Is a burger on an English muffin really a burger? This one is

Lingua Franca burger on a sesame-seed bun with thin fries.
Burger with matchstick potatoes from Lingua Franca in Elysian Valley just off the L.A. River.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles is a town of many burgers. Thick steakhouse burgers, smash burgers, really smashed burgers, fast-food burgers, vegan burgers, pastrami-topped burgers and everything in between. We have it all, and we have Alton Brown and the Food Network to thank for my new favorite burger and this week’s column.

Burger and fries at Lingua Franca

Peter Lemos grew up watching Alton Brown on “Good Eats,” the Food Network show that applied a scientific lens to why stuff tastes good, and wasn’t afraid to experiment with unconventional camera angles. A specific hamburger episode was the impetus for the cheeseburger at Lingua Franca, the new restaurant in Elysian Valley, up against the bike path lining the L.A. River.

Brown’s recipe was a freshly ground meat patty with lots of black pepper and mayonnaise on a toasted sesame seed bun. Lemos made the burger, then started to construct an even better version in his head.


“It’s the one thing that has always been in the back of my mind to have on the menu,” he said during a recent call. “And it’s probably the one thing we are most proud of on the menu, something that lasted through six years of construction.”

It was a short list that ignored a swath of cuisines and neighborhoods. No tacos, Chinese, Thai, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Japanese or anything beyond sandwiches and fried chicken.

April 24, 2023

Instead of serving his burger on a sesame seed bun, Lemos tasked pastry chef Kirstin Bliss with creating an English muffin-burger bun hybrid to cradle his creation. If you’re imagining the Thomas’ English muffins in the long paper sleeves from the grocery store, think again. What Bliss came up with is a squat, soft bun that proofs then bakes in molds between two sheet trays. It’s blanketed in sesame seeds and about a third of the width of your average bun. Lightly toasted, it’s both crisp and chewy.

The buns are slathered with a rich, peppery mayonnaise Lemos fashions with aioli and lots of black pepper.

The patty is a mix of house-ground brisket and an 80/20 beef blend. Lemos treats the coarse ground meat like a steak, cooking it in a screaming hot cast iron pan, basting it with butter then letting it rest before service.

It’s topped with a slice of Point Reyes Toma cheese, a buttery, semi-firm, 90-day aged cows’ milk cheese that oozes and clings to the meat. It’s something you might find on a good cheese board elsewhere around town.

Lemos adds a black garlic sherry brown butter for an extra oomph of umami. And an entire slice of onion he burns on the French top, dusts with salt and vinegar powder and pops into the oven just to cook through.


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Oct. 31, 2022

“All that,” he said. “That’s one burger.”

It is nothing short of a masterpiece. The meat is nicely crusted and juicy, melding with the fat in the sherry sauce and the mayonnaise. It’s peppery and cheesy, meaty and sharp. One thick black helix of burnt onions and patty between bun. Dark juices leak from the middle and down your wrist. Sop it up with the mountain of matchstick potatoes you can order alongside the burger.

Inspired by the fries at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, Lemos’ are thin, crispy, salty and strewn with fried herbs. Some nights it might be sage leaves in between your fries, others lavender. He somehow manages to get the potatoes both crisp and fluffy, like tiny hashbrown sticks you gobble up with your fingers.

And if you’re not satisfied with dunking your fries in the meat juice, they come with a ramekin of malt vinegar aioli for dipping.

Veggie burger at Cassell’s

Cassell's veggie burger with cheese and onions.
The veggie burger from Cassell’s with American cheese and grilled onions. Skip the cheese to make it vegan.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Even in a town like Los Angeles, a good veggie burger can be hard to find. An anachronism in a city full of meat imitators and menus crowded with lab-grown proteins designed to look, taste, feel (and in some cases bleed) like beef.

When someone says veggie burger, I think of the patties of the ’90s, jagged with brown rice, beans and an array of vegetables mashed in. And the way I over-plucked my eyebrows. But perhaps that’s a conversation for another time.


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Oct. 24, 2021

Though Cassell’s in Koreatown (there is now a location in downtown, too) is known for its freshly ground and grilled prime beef, its veggie burger is the ’90s patty I’m looking for. It’s a half-inch, rust-red disc crammed with farro, mushrooms, zucchini, red onion and flax. For the most part, the pulverized vegetables form a sort of earthy mash that binds the grains together.

The addition of miso imparts just a touch of sweetness, helping to elevate the grain and vegetable loaf to a main attraction I’d happily eat with no bun. It’s browned on all sides for a nice crunch. And the grains are cooked al dente, never mushy.

It’s an overtly veggie, veggie patty, and that’s a good thing.

This week’s recommendations include the really well-made “The Menu” burger at Irv’s Burgers in West Hollywood and salted egg fried crab in San Gabriel.

Feb. 13, 2023

If you want a vegan burger, order the patty with no cheese or a slice of the Daiya dairy-free stuff. I prefer mine with a slice of good old American and plenty of grilled onions. And some Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins playing in the background.

Where to eat now

Lingua Franca, 2990 Allesandro St., Los Angeles, (323) 522-3725,

Cassell’s, 3600 W. 6th St., Los Angeles, (213) 387-5502,