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Restaurant review: Short Order

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The sign is easily visible as you drive north on Fairfax toward 3rd Street and the original Farmers Market, the name Short Order spelled out in cheerful green neon. Great name, great concept: a burger joint with frills, including a full bar, fresh-baked cookies, a retro soundtrack and, upstairs, a sweet little outdoor terrace.

Short Order has been a long time coming. Billed as a celebration of Amy Pressman and Nancy Silverton's 30-year friendship (and mutual love of burgers), after months of hurdles, the restaurant opened in November on a sad note: Pressman had died of cancer two weeks before. But her family and the restaurant's team, led by veteran restaurateur Bill Chait and Silverton, managed to open Short Order pretty much on schedule.

It's no secret that Angelenos have been on a burger binge recently, and there's seemingly no end to it as burger joints and new burger concepts fling open their doors left and right. Short Order, though, goes its own way. First of all, the menu isn't all burgers, or even all burgers in buns. There are rafts (open-faced burgers), excellent salads, sandwiches, custard shakes and some irresistible "spuds" to be had.

Not everything deserves a rave, not even every burger, but, all in all, Short Order is a fine addition to the sprawling complex at Fairfax and 3rd. Now when you emerge from a late-night film at the Grove, Short Order will probably still be serving — till 1 a.m. on the weekends, 11 p.m. weekdays. Remember, it's a simple restaurant — what burger place isn't? — that mostly does what it's supposed to do: well-executed comfort food for a reasonable price.

No drive-through, though, and no waitresses on roller skates. A couple of fat metal folk-art pigs perched on the roof add a quirky note to the restaurant's rustic vernacular. Street level, there's a takeout window, long semi-communal tables and a wraparound counter with high black-enameled stools under a roof with semi-open sides. Upstairs is the terrace with tables for two or four and one square communal table that seats two or three on a side with a gas-fueled fire pit in the middle. Inside are a few more tables and the small bar, a swell place to sit if you like to watch bartenders doing their thing.

Upstairs or down, it's strictly no reservations. But if you want to do a walkabout while waiting for a table, leave your name and mobile number at the door. Or you could get lucky and not have to wait at all.

On a first visit, two of us sat at the bar next to a couple who sipped cocktails from jelly jars, then ordered two tall shakes and, after, their burgers. Crazy. I had a great meal — a bottle of Green & Red Zinfandel, Nancy's Backyard Burger (much the same as the one I've been making at home ever since The Times published Silverton's recipe in 2005), Short Order spuds and a chocolate-chip cookie.

The bun is golden and shiny, not too soft, the beef coarsely ground and juicy, cooked to a perfect medium-rare. Bacon, tomato, avocado, onion, lettuce and a smoldering chipotle mayonnaise pulls it together. The spuds are small potatoes, cooked, crushed and then deep-fried so they're craggy and crunchy in all the right places. The cookie is just out of the oven, lacy and crisp at the edges and made with superior dark chocolate chips.

I watch the bartenders perform, and we try a couple, but they're generally too sweet for me. This is one place that everyone's got an opinion about. On another visit, we're seated at the communal table when four guys take the seats across from us. The one who's been here before cautions the others to order their burgers more cooked than they normally would. Medium-rare is really rare, he says. I beg to differ. Except for one occasion, the kitchen gets it spot-on. Everywhere else I have to order my burger rare in order to get it medium-rare. Not so here.

Other than the quite terrific backyard burger, burgers can be hit and miss. Ida's Old School Burger is grass-fed beef with cheddar, pickles, tomato, griddled onion and a smoky-sweet secret sauce. It's classic, except for the soft ribbons of onions, but quite a bit drier than Nancy's burger. That's the trade-off with grass-fed: It's leaner and has a more subtle flavor than grain-fed beef.

Actually, the signature Short Order Burger may be my least favorite. Melted Morbier cheese and sautéed mushrooms seem to flatten the flavors: There's not enough contrast. The Sonoma lamb burger, though, is terrific, with the salt funk of feta, tender lamb's lettuce and a punchy salsa verde. But the pork burger is tough, more like a too-lean sausage patty, and dry, despite its Italianate fixings of stracchino cheese and rapini.

Just as I'm sneaking the last spud onto my plate, one of the men across the table sets down his burger, shrugs his shoulders, and announces that the No. 5 at his favorite fast-food burger joint is tastier. What? It has all that tasty sauce, he says. To each his own.

Meanwhile, Short Order has more than burgers going for it, most especially that wedge of iceberg with all the traditional burger toppings — tomato, red onion, pickle, bacon and avocado cloaked in a creamy blue cheese dressing. There's an excellent elbow macaroni salad in a spicy dressing, which may be the first-ever macaroni salad that's actually cooked al dente. I loved the mixed-bean salad too, each bite crunchy.

And in my peregrinations through the menu, the big revelation is something called Pretzel Pups. That's two short beefy hot dogs on a pretzel bun with sauerkraut and spunky mustard. Adorable.

In the interest of research, I tried the frisée lardon raft, a beef patty accessorized with bacon and wisps of frisée and crowned with a fried egg. It's awkward to eat and not that exciting. The grilled-cheese sandwich oozes so much oily melted cheddar and Comté it's virtually inedible.

Dessert could be a shake if you like them not too thick and very sweet. There's also a cocktail version scribbled with chocolate sauce and dosed with peanut-infused whiskey. I'm not so sure. The best choice is an order of cookies, the perfect dessert after a burger.

Despite the occasional glitch, I have a soft spot for Short Order's classic burgers (especially Nancy's backyard burger), those irresistible spuds and the fresh salads. The quality ingredients, full bar and short, sweet wine list add up to one classy burger joint. It's not perfect, but Amy Pressman would have been proud.

irene.virbila@latimes.com

Short Order

Rating: 1½ stars

Rating is based on food, service and ambience, with price taken into account in relation to quality.

****: Outstanding on every level.

***: Excellent.

**: Very good.

*: Good.

No star: Poor to satisfactory.

Location: The Original Farmers Market, 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (323) 761-7970, http://www.shortorderla.com.

Price: Burgers and rafts, $11 to $14; melts and pups, $8 to $15; salads and sides, $3 to $9; shakes, $6; cookies, $2.50; fruit pie, $6. Brunch items, $4 to $12.

Details: Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays, 9:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. weekends. Corkage, $20. Lot parking, two hours free with validation, $3 for the third hour. Takeout too, and soon you'll be able to order online at http://www.shortorderla.com/order.

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