Plan Check

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For some reason, I keep forgetting about this post (unlike the case with Urasawa, which I’m purposely avoiding due to self-doubt). I went to Plan Check in late March for an early dinner with Greg and Jen. I had already heard pretty good things from Eugenia, who went to the soft opening. Great location? Check. Great hours? Check. Chef with good resume (former Umami corporate chef)? Check. Fun menu? Check. Good drinks? Check. Opened with considerable hype? Plan check it.

Started with a couple of starters and fries. The baked crab dip was a nice play on the dynamite. The mini toasts were a bit stale though. The stuffed mushrooms were pretty good as well. The fries, however, were limp and lifeless (but the PDA-heavy couple seemed to enjoy them). I really wanted to order the fried chicken as well, but they were out/unavailable at that time. For drinks, I went non-alcoholic with a yuzu soda. Tart and refreshing, without being too sweet.

Okay, enough foreplay. How are the burgers? Well, fairly similar to Umami’s actually (but I think they were bigger – although that’s not very hard to do). The three of us split the three main varieties they had on the menu: The Plan Check, the Bleuprint, and the Chef’s Favorite. The patties for each had a nice beefy flavor, though they lacked some juiciness. Despite the lack of juiciness, however, the burgers were still a bit heavy-handed with the salt and grease. Definitely not “clean” burgers, but still quite tasty. The Portuguese milk buns were nice vessels, though the supposed “crunch” factor was minimal.

If I had to choose, the Chef’s Favorite would be my favorite of the threesome. Just a nice combination of manly components. The PCB was more of your standard variety, and the bleu cheese was surprisingly mild in the Bleuprint, rendering it somewhat similar to the PCB. One note: the couple insisted the burgers cooked rare. I’m not really sure why. Steaks I understand, but with burgers, due to the meat blend and the natural fattiness of the grind, medium rare would’ve been the optimal way to go. Probably didn’t make too much of a difference for my judgment, although the lack of  juiciness from the patties was most likely from this.

Despite some flaws (which could’ve been attributed to our end), our meal at Plan Check was still good. I just didn’t think it was great, and I doubt my opinions would change even if the juiciness issue was solved. I will be back for sure, due to the proximity (I live within walking distance), and look forward to trying the fried chicken and the pastrami nosh. A bit too much hype in the end, but still a more-than-welcome addition to the growing collection of restaurants on Sawtelle.

By the way: the “donuts” (more like churros) were really good.

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Baked Crab Dip – dynamite sauce, masago, charred tomato, nori, toast ($12)

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Stuffed Mushroom – roasted portobello, swiss cheese fondue, crispy kale, steak sauce ($8)

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Fresh Cut Fries – skin on kennebecs, beef tallow, smoked salt, fresh ketchup ($5)

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PCB (plan check burger) – akaushi red wagyu beef, americanized dashi cheese, ketchup leather, schmaltz onions, mixed pickles, crunch bun ($10)

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Bleuprint Burger – smoked blue cheese, pig candy, fried onions, steak sauce, peppercress ($11)

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Chefs Favorite Burger – cheese two ways, bacon two ways, ketchup leather, sunny fried egg, hot sauce ($12)

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Cruller Donuts – cooked to order, cream, fruit ($6)

Chris Hei grade: B

Plan Check Kitchen + Bar
1800 Sawtelle Blvd
West Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 288-6500

Plan Check Kitchen + Bar on Urbanspoon

Twist Burgers

1/27/12

I’m not a big food truck person. There are quite a few of them that frequent the BEBE office next to my work, but I rarely make my way out to try them (although I should, even if it’s solely for the eye candy). Anyways, a coworker of mine said that she had read pretty good things about Twist Burgers (probably from Yelp). Since I didn’t know what to eat for lunch with another coworker, I mentioned the truck and he suggested we check it out. I was thinking “meh,” but it wasn’t as if I had anywhere else in mind (this coworker doesn’t like noodles *gasp*, so no Tsujita).

