In some restaurants, the bar is the pits. Not at Lazy Ox Centeen, where it may be our favorite seat in the house.
Sitting at the bar you can marvel at the coordination of the half-dozen cooks moving with balletic awareness around the tiny open kitchen.
The burger, too, looks disarmingly petite. Don't be fooled. This is more a vertical beast than a horizontal one. Like developers exploiting air rights to erect 50-story skyscrapers onto puny parcels of land, Lazy Ox's burger doesn't command much of a footprint, but it's a towering stack of meat with a powerful punch.
Meat & Bun: Chef Josef Centeno is known for bold, aggressive flavors, and his burger ($14) is no different. This is no meek, middle-of-the-road slab of meat. The beef has a concentrated, earthy flavor. (We're told it's because Centeno adds suet.) It's prepared medium-rare, by default, and your waiter will strongly encourage you not to ask that it be more thoroughly cooked. We concur. No one puts a better char on a burger than the cooks at Lazy Ox, producing a gratifying textural disparity between the chewy char-grilled exterior and the soft, pink, loosely-packed interior, squishing between your teeth. From the bar, you can watch flames licking the sides of your burger as it cooks on the open grill.
It's served on a toasted, house-made bun that's nearly as high as it is round. The bun here is a thing of beauty. A sound support system that's as structurally sound as it is pleasing to the eye.
Toppings: This is not a have-it-your-way burger. This is a chef-driven burger, and Centeno offers and upscale take on classic toppings: raw red onions, dark leaf lettuce, a kicky mayonnaise-esque house-made special sauce and buttery, tangy cantal, a rarely used but perfect melting cheese. (Depending on the season, it may include some sort of pickle.)
Sides: The burger comes with a side of short, thick, stubby, rectangular fries served with large-grain mustard and a paprika aoli more vividly orange than Carrot Top's hair. The fries are soft and chunky, good enough to make you reconsider ordering any other side-dish, but if you do...
Go for the multi-meat fiesta, and get the pig's ear, which Jonathan Gold dubbed the best in town, saying they, "resemble nothing less than great carnitas, oozing, porky things that taste as if they have been simmering for hours in pure lard ." We won't disagree. Also, we can't stop eating the trout conserva, sort of the fancier version of the whitefish spread we love from Bagel Broker.
Dessert: Yes. The menu changes frequently. If you haven't gorged yourself on savories, get at least one sweet, whatever it is. Or skip dessert and choose from one of their numerous obscure beers. Per J. Gold, the beer roster is "an ale-freak's dream."
The Upshot: The place is often booked solid with reservations, but if you walk in early (by 6 p.m. on a weekend or 6:30 p.m. on a weekday), you can usually snag a prime seat at the bar. The burger, the pig's ear and one other small plate should be perfect for two people aiming to eat well without being gluttons.
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Exercise: 50 pullups, 60 tricep dips, 125 situps. 45-min. spin class.
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