Best burgers in LA

  • INSIDER’s Joe Avella went on a quest to find the best burger in Los Angeles.
  • Original Tommy’s, Animal, Pie’n Burger, and Burgers Never Say Die are considered some of the best LA has to offer.
  • Joe ate too much and doesn’t handle LA traffic well.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Joe Avella: My name is Joe, and I’m on a quest to find the best burger in Los Angeles. I love eatin’ burgers so much. “Yeah.” And today, despite my cardiologist’s advice, I’m eating at four of the best burger spots in Los Angeles to find out who has the best burger in L.A.

Here’s the deal, to make sure this is the most burger-ful day, I combed through best-of lists on Thrillist, The Infatuation, Eater LA, and Bloomberg, then cross referenced their top picks on Yelp, whittling the list down to 4 of the top LA burgers.

I’m ready to eat! I took an extra dose of Atorvastatin and met up with Los Angeles burger expert, and magnificent beard-haver, Jeff Miller. He’s joining the quest and was nice enough to give me a run down of today’s burgers.

First, I wanna go to Tommy’s.

Jeff Miller: Tommy’s is like one of those institutions, it’s been around for decades and decades, sort of one of these places that established burger culture in LA, it’s a stone cold classic.

Joe: Sweet, I’ve heard amazing things about Animal, and they have this bone marrow burger, right?

Jeff: Animal’s burger is crazy, it has this unctuousness I’ve never tasted in a burger before, it’s a great choice. Pie’n Burger is in Pasadena where they created the cheeseburger, I don’t know that Pie’n Burger was the creator of the cheeseburger. It’s actually considered one of the best burgers in the country.

Joe: Burgers Never Say Die, new guys in town, what’s up with them?

Jeff: It’s such a great story, this guy started it like literally in his driveway putting up pictures on Instagram, and he makes this griddle patty smashed so it’s crusty on the outside, and like really, really great flavour on the inside, it’s this like small burger, that is so delicious, it is packed full of flavour.

Joe: Enough talk, let’s get started. Tommy’s has been on my radar since I moved to Los Angeles, if there’s one place that was on every best burger in LA list, it is Tommy’s.

Robert Auerbach: When you order at Tommy’s Hamburger, it comes with chilli. Family lore says that he started selling a recipe or a chilli sauce on top of his burgers and hot dogs back in the forties, and it caught on.

Joe: So, I’m not the biggest chilli guy, it’s fine, right? From the Midwest, we’d have it when it’s cold out. The fact that this chilli burger has been around for like 70 years, gives me hope if anyone’s doin’ it right, it’s probably these guys.

Robert: That stand is open 365 days a year. When Tom started, May 14th 1956, he would just sit there and make burgers all day, he lived here literally, he was absolutely married to this idea that he was gonna feed Angelenos burgers, chilli, his chilli burger, when they wanted it.

Joe: Tommy’s wouldn’t be Tommy’s without its signature chilli, it’s made daily, in house with a secret blend of spices. This location has three 90 gallon kettles, and it goes through roughly 180 gallons a day.

Robert: On a weekend they will go through, they will go through hundreds of gallons, probably thousands of gallons.

Joe: Tommy’s makes that chilli nice and thick, so it sits on the burger perfectly.

Jeff: It’s like a classic LA institution, so I’m glad to be here for your first time eating a Tommy’s chilli burger.

Joe: To eat burgers in Los Angeles is to eat at Original Tommy’s.

Jeff: Yeah you have to come to Tommy’s if you’re gonna do a burger trip in LA.

Joe: Wow, I get it! You think chilli burgers you’re like, the things gonna go everywhere, right?

Jeff: Right.

Joe: It’s like still packed in there, you saw how they thickened up their special secret recipe of the chilli, it’s almost like the glue that keeps this delicious burger together. It’s like a masterpiece of chilli and burger, and cheese, and bun. Probably more eloquent way to say that, but I’m just enjoying this way I’m enjoying this way too much, I’m just like like food, cheese, meat, mouth, good!

Customer: Well my family has been coming here for like forty years so, it is a family tradition. It’s just one of the places that you just come back to.

Joe: Right now I’m on my way to Animal, oop! They have a bone marrow burger, I believe it’s called the Boner Burger. It just looks incredible, I think I’m lost, where am I going? Ug, Construction! The burger has bone marrow in it, what? That sounds amazing and delicious. What is this guy doing? Everything’s taking forever.

Brad Watson: Animal is sort of, in all of its history has been a little different than every other restaurant, so we wanted to make a burger that kinda showcased what Animal was.

Joe: What things do you have to be conscious of, because there’s bone marrow like mixed within that, I would assume that the marrow would start melting and fall apart? I don’t know anything, by the way.

Brad: That’s part of the reason this burger we serve rare, that’s to keep the bone marrow locked in.

Joe: Animal uses a Japanese robata grill so the chef can move the patty around, keeping it away from the flame and cooking it low and slow, I am not familiar with this grill, but with this bone marrow patty cooking on it, it smells incredible!

