Monday, February 26, 2024

Essential Burgers in Long Beach: 2023 Edition

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The humble and mighty burger is not just an American go-to but a worldwide staple, with seemingly endless iterations—and Long Beach is home to some of the best.


Hamburgers Nice

What kind of burger?

Smash’n’simple perfection.

The Lunch Burger from Hamburgers Nice. Photo by Brian Addison.
The Lunch Burger from Hamburgers Nice. Photo by Brian Addison.

The Lunch Burger from Hamburgers Nice. Photo by Brian Addison.

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What is there to say about Chef Jairo Bogarín’s genuinely stellar smash-burger operation? The best burger in Long Beach? In terms of quality and cost, could very well be.

His “Lunch Burger” is simultaneously stupidly simple—two patties, American cheese, some sauce, pickles, onions, jalapeños—but packs such an astounding flavor punch that there is no disbelief in the fact that the popup perpetually sells out.

Yes, Hamburgers Nice has what is basically a permanent spot every Thursday morning (8AM to 2PM, serving their equally stellar breakfast burger that has a dollop of grape jelly and I promise you that it won’t anger you) and Friday for the dinner crowd (from 5PM to 9PM, often accompanied by a partnership or featuring a special burger) at Good Time, which makes the burger popup come full circle given they used to serve at this very spot when it was Commodity. But they also venture elsewhere, so check out their Instagram regularly.


The Kroft

What kind of burger?

Smash’n’simple perfection.

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The double Wagyu burger from The Kroft. Photo by Brian Addison.

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There is so much more than this little blurb that needs to be said about The Kroft’s owner, Stephen Le, a man who has entirely shifted the way he runs his business, an OC giant in the food scene when they bursted out as Anaheim’s Packing District’s most popular spot when they opened in nearly a decade ago in 2014.

What used to be a spot focusing mainly on decadent poutine, Le—during the pandemic and currently—noticed a slip in both patronage and online promotion. With a humble heart, he realized two major things: he wasn’t that happy and he wasn’t making food the way he used to enjoy.

This burger—along with some other stellar items, including a great chicken parm sandwich, brussel sprouts, and new plays on poutine, including a killer katsu chicken curry poutine—is a culmination of that effort to better himself and his business: Succulent, savory, stellar, this is easily one of the city’s best burgers, where double Wagyu patties sit amid gooey globs of cheese, caramelized onions, wonderfully thick pickles, and sauce.


The Ordinarie

What kind of burger?

The perfect play on In n Out.

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The Just Your Ordinarie Burger from The Ordinarie. Photo by Brian Addison.

First thing first: The Ordinarie has always has incredible burgers—don’t skip out on their patty melt—but Executive Chef Shelbi Ulm’s ode to the SoCal staple-that-is-so-strong-it-borders-culty that is In N Out, is one that elevates The Ordinarie into offering one of the best burgers in the city.

Ulm’s house made Thousand Island—just a hint of sweet but more toward the salty and tart—is slathered onto each side of the bun, where pickles and house-pickled jalapeños—a nod toward the packet of hot yellow chiles one can and should get upon request from In N Out—and good ol’ American cheese and lettuce.

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The result is a wonderfully nostalgic, this-is-what-I-remember-as-a-kid bites of a burger, where In N Out was more than a fast food joint but a destination toward something great. And with french fries that are not only some of the best in the city—let’s not even go into the nonsense called “fries” from In N Out—it is one way to rediscover why the Promenade, and particularly The Ordinarie, was such a beautiful way to experience our city.

For Brian Addison’s full feature on The Ordinarie from 2022, click here.


The Auld Dubliner

What kind of burger?

The decadent pub burger—best with a pint.

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The Guinness BBQ Burger from The Auld Dubliner. Photo by Brian Addison.

The beauty of The Auld Dubliner being in Long Beach is, honestly, tthe story of how it came to be through owner David Copley’s emigration, a story that is about the immigrant experience and how there are different experiences depending on where you come from. It’s a story about the love of both your new home and the one your were born in—and it’s also about how our city is home to one of the most unique Irish pubs this side of the Atlantic.

