Welcome to L.A. Week 2016. To celebrate the rich culinary life of Los Angeles, we’ll be running special features all week that explore the city’s ever-evolving food scene—from its classic tacos, to its offbeat icons. Follow along on Twitter @firstwefeast.
L.A.’s burger supremacy goes far beyond its Instagram stars—of which there are many. It’s a living, breathing legacy that dates back to the post-WWII boom when drive-thru culture exploded, setting the stage for thousands of griddles to perfume the vast stretch of urban sprawl. Unsurprisingly, Los Angeles still earns bragging rights for hosting the most hamburger restaurants in the country.
“L.A. is a city where, historically, you eat burgers in your car,” says George Motz, author of Hamburger America. “Burgers were wrapped in wax paper, which became iconic of L.A.’s scene. It just evokes driving culture.”
You’ll find vestiges of that era at places like In-N-Out, and old-school lunch counters such as Apple Pan and Pie N’ Burger—two eastside-westside equivalents that honor the tradition with simple, thin patties.
Yet even if L.A.’s burger scene is founded on these principles, there is much to be explored—and debated—about the merits of beef and bun. Can you fairly pit Ludo Lefebvre’s foie-Bordelais masterpiece against Apple Pan’s timeless charm? Belcampo may preach meat ethics, but can it really stand up to In-N-Out’s clever Animal-style flourish? As L.A. chefs continue to blaze their own path and up the ante for the city’s dining culture, the burger’s blank-canvas quality inevitably makes it the perfect specimen for innovation.
With so much patty excellence to parse, a normal “best burger” guide won’t cut it. Instead of comparing roadside smashburgers to dry-aged steakhouse behemoths, you need to consider the best available burger at various price points, balancing the playing field for arguments about sourcing, burger blends, and other nifty upgrades.
A couple things worth mentioning: Burger prices reflect a pre-tax and pre-tip price tag since not all places (e.g., In-N-Out) require you to leave a tip. Fries are only included if they automatically come with the burger.
Here are the best burgers L.A. has to offer for every budget.