Brad: Once we pull the burger off the grill, I have our cheese mix here, it’s Monterey Jack cheese, roasted poblano peppers, and caramelised red onion.

Joe: What? I’m freaking out, I want this so bad.

Jeff: It’s gonna be so good.

Joe: Thank you for recommending this.

Jeff: It’s gonna be so good.

Joe: Even the bun is unique, a combo rye from Diamond Bakery down the street. Everything I’m hearing is like, no one else can make this burger.

Jeff: I mean don’t forget the patty that also has, you know, not just their meat blend, but also bone marrow in it, I mean it’s all, every ingredient is like very specific.

Joe: Next, the chef adds Animal’s very own 420 sauce, nice, to the toasted rye. Then the burger’s placed in the bun, they add a little more 420 sauce, and we are ready to eat.

Joe: I am so excited, this looks incredible. And you’re kind of the reason that people know about this because you’d written about it- I don’t wanna take too much credit but they were-

Joe: No, please.

Jeff: They were doing it as a secret, and I wrote about the secret, and secrets out, you know.

Joe: Secrets out!

Jeff: Secrets out.

Joe: Alright, let’s do it, take a bite. Wow!

Jeff: It’s so rich. Part of the idea is that it has that melty bone marrow mouth feel.

Joe: Yeah.

Jeff: With like the flavours that you associate with a burger, you know, sort of the ability to eat it like a sandwich.

Joe: This is like the best gourmet burger I’ve ever had, just with everything together works so perfectly. Jeff, you got a little 420 sauce on your…

Jeff: 420 sauce?

Joe: Look at the camera.

Jeff: 420 sauce. Welcome to Los Angeles, 420 sauce, I mean!

Joe: Now, let’s go to Pasadena for Pie’n Burger.

Jeff: I don’t know if I can handle that traffic, but you have fun, it’s a great burger, it’s like a classic American griddle burger, you’re gonna love it.

Joe: Hopped up on red meat and stuck in LA traffic, I’m ready for burger number three. Pie’n Burger looks like an old school diner set up, I think it’s been there since like the 60s? Lately they have become kind of like this foodie destination. Oh, you know, I was gonna go and then I couldn’t go ’cause you just cut me off. I’m going, I know, sorry buddy.

Michael Osborn: In the burger world everyone has their idea of what a burger should be, and we’re sort of thought of that we’re the classic, California burger, and sometimes it’s really hard, you can’t be all things to all people. Why not concentrate on what makes you really, really good, and just try and do it better than everybody else.

Joe: Since 1963 Pie’n Burger has been dishing up burgers from the same location in Pasadena. It has a wonderfully old school vibe to it, down to the milkshake machine and cash register. This burger is as classic as they come, fresh beef patty cooked on a flat top grill, topped with lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, and house made thousand island dressing. If I’m here, I’m doing it right, so I ordered a strawberry milkshake with my burger, which by the way, is incredible. When you go, don’t sleep on the milkshakes.

Everything about this screams delicious, the way the sauce and the onions are kinda pouring out of it, it looks incredible, man. It’s big too, man, like it’s a big burger. This thing is fantastic, the thousand island sauce combined with the pickles and the meat all together, perfect. I’m floored by how good this is, like this is what you think about when you daydream about eating hamburgers. Pretty much been making this exact hamburger for you know, half a century, and it’s amazing. Things kinda slow down in a place like this it feels like, it’s just nice to sit and enjoy a burger. They have put so much care into making each one of these ingredients not only the best they could be, but also work perfectly together, nothing else tastes like this.

It’s called Pie’n Burger, gotta try the pie, it’s in the title. This pie is perfect, oh wow! Should come back and do a video on the pies. Jeff, dude you’re missing out.

Customer: I really like thousand island on my burger, you know and then they put the pickle chips in there, so it’s kinda old school but it’s, they’re always consistently great.

Customer: We always come here, for years my kids all grew up here, family, generations of families grow up in this restaurant, so.

Joe: That was so great, Pie’n Burger is incredible. That burger was so good, I just realised I’m shooting this in the wrong aspect ratio, but I’m not fixing it, I don’t have time, I’m just so overwhelmed by how good that was I’m shooting this thing wrong, and I apologise. Definitely worth the trip to Pasadena, Jeff, I feel ya not wanting to fight the traffic to get here. I am gonna come back very often, to go to Pie’n Burger. Yeah just get into my lane, it’s fine, yeah you don’t need to, you don’t need to, don’t use your signals, it’s cool. I’m not going anywhere. I got one place left to go, Burgers Never Say Die.

On second thought, I waited a couple days because it’s not easy going to four different burger places in one day, but I’m rested, I changed my clothes, I got a haircut I don’t like, and now I am here at Burgers Never Say Die. I’m so excited to check this place out, the food looks incredible, so let’s go.

Jeff couldn’t join us today because he had a prior engagement, also I forgot to call him. Anyway, Burgers Never Say Die started only a few years ago, in Shawn Nee’s backyard, and it’s quickly become an underground sensation. Apparently there’s laws against opening a restaurant in your backyard, so Shawn and company moved it to their own space in Silver Lake.

