Hounds may recall that back in May I asked where to find the best non-beef burger (see attached). I have now eaten at all of the places that hounds recommended, and below I present my results.
First, though, a few methodological notes. I ate these burgers over a period of four months and didn't take any notes, so I might get some details of names and ingredients wrong. I ordered each burger without cheese or mayonnaise, which means that the relatively dry burgers probably suffered in comparison. I haven't tried to compare prices; you get different amounts of food and different sorts of side dishes at each place, so price comparisons would not be meaningful. You basically get what you pay for. Though I did eat everywhere, I did not have all of the non-beef burgers that were available at each place. Thus, for example, I did not get all of the veggie burgers that were recommended, such as the one at Mo Bettah Meatty Meat Burgers that I'm told is the ultimo supremo. Finally, because in most cases I had only one example of each burger, my test may suffer from the randomness of particular visits, e.g., busy times versus non-busy times.
Okay, here is the ranking of non-beef burgers, roughly from best to worst:
Rosemary chicken burger, Mustard Seed Cafe (1948 Hillhurst Ave, 323 660 0670). Clearly the best, it was the only burger that seemed to reflect real thought. It had rosemary, mustard, and grilled onions, and literally alone in the entire group it had an interesting, distinctive, very nice flavor.
26 Special (ask for turkey), 26 Beach Cafe (3100 Washington Blvd, Venice). More of a party gag than a meal, the 26 Special includes two turkey patties that could double as hockey pucks, along with lots of veggies on a big bun, in a pile so humongously high that no human being could possibly eat it. You have to take it apart, discard one of the turkey patties (perhaps scavenging some bread to fashion it into a second burger), and eat the rest. Once you finish reengineering it, however, it's good. It's not like the elements come together in a distinctive taste; rather, what you're getting is the integrity of the separate elements, all of which are fresh and properly prepared.
Veggie burger, Huston's (Century City, Pasadena, Santa Monica, etc). This is the best of the veggie burgers that I had. It more or less solves the chronic problem of veggie burgers: structural integrity. Veggie burgers tend to break apart when you bite into them, squirting halves and thirds of the veggie patty out the side of the bun. But the Huston's burger stays relatively intact. It also has much more flavor, much more, than your average veggie burger, a dark spicy flavor that I quite like.
Chicken burger, Daily Grill (Brentwood, Pasadena, Burbank, etc). The appeal of this chicken burger is mainly the mechnical experience of eating it. It's big, and it's got a good-sized hunk of meat. Like everything at Daily Grill it's reliably prepared and a little bland, and like 26 Beach Cafe you're getting the freshness of the separate ingredients more than any whole. It comes with apple relish, which is kind of interesting, in case you want a break from ketchup.
Double turkey burger, Fatburger (all over). It doesn't look like much, with a relatively small diameter and a couple of somewhat grey-looking turkey patties, but if you put a bunch of ketchup on it it's remarkably satisfying.
Turkey burger, Break Shot (11970 Venice Blvd, 310 391 3435). As befits a sports bar, this a real guy burger. It's fairly large around, probably the most two-fisted of all the burgers, and it too is pretty darn satisfying to eat. It has some structural integrity problems, though.
Double king turkey burger, Mo Better Meatty Meat Burgers (5855 W Pico Blvd, 323 938 6558). This double turkey burger came totally slathered in mustard, and as far as I can tell it was the mustard that was holding it together. It really was crumbly, and the patties disintegrated back into ground turkey as I tried to eat them. For all that, though, it was reasonably well cooked.
Teriyaki chicken burger, Red Robin (6602 Topanga Canyon Blvd, Canoga Park, 818 883 1060). Red Robin is a corporate place, too alcohol-centered but staffed by friendly high school students. The teriyaki chicken burger is a fairly small burger whose claim to fame is a slab of pineapple. I'm not sure what pineapple has to do with teriyaki, but if you want pineapple on your chicken sandwich then this is the place to go.
Planet Burger (veggie), Good Earth (12345 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, 818 506 7400). The Good Earth veggie burger is supposedly made of numerous vegetables and seeds. Why seeds I don't know, given that seeds are one of the more unhealthy things you can eat. But the resulting patty has extreme structural integrity problems, and I spent most of my lunch doing crowd control, trying to pack the various factions of the thing back into the bun. What saved the burger experience, though, surprisingly, was a great huge wad of some kind of reasonably flavorful lettuce that wasn't your normal boring iceberg.
Buffalo burger, Astro Burger (7475 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, 323 874 8041). A sign on the counter of this fairly promising retro joint announces that the buffalo burger is a "distinctly different taste" (or words to that effect), so I abandoned my plan to get a veggie burger and decided to try the buffalo burger instead. Once they got done cooking it, however, "taste" wasn't quite the right word for it. The buffalo patty was so thin that it didn't have an inside, just a slab of char and a bunch of shredded lettuce (definitely iceberg).
Veggie "chicken" burger, Orean (817 N Lake Ave, Pasadena, 626 794 0861). Orean is a little taste of 1974 right here in 2002, and its "chicken" burger appears to be a deep-fried golden puck of some kind of vegetable matter in a fairly small bun. It was odd, I can say that for it.
Turkey burger, The Kettle (1138 Highland Avenue, Manhattan Beach, 310 545 8511). Lots of good intentions from this appealing down-home sort of place near the beach. But the turkey patty had been cooked until it was too dry to eat, like someone forgot it on the grill.
Gobbler burger, Natural Cafe (508 State Street, Santa Barbara, 805 962 9494). Bad, dry, tasteless burger brought to you by dumb people ("that's not mayonnaise, it's thousand island dressing!").
Okay, that's it. Do let me know if there are high-quality non-beef burger vendors that I have left out.