Angelenos, there are some spectacular onion rings being fried up in our midst. They're most commonly found in two very similar, yet disparate places -- burger joints and steakhouses. In other words, you can pay $3 and get them on a plastic tray with a beer or a bottomless soda; or you can pay $12 in a white tablecloth restaurant and have a sommelier suggest a good wine pairing. We like both versions.
To us, there is no ideal in terms of size or batter. The onion rings should just taste equally of the exterior and interior. On our hunt, we came across fat and skinny, cornmeal and breadcrumb, beer and tempura and on and on. There were for sure more frozen-food standard versions out there than we cared for -- we're looking at you, Birds, The Hat and Nickle Diner -- but even some of those rose above the chatter. For our purposes, we tried to keep our list limited to restaurants that dip their own. We sampled as many as our skinny jeans would allow and found our top 10 favorites. Turn the page.
10. Farmer Boys:
If your idea of the perfect restaurant is the kind of place where you can roll in at 8 a.m. to order a stack of four or seven (why those numbers, we can only guess) gigantic onion rings, this is the spot for you. Sliced from a seemingly jumbo onion, the rings are at least an inch and a half tall and are in a fine-meal breadcrumb crust that falls right off as you bite in. Served with what can only be described as chemical-flavored ranch dressing (read: terrible), these monsters stand alone and for sure are going to require a knife and fork and a stack of napkins. 726 S. Alameda St., Los Angeles; (213) 228-8999.
When you walk into a Fatburger, you're greeted with a riot of red and yellow and a prominent sign that says, "Most onion rings come from freezers. We prefer onions." Hardee har har. Even without the jokes, it's obvious from first bite that the local-origin fast-food chain really is committed to its rings. With a medium crumb-sized batter and a medium slice, these lean the slightest bit toward being greasy (see above photo), but in the words of the late, great Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, "I'm fly at Fatburger when I'm way out west." And since you're on the West Coast, you can be fly, too, if you order a basketful. 12005 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 268-1112.
If you have a burger spot that specializes in serving small-batch, craft beers, it makes perfect sense that your onion rings would be of the beer-battered variety. Adding a carbonated liquid to the mix is the classic technique for creating a lighter crust. What isn't quite as expected is how deeply the end result tastes of that malty, yeasty, beer -- under a chestnut-colored shellac of coating. When you bite into it, the onion entombed within releases itself like a translucent ribbon, leaving you to choose your adventure: fried bits, vegetable bites or just gathering it all up for finger-licking, beer-soaked gluttony. 1544 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 469-3801.
Turn the page for picks 7 through 5...
There are a few reasons to love these crispy hoops that line up like toy soldiers. For one thing, they're so uniform that you have to marvel at the mechanics that created them. They're also in a category of their own as the only version we tried -- have ever tried, actually -- that use minced onion, which takes away any chance of onion/coating separation. The coarse breadcrumb batter adds back some texture to the puffy rings. You'll also love that they come with a choice of dipping sauces instead of just ketchup. Try the garlic aioli or sweet chili sauce. Keep in mind this is a kosher restaurant, so if you want to eat these with anything trayf, you're going to have to get them to go. 9216 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles; (424) 249-3565.
There's always more than meets the eye at Umami Burger. For the casually named tempura onion rings, there's the hidden allure of not just beer but malt liquor going into the mix. The result is an absolutely smooth shell of lightly crisp friedness enveloping a mild, thick-cut onion. The small serving arrives with a spoonful of the signature umami ketchup, but try the rings with a squeeze from the lemon fished out from your water glass. Either way, they're a few bites of terrific. 189 The Grove Drive, Suite C-10, Los Angeles; (323) 954-8626. And other locations.
Astro Burger is not your typical cash-only, vegan-friendly, Greek burger place that makes fantastic onion rings, but it is the best at it. Hand-dipped in a flour coating, they're fried in canola and come out piping hot and well-salted. Fun fact: These were also the only rings of the bunch that, when reheated in the oven the next day, actually held up and tasted just as good. Chopped a little, they also go nicely on top of green bean casserole. No kidding. 5601 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 469-1924.
Keep reading for number 4 on...
Jar is an exceptionally tranquil place to indulge in onion rings, though certainly not the first place that comes to mind when you're out for a snack, since it's more likely you're there ordering a flawlessly executed chop than bar food. But it should be near the top of the list. Try sitting at the bar and ordering some white wine. (We suggest a Reisling.) The buttercup-colored bowlful of crisply battered, thick-cut rings will come promptly. There will be flake salt and a few specks of herbs, the requisite ketchup and a mildly spicy aioli on the side. But if you're already there, we urge you to request the lobster béarnaise for dipping as well. The combination makes it breathtaking, bringing in a trace of the ocean to the already perfect rings. You've come this far, why not take it that one step further. 8225 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 655-6566.
The onion rings aren't even on the menu at this Scoops Westside-adjacent barbecue spot, but they should be. You'll just have to ask for them, and hope they say yes. If they do, it will take about 10 minutes to get them to the table, but it's worth the wait. The least greasy version we tried, these buttermilk-dipped beauties were coated and cooked up fried chicken-style. The irregular shaped rings are flecked with black pepper and served with ranch dressing and a splash of their super-sweet barbeque sauce as well. Add some hot sauce and you won't be able to stop. 10640 Woodbine St., Los Angeles; (310) 837-3544.
Please don't let the picture deter you from trying the stupendous rings at Beverly Hills institution Kate Mantilini. Heavily battered and fried in a way that's reminiscent of a doughnut, they're deeply scented with a bouquet of rosemary and sage. The enormous platter could be a meal by itself. While most restaurants opt for mild or sweet onions, the brilliant minds at KM use red onions, bringing that sharp bite that announces what you are eating that so many others lack. Flavor all the way. 9101 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 278-3699.
And for our top pick...
The best of the best onion rings are being deep-fried in downtown Culver City and have been earning praise for years. What makes them No. 1? Three very special things are at play. Rice flour instead of wheat; organic sweet onions; and, as a bonus, they're vegan. That means they're the most universally appealing version we tried and taste fantastic to boot. The sauce they are served with is a smoked paprika aioli that stands on its own -- it's so heady that it could double as some sort of chef-attracting perfume if you get a little dab on your cheek. The lacy coating yields to an almost creamy onion that takes equal billing with the batter as a star of the show. The folks in the kitchen take the time to marinate the onion in soy sauce, adding that fifth taste to the already salty sweetness. Oh, and the fourth thing that makes them the best? They taste incredible. 9543 Culver Blvd., Culver City; (310) 845-1700.
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Now you can start planning your onion ring crawl accordingly. Of course, if 10 isn't enough, we always have the honorable mentions: Mastros, Father's Office, Blue Dog Beer Tavern and Wolfslair. Happy onion hunting.
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