With that, stepping into the Auld Dub is stepping into a sacred place that would otherwise not exist: Its entire interior was made and designed in Ireland, shipped here in pieces and assembled to create what is nothing short of a truly Irish pub.

And the food? A constantly evolving menu that reflects the growing culinary scene on the island itself while also fusing Californian sensibility and style.

Its Guinness Burger is no exception: Fried onion strings. Creamy cheddar. Rasher (Irish bacon). And a house made Guinness beer barbecue sauce. What else is there to say besides, “Chef’s kiss”?


Bar Envie

What kind of burger?

The Ode to NOLA burger.

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The smashed burger with mushrooms and mornay sauce from Bar Envie. Photo by Brian Addison.

Chef Carlos Jurado—who heads owner Geoff Rau’s stellar and L.A. Times’s Best Restaurants-recognized Selva—always loves a challenge. And with Bar Envie, he has taken Rau’s love on the almighty New Orleans (where Rau actually owns a house) and tackled its food as well.

Yes, there are genuinely great frog legs, boozy root beer floats, one of the best damn fried bologna sandwiches I’ve ever had…

But do not skip out on his burgers, like the decadently messy smashed burger slathered in mushrooms and a cheesy mornay sauce. Creamy, onion-y, shroom-y, and downright delectable, this is one of many burgers on the menu worthy of your stomach and wallet.


Roxanne’s

What kind of burger?

The beautifully excessive pupusa burger.

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“La Pupusa” burger from Roxanne’s. Photo by Brian Addison.

Roxanne’s can easily be deemed as vastly underrated: They offer some of the best wings in the city, their in-house tamarind barbecue sauce a staple on the menu since opening and expanding into other varieties like mango habanero and classic buffalo. Stellar empanadas. And a variety of Latin American food that eschews the focus on Mexico Only.

But let’s not even be coy regarding how impossible it is not to love witnessing these two words pushed together on a menu: “Pupusa burger.” And that pupusa burger has a particular magic dancing around its outright decadent nature thanks to the work of Chef Susy Rios of El Salvador.

Her pupusas—be they acting as the bread for a burger or standing on their own—challenge some of the best in the city with nothing more than her masa stuffed with nothing more than a cheese blend and loroco. You’ll often find that very filling oozing out of the pupusas and onto the edge of your burger. And her curtido—the cabbage-meets-carrot accoutrement that is a staple in Salvadorian food—is worthy as a topping on any burger, not just her own.

Excessive. Decadent. And worth every damn bite.

For Brian Addison’s full feature on Roxanne’s, click here.


Ellie’s

What kind of burger?

The burger you want for brunch.

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The Ellie’s Burger from, well, Ellie’s. Photo by Brian Addison.

Chef Jason Witzl’s Ellie’s will be going on year six come autumn of this year and it has become one of the city’s most beloved restaurants—and while its updated interior and continually altering menu reflect an elevated experience, sometimes, people forget that some of Witzl’s best offerings are takes on our base foods.

Like his absurdly beautiful Ellie’s Burger.

It’s like what it’s always been—quality ranch beef, aged cheddar, thick pickles, a “happily slutty” sauce, as Witzl would joke—but instead of the thicker, pink juices in the center patty that was of yesteryear at Ellie’s, he has switched it two thinner patties, edges crisped, cheese far more gooey.

With some of the best fries in the city and a perfectly acidic salad, this is the burger you want at brunch. On the patio. With rosé.


V-Burger

What kind of burger?

The city’s best vegan burger.

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The “Deuce Deuce” burger from V-Burger. Photo by Brian Addison.

Opening in the smack dab middle of summer during the smack dab middle of the pandemic in 2020 at 420 Cherry Ave., V Burger owners and husband-and-wife team Paula and Alex Armstrong have been building a name in the vegan scene as the city’s best vegan burger—and they’ve succeeded in owning that title.

Yup, the city’s best vegan burger—conveniently located next to the pair’s vegan crepe shop if you’re hankering for something sweet—is, in my opinion, best served when it pays homage to the famed Double-Double at In N Out.