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I ordered the #2, The People’s Choice, and made a combo out of it. Basically what see see above is a (very) poor man’s version of In-N-Out‘s Double-Double (even has the same ingredients)…until you take a bite. There is when you also find the goat cheese and blueberry sauce. I kind of felt like too much was going on there, as if the flavors are fighting with one another. But it was actually pretty decent. The fries, however, were quite the unmitigated disaster. Supposedly twice-fried Belgian-style, these fries were limp and soggy. Overall though, I would have no problems having the burger again if it comes around.

Chris Hei grade: B-

Twist Burgers
(310) 749-2672
Twitter: thetwistburgers

Hole in the Wall (2)

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So I’ve been to Hole in the Wall a few times, and had written about it last June here. And I usually don’t write multiple posts for the same place, unless it’s a place where I order a variety of things from…or in this case – a grade change. I really don’t like to emphasize the grades I give, because they’re purely subjective and only reflect how I feel at the time of writing. In fact, I could probably even change around half a dozen of them (which I might do during a “spring cleaning” of the site coming up). But in this case, the change represents my new opinions of the place, so I thought it’d be appropriate to write a new post.

Basically, the burger I had last June was solid, but didn’t excite me to the very least. To nitpick, the burger patty was over, and everything just felt rather a bit plain and heavy. This time, however, I was finally smart enough to request the patty medium-rare. What a big difference it made! Sure, the done-ness of the patty was somewhat inconsistent, but it averaged out to a medium-rare. Because it was so, the patty was much more juicy and flavorful.

I tried the weekly special on this visit, the pastrami burger. It on was a whole wheat bun, with THREE slices of swiss cheese, thousand island dressing, and coleslaw. Like a burger version of the #19 at Langer’s Deli. I already mentioned the improved patty, which went well with the bun, pastrami and dressing. Swiss was good, too, but three slices was overkill. Plus I would’ve preferred it a bit melted, since it was on a burger as opposed to a sandwich. Also, slaw was too…mayo-y I suppose. Flawed, but quite enjoyable.

I actually went once more since this last visit, and ordered basically what I got last June, but with a fried egg and the patty medium-rare. Much better! This basically secured the grade raise. Amazing how much of a difference an appropriately-cooked patty can make. Also, pretzel bun was good as always, but dense. Fills you up quick. But my opinions of Hole in the Wall have certainly changed for the better. And who knows, maybe I’ll write about it again to raise the grade even more.

1/7/12

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Chris Hei grade: B

Hole in the Wall Burger Joint
11058 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 312-7013

Hole in the Wall Burger Joint on Urbanspoon

Rustic Canyon

Photo credit: Dig Lounge

Came here with the Los Angeles chapter of The FML (Fourteen Man League), our “expert” fantasy football league, which consisted of myself, Daniel, Kenny, Kevin, and Lawrence. We decided to come on a Monday late last month because the restaurant has two specialty burgers on the menu every Monday. I had heard many great things about Rustic Canyon, especially about their burger, which is consistently ranked atop of best burger in LA lists. The burger itself isn’t cheap ($18-20), but I’m willing to pay for quality if it’s worth it. So was it?

Well, I ordered one of the specialty burgers, the Patty Melt. It was a good version of a traditional patty melt, with toasted rye bread and Swiss cheese, and I believe there was some type of aioli in the burger as well. The problem was that the patty was a bit too salty, and I’m a person with a very high sodium tolerance. Also, the burger itself was very greasy. Still, a solid burger. The fries that came with the burger was pretty good as well.

Maybe I should’ve ordered their regular burger, but I felt like I could order that version any time I wanted, as opposed to this specialty one that might never see the light of day again. And since the regular one is the one that’s frequently listed as the burger in LA, that’s the one thing I have to get next time I’m at Rustic Canyon. Amongst other things ordered at the table, the other specialty burger, the Thanksgiving Burger, was just okay. It was just a piece of turkey with some cranberry sauce and mashed potato, which really weighed the burger down. Lawrence and I split an order of the polenta, which was pretty damn good. For now, I’ll consider Rustic Canyon to be a good restaurant with a solid burger, but will reserve the right to change my mind once I’ve had the original burger.

