The Counter. The “Build Your Own Burger” idea behind the Counter, a fashionable new dive in Ocean Park, makes it a universe of possibilities centering around the hamburger and its matrix of 40-odd fixings, a restaurant where a thick, rare, organic-beef hamburger with herbed goat cheese, dried cranberries and roasted chiles seems not just the fancy of a celebrity used to flexing his whim of iron but almost an imperative. Ranch dressing on the side? Done! There is a wine-bar aspect to the place, a selection of microbrews, and waitresses who do not, to put it mildly, look as if they are part of the regular hamburger-eating demographic. 2901 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 399-8383. Open Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. noon–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V. Food for two, $13–$22. American. JG $
Father’s Office. Welcome to Father’s Office, where the tapas are pretty tasty, the microbrews are on tap, and dining is a full-contact sport — there is no line, no wait list and nobody keeping track of seating. Chef Sang Yoon’s signature hamburger has been called the best in Los Angeles so often that even people in Pittsburgh know about the bar. The dry-aged beef is cooked exceptionally rare, and the patties are loosely packed. The charred onions are cooked down to something approaching the sweetness of maple syrup; the smear of Gruyère and Maytag blue adds a wash of funky richness. But scoring a seat can be like a tag-team match with no referees. 1018 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 393-2337, www.fathersoffice.com. Dinner Mon.–Wed. 5–10 p.m., Thurs. 5–11 p.m., Fri. 4–11 p.m., Sat. 3–11 p.m., Sun. 3– 10 p.m. Beer and wine. Takeout. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Tapas. JG $
Irv’s Burgers. Across the street from Hamburger Mary’s, Irv’s Burgers is a patch of unreconstructed California in the epicenter of sleek West Hollywood. Since 1950 it has been a redoubt of hand-cut French fries and double cheeseburgers, pastrami sandwiches and Denver omelets, onion rings and tuna melts, and its fans seem almost to live at the place, reading the trades, meeting with groups of friends, stapling up posters advertising readings at A Different Light and Fatboy Slim CDs. Irv’s current proprietor, Sonia Hong, is nice — just totally, maniacally nice; she personalizes almost every paper plate and to-go bag with scrawled notes. The hamburgers are totally, infinitely customizable, and if you’ve been going there awhile, you probably have a variation or a private sandwich configuration named after you, a sandwich that is irrevocably yours. 8289 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 650-2456. Open Mon.–Sat. 8 a.m.– 7 p.m. No alcohol. Difficult street parking only. Cash only. Lunch for two, $8–$12. American. JG ¢
Lemon Moon. A glamorous restaurant in a sleekly modern media office complex on the Westside, Lemon Moon is a stab at the ultimate office-building cafeteria. It has streamlined service, relatively healthy food, plenty of takeout options, and a simplified menu wide enough to cater to every imaginable diet, ethnic whim or religious persuasion. The cheeseburgers, made with profoundly aged prime beef, are among the best in L.A. 12200 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 442-9191. Breakfast and lunch Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–3 p.m. Beer and wine. Lot parking. AE, MC, V. Food for two, $11–$24. Contemporary American. JG $
Mike’s Hockeyburger. Mike may be the most prominent restaurateur in this part of town, an industrial area that seems more like an enormous, truck-choked loading dock, and his sign, which depicts a giant hockey player, was “borrowed” for the doughnut shop in Wayne’s World. But Mike sure is proudest of his Hockeyburger, which is essentially a cheeseburger garnished with a sliced, grilled all-beef hot dog. Though the Hockeyburger may be fearsome to behold, it is actually almost as delicious as it is indigestible. 1717 S. Soto St., Los Angeles, (323) 264-0444. Breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon.–Wed. 6 a.m.–7 p.m., Thurs.–Fri. 24 hours, Sat. 6 a.m.–3:30 p.m., closed Sun. Beer. Lot parking. Cash only. Lunch for two, $8–$12. American. JG ¢
Pete’s Café and Bar. Pete’s has classic bar-’n’-grill good looks. There’s also a hint of contemporary clubbiness. The food is a functional, midprice take on New American cooking: mac and cheese, a gilded burger (fontina, tomato aioli), bread pudding. 400 S. Main St., downtown, (213) 617-1000. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–1:30 a.m., Sat.–Sun. 11 a.m.–mid. Full bar. Lot parking. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Entrées, $10–$24. American. MH $$
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Pie ’N Burger. This is the best neighborhood hamburger joint in a neighborhood that includes Caltech, which means the guy next to you may be reading a physics proof over his chili size as if it were the morning paper. When compressed by the act of eating, a Pie ’N Burger hamburger leaks thick, pink dressing, and the slice of American cheese, if you have ordered a cheeseburger, does not melt into the patty, but stands glossily aloof. 913 E. California Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 795-1123. Mon.–Fri. 6 a.m.–10 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Beer and wine. Street parking. Cash only. Entrées, $5–$10. American. JG ¢
Tommy’s. There’s no way around it: Eating a Tommyburger is an aggressive act. You can’t stop at Tommy’s and expect to go back to the office; you can’t inhale a Tommyburger at 1 in the morning and expect your spouse to kiss you when you finally stagger home. A Tommyburger is an uncouth thing, a sloppy, stinking mess, oozing chili and raw onion, that takes over your system for the better part of a day. Tommyburgers can’t really be considered car food, unless you’re okay with orange grease spots on the upholstery and an aroma that lasts longer than most warranties, but the Hollywood branch, a drive-thru exquisitely positioned right off the Hollywood Boulevard exit of the 101, makes it possible to coast in off the freeway, load up on chili burgers and cruise back toward downtown in a scant minute. 5873 Hollywood Blvd., (323) 467-3792. Open daily 24 hours. No alcohol. Lot parking. ATM cards, cash. $4.20–$5.50. American. JG ¢
Top’s. The drive-thru hamburger is generally a sorry proposition, a junkyard of unhappy Happy Meals, of unstellar Famous Stars, of charnel-house malteds and grisly lumps of gristle, of TV-slick cheesy things and other restaurants so terrifyingly off-brand that you fear for your intestinal fauna. And then there is Top’s, where the bacon-avocado cheeseburgers are grand, goopy things; the onion rings are pleasingly crunchy; and the shakes are as dense and sweet as a life well lived. 1792 E. Walnut St., Pasadena, (626) 584-0244. Lunch and dinner Sun.–Thurs. 7 a.m.–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 7 a.m.–mid. No alcohol. Lot parking. ATM cards and cash only. $6.35–$10.79. American. JG ¢
Violet. A pleasant, mainstream bistro, Violet has all the appropriate buzzwords on its menu: the harissa aioli, the braised veal cheeks, the rare ahi tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes, but it is also possible to stop by at lunchtime for a cheeseburger or a sandwich of that same Spanish ham turbocharged with sliced manchego cheese and breathtaking amounts of fresh garlic. Violet is a little restaurant that cares. 3221 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 453-9113, www.violetrestaurant.com. Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., dinner Tues.–Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 5:30–10 p.m. Beer and wine. Valet parking. AE, D, MC, V. Dinner for two, food only, $44–$66. California cuisine. JG $$