Dubbed “The Deuce Deuce,” you get your choice of Impossible or Beyond patties topped with two slices of Violife (one of the best melty vegan cheeses out there) along with some good ol’ tomato, pickles, onion, and lettuce. Served on a sesame bun, it is both simple and delicious—and will happily suffice as a substitute for any meat eater, I promise.


Dave’s Burgers

What kind of burger?

The burger-shack-next-to-a-gas-station burger.

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The double-cubby burger from Dave’s Burgers. Photo by Brian Addison.

On one side: The traffic-heavy hum of Atlantic Avenue. On the other: A gas station feeding that traffic-heavy hum. In the middle: A hidden, tiny-but-mighty burger shack decked out in red-and-white paint.

Dave’s Burgers has a legacy-like reputation about in throughout the city, where people often love the food but despise the service, get frustrated by its varying hours of operation, and want it to become bigger—all signs that point toward the fact that this place is legit.

You can go as basic or decadent as you like—there is no limit on patties or cheese slices despite this option not being openly advertised on the menu—but I suggest you actually go basic to get a grasp of Dave’s old-school approach to burgers. And in regard to that aforementioned decadence? That comes in the form of a Cubby Burger, where hot dog slices are added to your burger.


Legends

What kind of burger?

The Sunday (be it American or international) football game burger.

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The Smokey Mac’n’Cheese Burger from Legends. Photo by Brian Addison.

The crazy thing about Legends isn’t necessarily its four decades of existence (though that is definitely something worthy of praise) but its outright innovative beginnings: Craning in a satellite on top of its roof in the 1970s, then-owners John Morris and Dennis Harrah were able to directly connect to network feeds—meaning when it cut to commercial for the rest of the nation, the crowds at Legends would get an unfiltered look at the football fields while airtime to the rest of the nation awaited return.

It is a story that can no longer exist—but thankfully, Legends still does, with current co-owner David Copley continually amping up the quality of the menu while avoiding deviation away from its roots.

The best example? An over-the-top, slathered in bacon mac’n’cheese burger that is appropriately accompanied with a knife.


Sideburns

What kind of burger?

The eat-a-burger-then-go-next-door-for-a-cocktail burger.

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The Don Chedo burger from Sideburns. Photo by Brian Addison.

Sideburns was originally birthed out of its neighboring The Stache Bar, whose food program was birthed out of its short-lived presence with Chef Melissa Ortiz. And since taking on Ortiz’s very minimal bar menu—a stellar Chicago dog here, some even more stellar cheese curds there, a chili cheese fries option—Sideburns has expanded into an all-out burger joint that has an array of the classic in many forms and, in many ways, taken a step away from Ortiz through the work of Chef Thomas, the skinny’n’loquacious burger master who you will find masterfully cooking some ten burgers at once.

Through Thomas’s oversight, the burger menu has expanded into a variety of definitively excessive, solidly over-the-top burgers (along with classics like The Tailgate and The Works that should not be dismissed).

Mushrooms? Covered. Arugula and burrata with the aptly named “Italian Stallion” label slapped on it? Solid. The aforementioned “Works”? Damn near perfection. Just your simple smash burger? Done. A take on the Monte Cristo where they deep-fry the whole damn burger? Yes, that actually exists.

Sideburns is a little side piece gem for patrons at The Stache—and, in all honesty, a gem for all of Long Beach.


Crack Burgers

What kind of burger?

The literally-eat-it-on-a-golf-course burger.

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The Bacon Jam Burger from Crack on the Bixby Village Golf Course. Photo by Farley Elliott/Eater LA.

Dave Trepanier’s idea sounded quite absurd if not outright crazy when broken down into its simplest elements: He wants to use the patio of the Bixby Village Golf Course’s equipment shop to sell burgers. Because why not? And it turns out, it was one helluva idea since space has garnered a cult-like following—and for rightful reasons: the burgers are, simply put, stellar.