Thanksgiving “Burger”

Patty Melt

Rustic Canyon Burger – sharp cheddar, onion fondue, housemade pickles, herb remoulade, hand-cut french fries, + farm egg

Crispy White Polenta – wild mushrooms, sunny-side farm egg, parmigiano-reggiano

Chris Hei grade: B

Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen
1119 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 393-7050

Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Slater’s 50/50

8/28/11How appropriate, the 50th restaurant post on this website is on Slater’s 50/50. Har^2. For Greg’s twenty-fifth birthday (which is today by the way – happy birthday Greg!), he chose Slater’s 50/50 in Anaheim. The eleven of us (his entire family + me + Ron) went to the restaurant right around 2pm last Sunday, and we had to wait half an hour. Needless to say, the place was packed. The place is famous for their namesake 50/50 burgers – 50% ground beef, 50% ground bacon, along with a pretty extensive selection of beers on tap, and the choice of building your own burger a la The Counter.

Photo While the 50/50 burger sounds like quite the awesome idea on paper (bacon right in the burger patty? amazing no?), I had my fair share of reservations. The main concern that I had was that anytime you mixed something other than beef into the burger patty, it’s a danger warning. And I was afraid that this blend would take away from the best part of biting into a burger: the juiciness of the burger patty. But the restaurant has favorable reviews from Yelp (of course, take that with a grain of salt – but 1000+ reviews is impressive), and Greg was really looking forward to this. So of course like with any restaurant, I would come in with an open mind.

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PhotoCombination Plate (Pick Six – $9.95) – french fried potatoes, sweet potato fries, fried dill pickle chips, beer battered onion strings, fried artichoke hearts, fried macaroni n’ cheese

The whole table split the largest size of the appetizer combination plate, with six fried varieties of appetizers. All of the varieties were standard, oily, and okay.

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PhotoThe 50/50 ($9.95) – Designed to perfection our 50/50 burger topped with an over medium fried egg, avocado mash, pepper jack cheese and chipotle mayo

While just about everyone else chose to build their own burger (and give it cute/funny names), I chose to go with their standard 50/50 burger. Figured that using their signature choice as the benchmark is best. I think that the ground bacon in the patty has both pros and cons. The bacon gave the meat a good smokey, salty flavor. And the bacon that was on the outside of the patty aided in the charring of the patty itself with its crispiness. However, the bacon inside of the patty kind of dried the patty out a bit (a fear I noted earlier re: the blend being not as juicy as a standard burger). And they state that they have to cook the 50/50 patties well-done because of the bacon – don’t they know about the new FDA pork temperature standards? They’re the same as beef now. Enough with the patty, onto the other aspects: there was way too much bun, the fried egg was a decent touch, and the combination of the avocado mash (a.k.a. guacamole), pepper jack cheese, and chipotle mayo went surprisingly well together. Overall, a flawed burger with a novelty concept, but not without its merits either.

Being quite the self-proclaimed burger snob, eating the 50/50 burger was a little damaging to my supposed palate. But the taste of the burger was pretty good. If they can somehow master the actual cooking process (maybe sous vide the patty, then sear it at a very high temperature?), then I can see the burger becoming something amazing. For now, it’s just a place with a decent novelty burger, interesting selection of beers on tap, and the option to build the burger yourself.

Chris Hei grade: B-

Slater’s 50/50 Burgers
6362 E Santa Ana Canyon Rd
Anaheim, CA 92807
(714) 685-1103

Slater's 50/50 Burgers By Design on Urbanspoon

The Apple Pan

8/18/11Like with Roscoe’s, I used to love going to The Apple Pan. I probably thought that it was up there with In-N-Out back in the day. But like with Roscoe’s, I kind of fell out of love with The Apple Pan. I thought that it was because I got bored of the burger, but after some deep thinking, I think that it’s because the new burger wave of recent years produced burger joints that just flat-out beat The Apple Pan. Still, I’ve always stood up for the place, and always will.