Shawn Nee: I never planned on opening a restaurant, I just planned to make burgers in my backyard, and if people didn’t like ’em, at least my friends liked ’em, and we had this nice, you know, street griddle I could cook on. It gradually evolved on its own, and I really enjoyed doing it. Somebody offered me the chance to open up a restaurant, so I just decided to do it.

Joe: The new space is a hit, with long lines of customers waiting to get a taste of the signature smash burger. It’s pressed paper thin and topped with cheese, then dressed up deceitfully simple: ketchup, mustard, onions, and pickles. That’s it, whaa?

Shawn: My smash burger is very thin, you drop the ball on the griddle, and you have some type of smasher. Cooking smash burgers is inherently inconsistent because you just don’t know how the meat’s gonna react once it’s on the griddle, with the fat content and things like that, so every time you’re cooking you’re always adjusting for whatever.

Joe: The space inside is very minimal. I love how it looks, I love the consume burgers, reference to They Live, I assume. Burgers Never Say Die doesn’t have its own dining area, it has a shared one with the coffee shop, it’s lunchtime, it’s packed, so I’m just gonna eat here in the parking lot. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with eating burgers in a parking lot, so that’s what I’m gonna do, please do not judge me. You can see how flat it is, I mean this is a stark contrast to all the other burgers we’ve had here. Smells amazing, it’s really crispy, you saw them coming off the grill, just pushing them down there, and putting this bright yellow American cheese on ’em. Looks amazing, I gotta bite into this.

Oh, my God. Believe the hype, wow. The flavour alone of the meat, the char, oh my goodness. Inside there’s a sign that says something like, “Make sure you get two” or “Always order two”, dude, always order four. Double cheeseburger sounds like a lot, but it’s actually pretty thin, so I could easily, I mean I’m almost done with this one, and just… gone. If the wait is that long, might as well- yo, all matte black Tesla, sick.

Conner Blake: I saw that on the way over here.

Joe: Oooohh!

Conner: Pretty sweet.

Joe: Alright. Get as many as you possibly afford, and hoard them. You look at how simple the menu is, you look how simple the ingredients are you think, how good could this be? It’s excellent. All right cameraman, what do you think?

Conner: Damn. Thin is the way to go, ’cause it gets nice and crispy, top three burger parking lot experiences. Easily.

Bonnie Amos: I think the flavour is unlike any burger I’ve ever had. And I also think that, especially like coming from the backyard, like that feeling of being a part of something new, is exciting to people.

Customer: And like the crispiness of the edges, and like the burger’s really buttery, it’s very simple and like that’s it, it speaks for itself.

Joe: Wow! Every single burger I had for this video was incredible and unique, and it’s hard to pick a favourite, because I loved all of them, and in my opinion are all A plus burgers. If you every get a chance to eat any of these burgers, make it your business to do so, you will not be disappointed.

But I have to pick a favourite, or Herrine and Emily will kill me. Before I do that, let’s just do a quick recap, even though you literally just watched me eat all this food.

Tommy’s. It’s easy to see why they have been around for seventy years. The burgers were fantastic. I was so impressed with the chilli, and how it pairs perfectly with the burgers. Animal. Putting bone marrow in a burger is a stroke of genius, and with their 420 sauce, 420 bro, and rye bread, they have created one of the best, most unique burger experiences in Los Angeles. Pie’n Burger. Everything about this burger from the patty to the thousand island dressing, all came together on my taste buds like Voltron, and I was floored. Burgers Never Say Die. Their backyard burger success story is no fluke, I really love the simplicity, and attention to quality their smash burger has. And making it flat like that just makes the edges crispy, oh man, so great.

Dude, I’m literally worried that the three places that I don’t pick are gonna like blackball me, and be really mad at me, like I’m worried, I don’t wanna get on the bad side of–

Sydney: Hi this is Sydney from Insider, and I just wanted to pop in and say no one is mad at Joe, and no one’s gonna blackball him. He gets worried about stuff like this for no reason, literally all the time, I don’t know why, we all know a person like this. But, you know, what can you do? OK, back to the video.

Joe: I don’t know, anyway, I gotta pick one, so here we go. OK, moment of truth, and my favourite is… Pie’n Burger. Every one of the burgers I had were great, but Pie’n Burger was just transcendent. Everything about it, from the patty, the delicious thousand island dressing, all the toppings just came together perfectly. This burger is a masterpiece. I see now why people live in Pasadena.

And I know, I get it, why didn’t I review your specific favourite burger place in Los Angeles? Apple Pan, or Irv’s. Howard’s Bacon and Avocado Burger, or Father’s Office, or Fatburger, or Oinkster, I mean, I know Yuca’s on Hillhurst has an incredible cheeseburger I just had, it’s really great. Why aren’t they in the video? I didn’t get to it, maybe I’ll just have to do another burger video, except In-N-Out, I’m not doing In-N-Out. Bye!

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