UPDATE: Round 2 winners have been revealed. Time to vote in the final round!
The votes are in. The judges have spoken. The readers have had their say, with more than 1,300 of you casting votes. The sweet 16 has been fought and now we are down to eight burgers. See below for how each battle went down, who won according to both the judges and readers, and how to vote in the next round (for the chance to win tickets to our upcoming Burgers & Beer festival).
In-N-Out vs. the Original Tommy's
Judge: Garrett Snyder, L.A. Weekly contributor
If L.A. is home to some of the best fast food burgers in the world, then these two are king. And in some ways, they're very similar. “These two burgers, on a fundamental level, are twins separated at birth,” Snyder says. The difference, he says, has to do with the toppings. In-N-Out is known for its sauce, Tommy's for its chili. “The key difference comes down to your preference for secret sauce or a burger slathered in thick, gloopy mystery meat chili. I'll take the former every time.”
Reader's Choice: In-N-Out
Hawkins House of Burgers vs. Mom's Burgers
Judge: Kevin Bludso, owner of Bludso's BBQ
Barbecue master Kevin Bludso appreciated a lot about both Hawkins and Mom's. “Both restaurants prepared your food to order,” he says. “I ordered the cheeseburger combo at both, which included a burger, fries and a drink, and both meals were under $10.” Of Hawkins, he says the burger was juicy, flavorful, well seasoned and “cooked to perfection.” There was at least a half pound of meat or more. He adds that the parking isn't the greatest but he would definitely return. Of Mom's, he says, “The burger was kinda small in comparison to Hawkins. Mom's menu stated a half pound of meat but looked more like a quarter pound.” But the meat was juicy — and there is ample parking.
Winner: Hawkins House of Burgers
Reader's Choice: Mom's Burgers
Pie 'n Burger vs. the Apple Pan
Judge: Zach Brooks, Midtown Lunch blogger and Food Is the New Rock podcaster
“The classic awesomeness of sitting at the counter inside both locations cannot be denied,” Brooks says. “And both make great pie (banana cream if you're at Apple Pan, any of the fresh fruit options if you're at Pie 'n Burger.)” But this isn't about pie and decor, right? It's a burger battle. When it comes to that, Brooks says: “If you love tomatoey barbecue sauce or feeling like your burgers just came off the backyard grill, you will find a lot to love about Apple Pan, while fans of homemade Thousand Island dressing and grilled onions will be team Pie 'n Burger. But strip away the extras and the Apple Pan burger is a flavorless puck of meat that wouldn't make any burger purist's best-of list. Pie 'n Burger, on the other hand, gets a great sear on their meat from the flat-top and needs no help from the sauce to taste good. Stumble your way out of the haze of nostalgia, and the winner is crystal clear.”
Winner: Pie 'n Burger
Reader's Choice: The Apple Pan
Father's Office vs. the Golden State
Judge: Besha Rodell, L.A. Weekly restaurant critic
Anything that goes up against Father's Office has a hard battle ahead of it. The Golden State burger is a far more classic creation, basically a gourmet version of a cheeseburger, made with Harris Ranch beef and topped with sharp cheddar, applewood smoked bacon, arugula, aioli and ketchup. Father's Office makes a burger that's famously not on a burger bun (it's an oblong French roll), which was originally inspired by French onion soup. It has sweet onion and bacon compote, gruyère and Maytag blue cheeses, and a forest of arugula. While I truly enjoyed the Golden State burger, the Father's Office burger commands all of your attention. The meat is so packed with taste, the flavors so bold. I tried to resist its allure as the obvious winner but could not.
Winner: Father's Office
Reader's Choice: Father's Office
République vs. Petit Trois
Judge: Mara Shalhoup, L.A. Weekly editor
Because I'm choosing between two fancy burgers, I'm expected to go with the fanciest, right? Well, even if I were factoring out decadence, the choice would be simple. République is as solid a burger as one could dream of, but it's a bunker of beef compared to the Arc de Triomphe that is Petit Trois' Big Mec. It might be wise to bring along Napoleon's army to conquer the damn thing; I made the mistake of tackling the Big Mec singlehandedly, which seemed like a good idea at the time but slayed me (in both senses of the word) for the next 24 hours. Yes, it is rich. And yes, it is worth it. Rodell has reported that chef Ludo Lefebvre drew inspiration from Chicago's Au Cheval burger. I've had that one, too — and am prepared to name the Big Mec victorious over its inspiration.
Winner: Petit Trois
Reader's Choice: République
Belcampo Meat Co. vs. Ledlow
Judge: Gillian Ferguson, supervising producer of KCRW's Good Food
“I struggled comparing these burgers,” Ferguson says. “It's like pitting a minimalist versus the rococo, the austere versus the indulgent. While the coarsely ground dry-aged meat at Belcampo is hands down more flavorful than the patty at Ledlow, no one says, 'Let's go to Belcampo' when you're craving a burger. It's a judicious lunch, not the indulgent, meat-juice-dripping-down-my-chin burger you want after two drinks at happy hour. Ledlow delivers the whole enchilada: rare, juicy meat, draped with two kinds of cheese, raw onions sliced one millimeter thinner than they need to be and a dill pickle, because burgers deserve a pickle. The bun at Ledlow has a lacquer only brioche can achieve and a subtle dusting of poppy seeds, while Belcampo's wholesome sesame-seeded bun can get in the way of what's inside. The short answer is that while the patty is better at Belcampo, a burger is more than a patty.”
Reader's Choice: Belcampo Meat Co.
Grill 'Em All vs. the Oinkster
Judge: Hillel Aron, L.A. Weekly staff writer
Unlike many of our match-ups, this one was not even close, according to the judge. “This wasn’t really a contest at all,” Aron says. “Though Grill ‘Em All deserves credit for having a good shtick — heavy-metal burgers with outrageous toppings — its hamburger patty is mediocre at best. Granted, its burger is supposed to be merely a serving platter for peanut butter and jelly, cream cheese or whatever other accoutrement rock & roll animals in Alhambra like on their meat. But the burger itself is flavorless and dry.” Ouch. On the other hand, “Oinkster is essentially a hipster-ized old-school burger joint. It’s just a simple, solid hamburger, full of juice and flavor.”
Winner: The Oinkster
Reader's Choice: The Oinkster
Plan Check vs. Umami Burger
Judge: Farley Elliott, Eater L.A. senior editor and author of Los Angeles Street Food
Again, according to the judge, this was “not very close.” Elliot says, “Just about anyone who's re-experienced Umami Burger over the past couple of years seems to have the same complaints: too much truffle in place of natural flavor, and meat quality that's gone downhill. Whether expanding into a multistate chain ultimately leads to an inability to source large amounts of higher-quality beef, or a lack of corporate oversight means each individual Umami outlet is slipping … who knows? With Plan Check, quality control is still hard at work. Chef/owner Ernesto Uchimura is a staple at the Sawtelle location and can often be found floating between each of his outlets, checking in. Match that against a quality grind of high-end beef, impossibly airy bun with just the faintest deeply brown crunch inside, and house-made toppings that still feel bespoke after all these years, and you've got a well-cared-for burger that remains one of the best casual options in town.”
Winner: Plan Check
Reader's Choice: Plan Check
Up next: The Elite 8! See the updated bracket below (click on the tab in the upper righthand corner to expand the image) and, below that, vote in the next round for your chance to win tickets to our upcoming Burgers & Beer festival. Votes for round 2 must be cast by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, July 23.
(UPDATE: The round-two winners have been revealed! Time to vote in final round!)