PhotoI decided to come here after getting some cash from the Wells Fargo next door after work last Thursday. I also wanted to be out by myself, because the company I work for got bought that day. I wasn’t angry or sad, but it just took me by surprise, and I wanted some time to collect my thoughts and assess my prospective situation at the new company. Probably a little dramatic, but it did give me a good excuse to dine out. And 5:30 on a weekday afternoon is the absolute best time to eat at The Apple Pan, because it’s probably the only time they’re not packed.

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Hickoryburger

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One of their two signature burgers. This one has a tangy, BBQ-esque sauce, Tillamook cheese, mayo, pickles, and lettuce. The patty was cooked medium to medium-well, which is not preferred for my burger patties nowadays. Still a good burger, and my favorite one here. Note: it’s pretty pricey for what it is ($7?).

Steakburger

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The other one of their signature burger. Pretty much the same thing as the hickory one, but this one has a sweet ketchup-y relish sauce. Also good, but not as good as the hickory. And yes, I was a fatty eating two burgers in one sitting.

Banana Cream PieBanana Cream Pie

I took a banana cream pie to-go. This has to be my favorite slice of pie, despite the ugliness after some movement in the Styrofoam container. Yes, the place is called The Apple Pan, but if the name was based on their most delicious pie, it should be The Banana Cream Pan.

This visit both reassured me the reasons why I love The Apple Pan, and why I don’t like it as much as I used to. Pros: burgers are still good, pie is AMAZING. Cons: burger patty isn’t as good as the newer gourmet joints, pricey for what it is. Not going to go out of my way to come here, but I’m more inclined to visit this particular Wells Fargo next door again. It’s kind of on my way back home too, so if I’m feeling like having burgers and don’t want In-N-Out, I’ll come here.

Chris Hei grade: B

The Apple Pan
10801 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 475-3585

Dino’s

Photo credit: Food Coma 911

I wasn’t planning to write about Dino’s originally, because Will had brought up a good point re: it not meeting my criteria for reviewing since we took it to-go. However, I realized that in my craving for ink.sack (opened yesterday), it wouldn’t have been eligible for review either, since there is no area for dine-in. And furthermore, I also realized that my review for Hole in the Wall shouldn’t have counted either then, since we got there at closing and had to take it to Alex’s apartment. So I decided to alter my criteria a little, accounting for “group takeouts.”

Having recently had a very good chicken dish at A-Frame last week, I began to wonder: what chicken dishes have I had lately that were memorable? This is much harder than you think, as I don’t order chicken at restaurants often. And the only thing I could think of was the chicken from Dino’s. It’s a fiery-red, greasy mess of chicken, heavily flavored in a salty, somewhat tangy sauce, which the bed of fries soaked up rather beautifully. For a place that has the word “burgers” in its name, I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard anyone ordering the namesake item. It’s all about the chicken, and rightfully so.

I used to make fun of Will, because he swore by Dino’s food (and still does, even from the Bay Area). I’ve driven by the location on Pico plenty of times before trying it finally while in college. Before that, I thought it was just some piece of shit food stand-esque place that people with horrible palates flocked to. But over time, I found myself appreciating the depth of flavors that coat the well-cooked chicken (can be a little dry at times, but never a detriment to the meal). The chili cheese fries, however, are just okay. The same fries that are served under the chicken is topped with loads of chili and cheese (the container was really heavy), which in my opinion made the fries way too soggy. But stick to the chicken, and you won’t be disappointed.

