As a hybrid bar/restaurant/arcade, Echo Park’s Button Mash operates far more fluidly than it should. Spend a quarter or two on Street Fighter or NBA Jam while you wait for a table, sit down for dinner as you would at any other hip (and loud) gastropub, then end the night with a round of craft beers and some pinball.
The food menu, engineered by Button Mash chef-partners and Starry Kitchen creators Nguyen and Thi Tran, is filled with shareable, crowd-pleasing dishes meant to be consumed while drinking. If you’ve been to any of Starry Kitchen’s pop-ups or residencies, you’ll recognize trademark pan-Asian favorites such as crispy tofu balls, double-fried ginger chicken wings or garlic noodles wok-fried with brown butter and chicken fat.
With all these creative dishes, it would be easy to overlook the double cheeseburger ($9). If you’re expecting a hint of Asian fusion (like the spicy sambal that snuck its way into the now-closed Spice Table's minimalist cheeseburger), you'll be surprised to find that Button Mash’s burger is strictly, unrepentantly, no-nonsense old-school.
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Nguyen and Thi Tran, along with business partner Jordan Weiss, spent the better part of a year researching exactly what they wanted their burger to be — or, more accurately, what they didn’t want it to be. “We went in the opposite direction of most gourmet burgers,” says Nguyen Tran. “The inspiration came from places like Pie ’n Burger, Bill & Hiroko’s and Whataburger in Texas. Thin crispy patties, low bread-to-meat ratio. No ketchup, no mayo.”
The components of Button Mash’s double cheeseburger are as simple as they are strict. A soft, squishy white bun from Bimbo (“We tried to get a local bakery to make us a classic burger bun, but everyone came back with brioche!” Tran says) is brushed with butter and toasted on the flattop grill. Next come the burger patties, which are made with a loosely packed sirloin/chuck blend ground in-house. The secret of these patties is the beautiful seared crust, formed by forcefully slapping them on the grill and seasoning them liberally with salt and pepper. Don’t expect the wait staff to ask for your preferred meat temperature, either — the only way to form the delicious charred patina is to sear them until well done on a well-seasoned griddle. “The texture is so satisfying,” Tran says. “All the juices are sealed into the meat.”
The rest: two slices of American cheese, Boston lettuce, a slice of tomato, red onion, house-cured sweet pickles ("long cut") and a tangy smear of yellow mustard placed underneath the meat because, in Tran’s words, “Your tongue only touches the bottom part of the burger.” By the time the design of the double cheeseburger was complete, the kitchen team at Button Mash had become fluent in Burger Theory 101. Of course, when you trade in retro arcade games, it only makes sense that your burger is equally nostalgic.
Button Mash, 1391 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park; (213) 250-9903, buttonmashla.com.