I've been eating a lot of hamburgers lately. Los Angeles seem to be obsessed with them. Not only is LA home to plenty of its own, better-than-average burger chains (In 'N' Out, FatBurger, Astro Burger, Tommy's, etc.), it has also been host to a recent movement of impressive gourmet burgers, led by the expanding empire that we know as Umami.
While you won't hear me declare my precious traditional burgers boring - oh no - I will say that a fresh take that introduces the American standard to foreign ingredients is a welcomed change of pace in my recent burger binge. Kalbi Burger gives me just that, putting a little Koreatown twist on the national sandwich.
Located in a small Koreatown plaza, the burger joint hosts a simple, bright red scheme and a few tables for in-house eating. On our recent after work burger stop with two friends, diners made themselves comfortable as their orders were cooked to juicy perfection.
I ordered the signature Kalbi Burger (below), which boasts a patty made from ground short rib meat and ground chuck. Sold for an extra dollar or two more than any of the other burgers on the menu, the Kalbi is your best bet for quality meat, which is then topped with American cheese, romaine, Korean vinaigrette, red onions, tomato and kalbi aioli sauce. Thanks in part to that thick short rib and chuck patty, the burger was tremendously juicy and really flavorful. All burgers are served medium well unless otherwise requested. We had ours prepared to a medium rare, though I think Kalbi prefers to serve its burgers cooked well enough so the bun doesn't turn into a sopping wet sponge.
The burgers also come with a generous side of fries - another part of the menu that allows you to get creative. Our table alone conquered four different kinds of fries: chili cheese, garlic, sea salt & vinegar and sweet potato. All except for the tried and true sweet potato fries were a tad overwhelming, but fun in small doses. The chili cheese fries were LOADED as you might expect, the salt & vinegar knocked us on our asses with the powerful first bite, and the garlic fries (below) were strong enough to cancel the CW's fall lineup. Sweet potato fries are pretty much a constant - they're tough to screw up and I'm always game. Kalbi's were no exception.
Angela picked out the Saigon Burger (below), a burger I had had my eye on as well, but I went for the Kalbi burger for the sake of variety (what a martyr, right?). In spite of the thinner, inferior patty, the Saigon Burger actually fared better with all four members of our party's taste buds. Reminiscent of a Vietnamese banh mi, the Saigon tops its Angus chuck patty with cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, pickled carrot & radish, and finishes it off with the house's Saigon sauce. The unique ingredients were exactly what I was looking for. Fusion cuisine bridging the gap between two tastes I love.
Now that I've experienced an array of Kalbi's ingredients, I may have to start mixing and matching to make the best burger. Kalbi allows you to build your own. I would recommend the Saigon Burger upgraded with the short rib and chuck patty. Also intriguing are the Seoul Burger - which is spiced up with sauteed kimchee - and the LuLu burger - which features grilled pineapple and bacon. Kalbi doesn't just limit itself to burgers, you'll also find Kalbi dogs topped with kim chee. Whether you find yourself methodically working through the list of LA's best burgers or just cruising down Wilshire Boulevard with an appetite, Kalbi is a perfect little sidestep to your true-blue American standard bearer.