):

    “A person with expert knowledge or training” or

    “A person of informed and discriminating taste.”

    especially that last part about discriminating taste ;)

    however, i didn’t know about the burger bar in vegas until your mention of it today, and now i am curious! will have to add that to the itinerary for my next vegas trip!

  • sarah

    rachael; that is pretty funny – you’ve eaten seven of them?! ypsilanti michigan can’t have been one of them, right? LOL!

    ns: i have just accused houston’s of a being a big fat faker, and alas, i am a a big fat hypocritical faker as well! i am not a burger connoisseur. i appreciate and love a good burger, but i don’t quite fit the definition of “connoisseur,” which is (according to dictionary.com):

    “A person with expert knowledge or training” or

    “A person of informed and discriminating taste.”

    especially that last part about discriminating taste ;)

    however, i didn’t know about the burger bar in vegas until your mention of it today, and now i am curious! will have to add that to the itinerary for my next vegas trip!

  • NS

    Well, your excellent description of what makes for the perfect burger belies your claim that you are not a “person with expert knowledge!” The Burger Bar menu actually offers some very intriguing options, including a “Surf and Turf” (Black Angus ground beef and a grilled half lobster) and a “Rossini” (Kobe beef, sauteed foie gras, shaved truffles, and Madeira sauce). Probably not appealing to hamburger purists, I know, but given what I’ve seen Keller do at Fleur de Lys in SF, I feel compelled to check these out at some point!

  • Xericx

    Hey, the new GQ with Knoxville on the front has LA listed as one of the top 4 eating cities on Earth!

    What the hell!?!

    Yeah, father’s office is awesome. Better than Houston’s burger, which is great as well…..never been to the Counter yet though.

  • Eve

    My favorite burger in L.A. is at Cassell’s in Koreatown with a nice heaping side of potato salad and a huge basket of onion rings. A close second for me was The Counter-the choices alone make it worth the drive, the burger is huge and delicious and the side order of half/half onion rings and french fries is delicious.

  • sarah

    you said…onion rings! i love onion rings! beer battered or breadcrumb crusted, thick cut or shoestrings…onion rings.

    now about the counter, the burger bar, etc…i am not sure that i would love to have all those adornments on my burger. i think i like just the standards.

    first of all, it would just be too big to eat with all the other stuff, and second, don’t you sort of lose the point of the burger? i guess it’s fun – the novelty of having a lobster tail or something crazy like that! but then again, who knows, maybe it tastes awesome. LOL!

  • Foodie Universe

    I ate at a Houston’s in Houston,but that was many years ago, and I would not be sad if they had gone out of business there. We Houstonians know good food!

  • condiment

    There are, actually, compelling reasons to order a Luger’s burger. It’s served only at weekday lunch, it’s made with ultra-prime, dry aged trimmings, and they’re great at that rare combination of crusty blackness and dripping, oozing, bloody rare interior. Unless you are made of sterner stuff than I, you probably can’t handle a massive porterhouse on a Wednesday afternoon anyway.

    I have been to about half of these (including Ypsilanti!) and the selection is fairly cockamamie – I would take the Kobe burger at Cora’s over most of them. There are many schools of burger making, and Richman seems to acknowledge only one.

  • Ced

    went to burger joint today, partly because of your posting the gq list (which I found after you ping-ed me) and partly because I live next door to the lower haight location. And you know what? It was good, but would be third in my SF-only top 3.

  • Anonymous

    White Manna is the amazing…I live a few miles away and its a shack (no larger than my living room) that reputedly was in the 1932 New York Worlds Fair. Their burgers are somewhere between a White Castle and something your mom would make. Its all prepared fresh right before your eyes…quite an experience.

  • sarah

    oooh…white castle. you said white castle, lol!

    i haven’t had one of those in soooo long. i don’t think we have any out here in la. there *are* those frozen ones that come in party pack at the market, but i just can’t imagine that they’d taste as good…

  • Dave

    I have yet to go to the counter. One of my friends works across the street from it and I think i’m supposed to go next week with him. Anyway, I’ve been to two other burger joints in LA. As mentioned here, Father’s Office is quite a delicious burger. I think its one of the better burgers I have had. Some people won’t like how its not really a “traditional” kind of burger but rather their spin on things. For $11 its worth it. The other place I’ve been to is called The Nook. Amazingly its also in Santa Monica. The burger is much more traditional and is also a very good burger. Though, if it were between the two, I would give the nod to Father’s Office. The Nook is also a tad more expensive at $12. Mmm… just thinkin bout burgers is making me hungry….

  • sarah

    dave: are you talking about nook bistro? the little place in the corner of the strip mall on santa monica blvd between bundy and barrington? if so, i LOVE nook, but have yet to try their burger!

    if it’s a different nook, please tell me more!

  • Floyd

    If this list doesn’t have the Billy Goat in Chicago on the list, then it is a faker list!

    Looks like another trip to Ypsilanti. I went there (on the way back from relatives) for the Bomber Restaurant, which has one of the best breakfasts in the earth!

  • Patrick

    To Sarah,

    The Peter Luger burger is ground daily from the same dry aged steaks that people flock there for. At roughly $5.50, it’s a steal. Making the comparison that ordering one at Peter Luger is like ordering a burger at Nobu is not quite accurate.

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