Chris Hei grade: B

Dino’s Chicken and Burgers
2575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 380-3554

Carl’s Jr

On our way back from Alex’s ranch, we stopped in Kettleman City once again. I wouldn’t have minded having In-N-Out once again, but the other guys wanted to have something different. So between Carl’s Jr and McDonald’s (don’t remember what other places were there), Carl’s Jr is definitely the choice. My rank for burgers at national fast food restaurants goes something like this: Carl’s Jr > Jack in the Box > Wendy’s > Burger King > McDonald’s. Of course, this is all relative. I never eat at any of these places nowadays, as I believe my palate to be above such institutions. Plus, I have In-N-Out nearby. But there was a time when I loved Carl’s Jr. I used to live near one when I was in high school, and went there on my way home on a weekly basis. And when one opened on the UCLA campus during my last quarter there, I went quite frequently as well. So why the fallout, Chris?

Well, once you’ve had never-frozen burgers like In-N-Out and the various gourmet burger joints in LA, you can never go back. Still, out of all the national fast food burger patties, the burger patty at Carl’s Jr is by far the juiciest (not saying much – look at the photo above) and had a good char. I got the Western Six Dollar burger, which has cheese, onion rings and BBQ sauce. Decent burger. Used to be my second favorite burger back in my younger days (behind the Double-Double). Fries were decent as well, but can’t compare to the ones at McDonald’s. Nowadays, I can’t bring myself to giving Carl’s Jr anything above a C. But come 3am and a craving for burgers, don’t be surprised to see me at the drive-thru.

Chris Hei grade: C

Carl’s Jr
3300 Hubert Way
Kettleman City, CA 93239
(559) 386-5355

In-N-Out

7/28/11Besides my work and my apartment, In-N-Out is probably the place I visit most often. There is one near my apartment, and my fatass orders drive-thru at least twice a month. However, I haven’t reviewed it yet because I haven’t actually ate at an In-N-Out in almost two years. But taking a lunch break on our way to Alex’s house in Mountain View in Kettleman City (the halfway point between LA and SF), it was the perfect opportunity to dine in at In-N-Out and have it eligible for review, not to mention that there were no other feasible options.

PhotoEveryone who lives on the West Coast knows of In-N-Out Burger, and certainly everyone I know loves it. For those who don’t live near one, it typically is considered a tourist attraction when said people see a location. The official menu is limited, offering only burgers, fries, and beverages, but their “secret” menu is very much known to the general public. If you don’t know about the burgers at In-N-Out, here’s the info via Serious Eats:

  • The Meat: 2-ounce patties made from 100 percent beef chuck ground in their own grinding facilities, delivered fresh daily, never frozen.
  • The Cheese: Thick sliced bright orange American.
  • The Toppings: hand-leafed lettuce, sliced beefsteak tomato, thick sliced onion, pickles, grilled whole or chopped onions, pickled hot green chiles.
  • The Sauces: Proprietary Thousand-Island style spread, mustard, or ketchup.
  • The Bun: soft white bun, darkly toasted on the griddle.

PhotoAlex, Linh-Nam and Ben waiting for the food.

PhotoI usually order a double-double animal style (pickles, extra spread, grilled onions, and mustard fried onto each meat patty in addition to the standard fixings) or with whole grilled onions, and fries well-done. On this particular visit I decided to get the double-double without any gimmicks, to show what it looks like as is (although I had to get the fries well still – the regular version is a bit too…raw for my taste).

Double-Double

French Fries

The patties are more on the medium-well side (only at In-N-Out will I happily accept any burger/steak over medium-rare), but are still quite juicy, and certainly tasty. The cheese is an awesome melted mess. And the sauce, toasted bun, and veggies all go together harmoniously. This is still the king of burgers in my opinion. Despite the rise of gourmet burger joints, particularly in LA, no fancy-schmancy-over-$10-burger can match the pure satisfaction that an In-N-Out burger can provide. And unlike those gourmet places, the burgers at In-N-Out are as good as it can be on every single visit.

