"Beef!" "Beef!" "Turkey!" "Beef!" The cries ring out one after another as customers crowd Hole In The Wall Burger Joint at lunchtime. This hidden gem, opened a couple years ago by Bill Dertouzos and his ex-wife Susan McAlindon (they had split well before they went into business together) officially has an address Santa Monica Boulevard. Follow that you'll likely get lost. Hole In The Wall is, in fact, a hole in the wall on Bentley Avenue, tucked out of sight behind the Winchell's at the southeast corner of Sepulveda and Santa Monica boulevards. It hasn't been around long and is hard to find, but that doesn't stop people from descending on the place. They come for the perfect burgers, the freshly cooked fries and, most of all, the pretzel buns.
Meat & Bun: This is a coarsely ground, loosely packed, thick 8 oz. beef patty. Full of flavor and fat, it's got enough savory meat juice to moisten the bun without being too greasy. As a matter of course, they'll cook your burger on the rare side of medium but you can always ask for it less or more well done. This is perfection. At $7.95, it can stand up, proudly, next to Comme Ça's excellent $16 burger. Plus, Hole In The Wall has much better fries.
Other protein options include a turkey patty, a veggie patty and a crispy chicken burger, each of them 8 oz. They come with all the basics, your choice of cheese (cheddar, provolone, Swiss or pepper jack), spreads (onion, cranberry or chipotle mayo as well as ranch dressing) and veggies (lettuce, onions, tomato and house-made relish). There are, however, only two choices that really matter.
The first is the bun. Sure, you could get your burger on a standard hamburger bun. You could get a brioche if you're being fancy or a whole what bun if you're aiming for health. You could even get your burger in a bowl, if you're looking to cut carbs. For us, there's only one option: the pretzel bun.
This dark brown braided round has a crisp, shellacked exterior and a dense, chewy interior that provides an exceptional framework for the burger, both taste and structure. We've found ourselves sopping up the meat drippings with the bun, desperately dabbing every last drop of flavor from the oily wrapper, long after we finished our burger. (On a side note, we like that the cheese is placed under the burger, where it has unadulterated contact with the bun.)
Toppings: At Hole In The Wall, you order by checking off items on a menu sheet and wait for your name to be called over the mic. Currently, the house-made zucchini pickles have been replaced by a sweet relish. Though we normally despise relish, especially the jarred supermarket variety, this is one of the few we've ever liked. Perhaps its that hint of cinnamon, clove and sweet peppers, adding a sweet and earthy tang to the beef.
Extras like bacon, grilled onions, avocado, etc. are $1 each. This is the other crucial decision, though you really shouldn't need to think about it. Get the bacon, already. It's thick and brittle, with a crispness that lasts most of the way through the burger.
Sides: Unlike plenty of burger joints we've tried, including some expensive ones, Hole In The Wall They doesn't stop caring once the burger is done. Slightly thicker than fast-food fries, their Kennebec fries arrive piping hot, tasting as though they're fresh from the fryer. You have your choice of standard ketchup, a tangy and uncommon variation on ranch dressing or the housemade ketchup, more of a thick gazpacho. We keep trying other ketchups, but, once again, we prefer the Heinz.
Desserts: This is not that kind of place.
The Upshot: Get the beef patty on a pretzel bun. Even if you're not normally a fan of relish, consider trying it. The fries are well worth the extra $2.50. CASH ONLY! (Though they have an ATM on the premises.) Not simply one of Los Angeles' best burgers for the money, one of Los Angeles' best burgers.
Exercise: 45-min. elliptical trainer