Welcome to L.A. Week on First We Feast. As part of our continuing initiative to devote more coverage to Los Angeles, we’ll be running special features all week to explore the city’s ever-evolving food scene—from its most vaunted chefs, to its gritty underbelly.
Korea-born, Los Angeles-bred chef Sang Yoon changed the L.A. burger game when he opened his revered gastropub Father’s Office 15 years ago. The unfussy restaurant became a nationally renowned destination for craft beer and the controversial, no-substitutions burger with caramelized onions, bacon, arugula, and Gruyère and Maytag cheeses.
“I put the things I loved on the burger and eliminated what I thought didn’t contribute anything,” Yoon told First We Feast when he spoke about the 10 dishes that made his career.
We checked in with the Father’s Office chef to get his perspective on how L.A.’s burger and beer scene has evolved since F.O. opened its doors.
How did Father’s Office change the L.A. burger scene when it opened?
L.A. was always a prominent burger town, but it was defined by fast-food and eating-in-your-car culture. The city was all about the car hop and the drive-thru—the burger scene revolved around fast-food places like In-N-Out and McDonald’s.
When I opened Father’s Office, all I did was put a different perspective on things. I don’t think I added to the identity of L.A. being the burger town, what I did was present the idea that a chef could rethink ingredients in a burger, and that a burger could be something more than cheap fast food. It could actually be a real meal with quality ingredients, something that you spend time crafting. The Father’s Office burger served to open up that flood gate. After that, people started saying, hey, a burger is like a blank canvas.
In the past 15 years, there’s been a lot of imitations, and the genre of the gourmet burger has definitely taken off. Also, you’re now starting to see more high-end ingredients in fast food. These days, you’ll go to a place like Wendy’s and they’re talking about applewood-smoked bacon and blue cheese. Before, it was always just ketchup, mustard, and American cheese. The idea of high-end ingredients on a burger has become commonplace.
You’ll go to a place like Wendy’s and they’re talking about applewood-smoked bacon and blue cheese. Before, it was always just ketchup, mustard, and American cheese.
Would you say L.A. is one of the best burger cities in America?
I think it’s the top in the country. I travel, and I’ve been to other cities that have good burgers. But it’s the same reason why L.A. is the sushi town—it’s simply because we have more of it, and there’s more choices. That doesn’t mean other cities don’t have good burgers; we just have the most. It’s like that with every genre of food, really, whether it’s fast-food or high-end—we have more choices here that in any other city, so I don’t think anyone could take the take the burger crown from L.A.
The Pug Burger at The Hungry Cat (Photo: Bunrab.com)
When you’re going out for a burger, do you gravitate towards spots like In-N-Out and Apple Pan, or chef-y burgers?
I probably eat more fast-food burgers than I do chef-y, gourmet burgers. I enjoy In-N-Out as much as anybody, every now and again, and Apple Pan is a good standby (I’ve been going there since I was a kid). I wasn’t heavily influenced by Apple Pan’s burger, but again, I see why people like it. I’ll eat at McDonald’s, and I don’t mind Rally’s. There’s a burger at Rally’s called the Big Buford that I really like. The patty’s pretty thick and the lettuce is crisp. I’ll also get a Carl’s Jr. Western Bacon Cheeseburger from time to time.
The Pug Burger might be the best item on the menu, and Hungry Cat’s a seafood restaurant.
If you are going out for a fancier burger, where do you go?
In L.A., I’ll go to The Hungry Cat for a Pug Burger. It might even be the best item on the menu, and Hungry Cat’s a seafood restaurant. The Pub Burger has a good ratio of ingredients, a nice thick patty, an appropriate amount of blue cheese, and a fried egg. The combination is rich, messy, and decadent. When I do go for a gourmet burger, I like a little more decadence.
Father’s Office was one of the first restaurants in L.A. to champion craft beer. But from an outside perspective, L.A. still doesn’t have a great reputation as a beer town. What’s your perspective on the L.A. craft beer scene at the moment?
For years, L.A. has been a wasteland for craft beer; we’ve had no breweries here. But right now—just even in the last five years—a lot of small breweries have started popping up in L.A. The one local brewery that been around for a long time is Craftsman in Pasadena. But now we’re starting to see places like Golden Road and Eagle Rock popping up. The seeds were planted a couple years ago for L.A. to become a serious craft-beer town, and it’s just now starting. San Diego’s had a longer history, of course, and microwbrewing really started in Central and Northern California with Liberty and Anchor. But for so long, L.A. has been a big black hole when it came to craft breweries. As a serious craft-beer town, we’re just now in our infancy. It’s good to see, and hopefully it’s here to stay.
As a serious craft-beer town, we’re just now in our infancy.
Where do you go to get a pint?
Beachwood BBQ. It’s a good barbecue place, but they take their beer selection very, very seriously. And, of course, if you’re a super beer geek, Stuffed Sandwich is a must. The sandwiches are so-so, but the beer selection is like a time capsule.
What’s your favorite beer that you have on tap right now?
My favorite L.A. brewery in general is Craftsman. The brewer, Mark Jilg, is literally a rocket scientist. So he brews things like a rocket scientist would. I appreciate the analytical approach to his brewing, and I still think he’s the most talented brewer in the city.