Three things go into making a great sausage: lots of flavorful ingredients, a decent amount of fat and proper cooking. When you bite in it has to absolutely pop. The bun should also have substance yet be neither sweet nor overpowering. As for toppings, we're still suckers for sauerkraut, mustard, peppers and onions.
To find the best sausages in L.A., we embarked on a culinary research adventure that over the course of six months included visits to 18 establishments and the consumption of more than 40 sausages. We stuck with European-style sausages, and mostly Eastern European, since we'll leave Spanish chorizo and Portuguese linguiça for another time. Also, we didn't bother sampling poultry or seafood sausages because it seemed unfair to compare chicken to pork (and we are deeply biased against chicken sausage unless it's for breakfast). We were looking for — but didn't always find — house-made, or at least proprietary, and always-on-the-menu sausages. A restaurant also got bonus points for having a good vegetarian option on hand.
Many food comas and sausage overloads later, we're ready to count down the best of the wurst. And we promise that after that comment, we will refrain from any more sausage puns for the duration of this list.
10. Links n' Hops
Links n' Hops is quintessentially Los Angeles. It's the spot where you can buy classic or exotic (think, hickory smoked alligator) sausages, served on fluffy Mexican bolillo buns at a Syrian-American owned sports-focused beer hall in Atwater Village. The links on offer — many of which come from the dominating team at Masterlink Sausage and Meats in Fullerton — can be sublime or somewhat bland. Our tie for the two best are the deeply flavorful smoked Polish or the Hungarian Debreziner, both of which are juicy and done right. You might also want to bite into the perennially popular Smoked Portuguese Hawaiian, but maybe stay away from the buffalo and the duck. Sip your beer slowly to help make up for the interminable wait, watch the traffic go by and enjoy the fact you just got a hearty meal for under $15. 3111 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, 90039; (323) 426-9049
As a pioneer in the hipster-downtown-sausage arena, we would be remiss to do a sausage list and leave out Wurstküche. They don't make many of their limited selection of sausages, but what they do offer is well above decent. Additionally, the Belgian fries (double fried!) are hot and crisp and the staffers are pros at keeping the long line moving. While the place is known for having exotics like rattlesnake and bison, the single best item is the heavily spiced Louisiana Hot Link followed closely by the Hot Italian, a taut-skinned pork mix that brings the burst. 800 E. Third St., Los Angeles; 90013, (213) 687-4444
8. Red Lion Tavern
We love the Red Lion Tavern for being a very WYSIWYG kinda place. It's classic, country German with a whole lotta oom-pah. We also love that they have an owner in common with Continental Kitchen in Burbank, who supplies some of their selections, and where you can purchase the sausages to cook at home. If you have trouble choosing which sausage to order, your best bet is the mixed platter, with a selection of faultless bratwurst, knackwurst and lightly smoked bockwurst. Second runner-up is the fragrant Nürnberger Bratwurst, made heady with earthy marjoram. One taste might take you back to the old country, even if you've never been there. 2366 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles, 90039; (323) 662-5337
7. Jeff's Gourmet Kosher Sausage Factory
At Jeff Rohatiner's Pico-Robertson shop the range of flavor profiles is broad, but the meat is always Kosher. The sausages are made in house and for the most part are exceptional, but it's the South African boerewors that should get you to press your way through the crowd. This is a masterful version of a rare but sought after sausage. It's made with coarse ground beef and a hypnotic blend of spices, including clove, coriander and nutmeg. One will never be enough. For those of you looking for something else, the garlic-heavy Russian is split, grilled and served on an onion-poppyseed bun. 8930 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 90035; (310) 858-8590
6. Phillip's Barbeque
The smoke that wafts enticingly across the Leimert Park parking lot lures you to Phillip's screen door. Inside that door is a tiny hall plastered with menus and accolades, ending at a window where a disarmingly friendly person will take your to-go order. If you have made it this far, go ahead and order the pork ribs and the small ends. When you've done your duty, add an order of their haunting house-made beef sausage. Slathered in a thick sauce, the dense link is served smoked, sliced and with a few pieces of white bread. Whether you bring it home or loiter in the lot and just dig in, you'll find the taste is tangy, meaty and otherworldly. 4307 Leimert Boulevard, Los Angeles, 90008; (323) 292-7613
