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Damon Gambuto's Guide to SoCal Burger Styles

Eater LA's first annual Burger Week is about to come to a close. But before we say good bye to all things burger, we asked Los Angeles burger expert and Serious Eats/A Hamburger Today contributor Damon Gambuto to wax poetic on... the burger. His thoughts, below.
[Photo: Comme Ca Burger]

I'm a professional eater, but most of my work revolves around America's favorite sandwich (I am a long time burger reviewer over on Serious Eats). In the passed few years I've reviewed upwards of two hundred burgers and sampled quite a few more so it'll come as no surprise that the question I'm asked most often is some version of: "what's your favorite burger?"

Favorite things are tricky; the very act of identifying them, in turn identifies us. What we like has something to say about whether someone will like us. One way I've come to manage this dynamic is to delve deeper into the question itself. Since there is no one thing to which the bramble of "burger" corresponds, I like to give multiple answers. Much like this week's Eater bracket, my favorites come in categories. Over at Serious Eats we had a conversation about a comprehensive guide to burger styles to, well, guide our burger conversations. The final product is by no means the final word, but it is a helpful rough sketch.

Here in Los Angeles I break them down thusly:

So Cal Style
It’s the progenitor of the contemporary fast food burger and usually means a thin patty, lots of toppings, and a paper wrap. This California original finds its perfect expression at the Pasadena standby Pie ‘N Burger.

Premium Burger (a.k.a. Upscale)
Restaurants dedicated $10 plus burgers have spread across the Southland like a rash, but the one that can both take (at least) partial credit for the trend happens to be one of few worth the price tag. Umami’s success seemed assured from my first bite.

Pub Style
For me this category harkens back to my childhood in New York City and is exemplified by the canonized (and long past its prime) Corner Bistro. As a boy, my father would take me to Corner Bistro every week for a burger, fries, and stories about him. It was the best thing I could imagine. In Los Angeles, the best expression of this comes from the decidedly upscale version at Comme Ca. Yes it’s pricey and yes it’s inconsistent, but when they get it right, it’s oh so right.

[Photo: Rustic Canyon's Breakfast Burger]

Fancy Pants Burger
In my youth, I used to call these hotel burgers. They’re the kind that come with cloth napkins and price tags that are better left unmentioned. That said, sometimes they are exactly what I’m craving. Some burgers inspire my loyalty, but a (medium) rare few haunt my dreams. Evan Funke’s burgers at Rustic Canyon have marked me. His “Breakfast Burger,” is a perfect pile of burger decadence.
— Damon Gambuto