Chris Hei grade: A

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In-N-Out Burger
33464 Bernard Dr
Kettleman City, CA 93239
(800) 786-1000

Umami Burger

After playing basketball outdoors under ninety-degree weather last Saturday morning, I was down for anything to eat. Han, being the whiner that he is, insisted on having burgers. The rest of us (myself, Lawrence, Daniel Zhu, and Mike) really didn’t have a preference (although I think Daniel mentioned Curry House, but I kind of just ignored him – burgers > curry). Anyways, wanting to impress this group with my “foodie” knowledge, I suggested Umami, as it was the closest gourmet burger place I could think of. Han then blurted out: “Oh hey bro! I really want to try that place!” So away we go…

I had some initial concerns about going to Umami despite being the one who suggested it. My experiences there, similar to the ones at Father’s Office, have been quite inconsistent. Plus they seem to be too cool and popular to care about the customers nowadays, from what I’ve heard. Except that while Father’s Office was trending downwards (before the most recent visit), Umami was just the opposite. My last two visits have been great, coming off of two subpar visits. So with Father’s Office being very good earlier in the week, I was worried that Umami would be the complete opposite. Luckily, I was two-for-two in my burger visits for the week. Everyone seemed to really enjoyed their burgers, as did I. Below is a breakdown of each burger and side:

(Left) Umami Burger ($10), (Right) Manly Burger ($11)

Han and Mike each ordered the Umami, and Daniel ordered the Manly. I didn’t try either of these on this visit, but I’ve had both in the past, so here’s my take on it. The Umami, which is their signature burger, is probably still the best. GQ Magazine named it their Burger of the Year. It has house-made cheese and ketchup, oven-roasted tomatoes. caramelized onions, and sauteed shitake mushrooms. Just a great burger. The manly burger is much more conventional, but great-tasting nonetheless. Bacon (or in this case, bacon lardons) make any burger awesome. The onion strings and cheddar also went well.

Port & Stilton Burger ($10)

Lawrence ordered what is basically the joint’s take on the Office Burger. There are port-caramelized onions and bleu cheese, and they really worked well with the burger. I’ve had this one a couple of times, and thought that it was very comparable to the Office Burger.

Kauai Burger ($13)

My burger, which was one of their specials that day. I believe it had teriyaki sauce, pineapple salsa and bacon. I really liked the taste of the burger, though it was kind of a mess to hold. The teriyaki was on the watery side, and it was hard to taste the sweetness of the sauce (it was a little more soy-flavored then the usual teriyaki), but the pineapple salsa did just that nicely. The texture of the bacon was rather soft, kind of a mix between pulled pork and pork belly in terms of texture. Everyone knows how much I love pork belly, so this was all copacetic. Still prefer the Umami though, but this was a nice burger that I can see becoming a menu fixture.

It was a mess to eat, but tasted good.

Sweet Potato Fries ($4)

This time around, it had some brown sugar. Actually, a lot of brown sugar. I don’t know what to say really. On one hand, the brown sugar went pretty well with the fries. On the other hand, however, this combination made the fries taste more like a sweet potato pie than a side for burgers.

Malt Liquor Tempura Onion Rings ($3)

My favorite side at Umami by far. I convinced the group to order two orders of these delicious onion rings. Daniel mentioned that he was hoping these weren’t like the typical type with the coarse, too-crunchy texture. Rest assured Daniel, the tempura batter gave these onion rings a smooth texture, while maintaining a good crunch still. And it wasn’t overly breaded either.

Thin Fries ($3.50)

Damn it, Han. I knew the thin fries were mediocre, having had it multiple times in the past. But you insisted on getting them. That’s why they were on your side of the table. Just like you, thin and limp :P

Recently, there have been reports about SBE (the group behind numerous clubs, hotels and restaurants in L.A. like SLS Hotel, The Bazaar, and Katsu-Ya) investing in the Umami chain, and they are planning to expand it nationally. While I’m glad that more people will get to experience these burgers, I’m afraid that this expansion will dilute the quality and newfound consistency. For now, let’s just enjoy what we have: great, juicy burgers served with a hipster attitude.

Chris Hei grade: B+

Umami Burger
850 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 931-3000

Note: credit Los Angeles Foodie for the first photo. FYI the valet is “only” $2.50 now (a burger joint with valet lot – really?).