[Missed an installment? Catch up with 30 Burgers in 30 Days in our meaty archive.]
If Johnny Rocket's wasn't so relentlessly corporate and soulless, it would be Hamburger Habit. They share a fetish for old-fashioned Coca Cola signs, chrome barstools covered in read leather and the idealized decor of the mid-century American diner. Unlike Johnny Rocket's, Hamburger Habit has decent burgers.
Established in 1968, is a local favorite, and it's not shy about its popularity. Giant banners proclaim its "Best Burger" status. Otherwise, it looks, from the exterior, like it should be any other dingy, mom-and-pop lunch counter. Instead, it's a large, sparkling Mecca of 1950s iconography, a palace to the American fast-food burger hidden, like so many L.A. gems, in a corner strip mall.
"Hamburger" is in the joint's name, but it's also known for the Archie Bonker, a Polish dog gussied up with a pile of onions, tomatoes, lettuce, mustard and mayo and served on a French roll. We're here for the titular burger, to see if it will, in fact, spark our habit.
Meat & Bun: Whether you're a minimalist or a maximalist, a fan of Ernest Hemingway or a David Foster Wallace acolyte, Hamburger Habit has a burger to suit your tastes. The Naked Truth is nothing but meat, bun and "dressing" (more on that later) served with a dill pickle spear on the side ($4.60). The Works, as its name implies, includes a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato slices, chili and cheese ($5.30). The middle bear is The Big Scene ($4.80) or maybe The Sassy Cheese ($5). Both include lettuce and tomato, but the latter also has Swiss or cheddar cheese.
This is the true and classic flat patty, verging toward White Castle territory and similar to the meat at Bill and Hiroko's but with less seasoning. It tastes clean and unadorned, but unfortunately, it's also pretty dry. The base is a neutral, slightly oversized white bread bun with sesame seeds. Lightly grilled on the cut side, just enough to stiffen up the bread, it holds up well. Along with the meat, it's a decent, above average burger but nowhere near the "best burger in Los Angeles."
Toppings: It's hard not to love a menu that offers "Bacon on Anything" for $1.30. (We're curious to test the limits of their tolerance.) You can also add extra cheese, avocado or a second patty for a reasonable price, building a gorgeous stacked burger that looks amazing in photos but is a challenge to eat.
Every burger comes with what the menu calls "dressing." At most places, that means Thousand Island or a posh attempt at it. Here, we have no idea what that word means. We didn't taste anything resembling dressing on any of our burgers. We did enjoy the way the juice from the tomato slices soaked into the bottom bun -- here, most toppings are placed under the burger -- but it did leave us curious about the mystery dressing.
Sides: Hamburger Habit is known for its array of uncommon side dishes, like hot buttered corn-on-the-cob and lentil soup. The corn is bright yellow and thoroughly cooked, coated in butter and heavily salted. We didn't sample the lentil soup, which sounded like an unappealing companion for a burger. We can, however, vouch for the chili cheese fries, some of the best we've had during this burger odyssey.
The chunky chili not too runny or not too goopy, is tangy with hints of cumin and boasts ground chunks of undefinable meat. There's just enough of it to coat the top layer of finger-thick fries while leaving the bottom layer crisp and untouched. A demure layer of shredded cheese coats the fries.
Dessert: Like the sign behind the counter says: Life's Short, Eat Dessert First. At Hamburger Habit, you should, and if you order one of their milkshakes, you will. The chocolate shake is just vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and milk. When it's mixed this thick, does it need to be more? These shakes are hard to resist and easy to finish, perhaps before you've even been served your burger.
The Upshot: Hardly the best burger in town, Hamburger Habit is a sentimental favorite and a charming neighborhood burger hamlet. Whatever burger you get, don't miss the chili cheese fries and the milkshakes. CASH ONLY.
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- Day 27: Taylor's Prime Steak in Koreatown
- Day 26: Master Burger in Jefferson Park
- Day 25: Burgers & Burrata at Little Dom's in Los Feliz
- Day 24: Morton's The Strakhouse in downtown LA
- Day 23: Rustic Canyon Wine Bar in Santa Monica
- Day 22: Bar Bouchon in Beverly Hills
- Day 21: Stout in Hollywood
- Day 20: Mom's Burgers in Compton
- Day 19: Bill & Hiroko's in Van Nuys
- Day 18: Pacific Dining Car in Koreatown
- Day 17: Pie 'n Burger in Pasadena
- Day 16: Blue Dog Beer Tavern in Sherman Oaks
- Day 15: Exotic Meats at Billy's Burgers
- Day 14: Ground & Pound at The Bucket
- Day 13: Bacon Heaven at The Oaks Gourmet Market
- Day 12: Lazy Ox Canteen
- Day 11: Cassell's in Koreatown
- Day 10: Burgers & Beer at The Bottle Room
- Day 9: Pretzel Buns at Hole In The Wall Burger Joint
- Day 8: Late Night Burgers at Eveleigh
- Day 7: Apple Pan Keeps on Truckin'
- Day 6: Perfection at Comme Ça
- Day 5: The Fix Is In
- Day 4: Fun with Buns at Rounds Premium Burgers
- Day 3: Whipped Cream & Other Delights at The Counter
- Day 2: Kimchi & Cultural Fusion at Kalbi Burger
- Day 1: Alcohol & Excess at GO Burger