5. Dog Haus
Oh Dog Haus. Where do we start? You're warm and welcoming with your big tables and rustic wood decor and you have Adam Gertler as your own personal Würstmacher. He's a chef who has the chops to make a thoughtful selection of world-class sausage and enough whimsy to keep cranking out funky new offerings. The menu has so many choices you could come back every day of the week. In the sausage-artistry division though, Dog Haus takes the gold with their The Pig and the Fig, a fatty-but-balanced, emmentaler-cheese-stuffed snappy pork sausage. Served on a toasted bun that's topped with a tangy, sweet-and-hot, fig-and-onion relish, it's unexpected, well balanced and a real popper. All that and you can add an order of tater tots too. Multiple locations
4. Berlin Currywurst
Currywurst is a ubiquitous fast-food dish in Germany that's comprised of sliced bratwurst in curry-flavored ketchup and served with a super cute little wooden fork. If you wander in to Berlin Currywurst, you may think this is the thing to get — and it certainly is — but they have a lot more to offer, since everything is customizable. The sausages are not made in-house, but everything is made with their exacting and authentic proprietary recipes. We urge you to get the classic pork or pork with paprika and the hot curry sauce. With either choice your experience will include fatty bits and juicy bits and pungent bites. Served with soft rye bread and a slew of sauce options, this is the place for people who want a different experience every time...or the exact same one. Go with a big crowd and up your chances of finding the perfect mix for you. 3827 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90026; (323) 663-1989
Newcomer Link has exploded on to the scene with a huge array of fat-astic, experimental and sometimes utterly unchained sausages. The white-subway-tiled location gleams like a beacon for the beautiful people of 3rd Street looking for a bite. (Although they do lose points for having a really Google-unfriendly name.) Owners Thomas Benedict and Henry Costa decided to open a place that honors the craft and uses responsibly sourced, antibiotic and hormone-free meats, local produce and fresh-baked breads. This is no biergarten, but it is higher-end, with beers on draft, thoughtful cocktails and a funky menu that takes sausages to new places. As a bonus, the vegan and vegetarian options here are hardly an afterthought (read: have flavor and aren't dry). The best of the best is the pork Hollywood. With natural casing, a medium-coarse grind and a hefty amount of fat and spice, it's luscious, toothsome and sublime. Pair that with exceptional roasted Brussels sprouts and you will find bliss. 8486 W. 3rd St., West Hollywood, 90048; (747) 221-6207
2. Brats Brothers
With 19 traditional and seven exotic sausages, you're bound to find something you like on the huge, old-school menu at Vadim Navarbekyan's Brats Brothers. The kitschy German vibe adds to the good-time feelings at this somewhat small palace of pork. They do not make their own, but curate some exceptional offerings and have a few proprietary options. Head and shoulders (and probably other parts) above the rest is their take on the Black Forest, a rich and meaty choice with bacon for smokiness and well salted heft. Served simply on a bun, it is $6.95 and is just big enough to be filling, but not so large you can't top it off with a huge stein of beer. 13355 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks, 91423; (818) 986-4020
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1. Jody Maroni's
There are pristine beaches where aquamarine water meets powder-white sand, and then there's Venice Beach, where the last vestiges of Westside grittiness clings to the shore. That is where you'll find the original Jody Maroni's Sausage Kingdom. Sure, they have other, more sterile locations — at the airport, for instance — that serve the same messy-delicious food, but it's the Venice walk-up window, with it's sun-soaked, sticky tables, that has the most appeal (parking be damned). They make all of their sausages at their own kitchen and have done so since the 1970's. There's nothing on the menu that doesn't explode with flavor. From the Toulous Garlic to the smoke-heavy Polish, everything embodies fatty goodness. The Hot Italian is their crowning glory. Ridiculously juicy, it's flecked with fennel and has a whisper of orange that melds with the thick-sliced, slick, grilled peppers and onions. As with everything they serve, the bun to wurst ratio is a perfect 1:1. Various locations; 2011 Ocean Front Walk; Venice, 90291; (310) 822-5639