Having a friend grab me a bacon jam burger—twice now—while they were visiting, the fact that my burger was given to me slightly cool and not fresh and still tasted fantastic was an obvious nod toward Trepanier’s talent on the grill and assemble line. And it echoed why my colleagues at Eater LA called his burger the best new burger in the county last year.


Louis Burgers III

What kind of burger?

The burger you eat with some chili cheese fries.

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The city’s best chili cheese fries with a burger (and pastrami burritos if you so please)? Win, win, win. Photo by Brian Addison.

While I continue work on a larger piece (for what is a couple years now) that examines how generations of immigrants—from the Greeks to the Mexicans to the Chinese—have kept the American diner alive and well in SoCal, I should definitely include in this list a shout-out to one of the longtime staples of comfort food in my life here in Long Beach: the stellar, no-place-like-teenage-nostalgia, late-night-drunken-solace that are Louis Burger III’s burgers accompanied by their chili cheese fries.

Yes, you can add pastrami to your burger and/or fries. Sure, you can go all out with the DUI fries version, slathered in bacon and jalapeños and pastrami and yellow peppers (and for that version, I actually suggest Golden Burgers over Louis—look further down the list).

But the plain, good ol’ chili cheese fries with a classic double cheeseburger never fail me—and intoxicated or not, it’s worth every damn calorie.


MVPs

What kind of burger?

The burger from a Long Beach joint that’s been around for decades and’ll make you feel like a pro athlete (well, kinda).

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The Kobe Bryant Burger from MVPs. Photo by Kenneth Jenkins/Long Beach Food Scene.

MVPs is a Long Beach legacy place: WIth its OG location across from Coffee Cup Cafe near 4th and Grand now shuttered (and replaced by the also shuttered and underrated Prime by Shenandoah and soon to become something I have to keep my lips sealed on for now), it didn’t take that closure as a means for defeat but expansion.

It first moved to the southwest corner of 4th and Temple, directly next to O’Connell’s (much to the cheers of bar patrons who can walk their burger over while enjoying a Jameson), before creating two more locations: One at 10th and Redondo and another over on Stearns just east of the Traffic Circle.

It’s thing? A seemingly endless variety of burgers named after athletes, the menu altering as new kings and queens of sports are anointed. Order whomever inspires you just don’t forget the cajun fries.


The Social List

What kind of burger?

The burger you get if it’s on special (or having a special gathering with friends).

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The Truffle Burger, a special from Valentine’s Day 2023 at The Social List. Photo by Brian Addison.

I’ve long admired the fact that The Social List has, for the better part of its past eight years of existence, has proudly advertised its neighborhood-ness.

It has almost always avoided pretense, even as it became the first 4th Street bar to regularly carry quality beers (like Houblon Chouffe when it first opened, a rarity) and whiskeys (like Blanton’s, unheard of in the early 2010s in Long Beach), now the regular among any full bar establishment.

And it has always—always—had stellar burgers. And while the regular standbys will rarely fail you—like the mighty Napoleon Burger or their excellent vegan burger—always aim for the special, like their incredible truffle burger that was this year’s Valentine’s Day special.

For Brian Addison’s latest feature on The Social List, click here.


Golden Burger

What kind of burger?

The proper drive-thru burger.

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A stack of burgers from Golden Burger. Photo by Mo-on/Google.

Golden Burger continues to be this frustrating thing for me: It can kinda get expensive—a double-bacon cheeseburger with avocado will run you $17—and it can be on the bit of the test-your-patience side when sitting in the drive-thru but if there is one thing for certain, it is the fact that they are making your food fresh. And that is the explanation behind the wait.

Their burgers are classic to the T: shredded lettuce, thick cuts of tomato, an amazing Thousand Island dressing (worthy of dipping your fries), and hefty as all hell.

Go full beached whale and get some DUI fries—chili cheese fries blanketed with pastrami, bacon, and jalapeños—or skip the burger and get some pretty solid menudo on the weekends. Either way, Golden Burger is a staple—and if you don’t have the patience or just don’t get it, that’s fine. You’re just missing out on an essential part of Long Beach culture.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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