This is the second installment in a three-part series.
Hidden behind a shade tree on Victory Avenue, the Victory Café buzzes on a Sunday morning with platters of syrupy pancakes and mounds of eggs.
I wait for my cheeseburgers.
Two of them — one "Kobe-style" and one regular old-fashioned mound o' meat — are on their way. As we wait, my friend and I can't help but feel like we walked in on a family at breakfast. In a way, we did.
For three months, Jack Swiker of thedangersandwich.blogspot.com and I visited 20 Burbank restaurants in search of the best cheeseburger. We discovered a vast middle ground where many charred and griddled patties are a great value for the days when nothing but a burger will satisfy your mealtime cravings.
In early March, we discovered Café Victory by accident, tucked in the Rancho district, a short walk from Griffith Park and the Equestrian Center. Location isn't an issue for patrons, as most followed owner Rogel Aragon when he closed Patrick's on San Fernando Road in Glendale in 2009 and moved to this new location.
"I love the food, I love the ambience and I love him," said Aurora Steever of Glendale.
With that rousing endorsement, I was hopeful for the $12.95 "Kobe-style" burger, and though my Japanese is rusty I took "Kobe" to mean "overdone and dry."
The bleu cheese and grilled onions saved this sandwich from total implosion. A better experience was in the regular cheeseburger, which was cooked slightly over medium and was still juicy and expertly complemented by a large gob of melted cheddar and a buttery brioche bun — worth a return trip.
Being a restaurant "regular" adds its own spin on taste, I learned. That's my running theory for the recommended $8.50 burger at DeBell Golf Course and the $9 burger at Champ's — perfectly palatable plates, but for the money-to-quality ratio, there are better values in Burbank.
And when your menu claims "The Best in Town," you better be able to back that up. I'm looking at you, DeBell, the only victim of the national onion shortage (because why else when you offer grilled onions would you only place three lounging on a bed of beef?).
The char-grilled patty was rightly given center stage, supported but not overshadowed by the lettuce and mayo — a decent meal to follow 18 holes on a Sunday morning.
The Super Champ at Champ's on Burbank Boulevard offers thick layers of raw onion and lettuce to crunch through, but the chef compensates with a thick griddled patty. This is the stuff of Sunday football games and sports conversations over beers, a solidly average and reliable sandwich.
Speaking of reliable, there's always Bob's Big Boy. The epitome of classic American cheeseburgers, there's a reason Bob's hasn't deviated from its formula for 64 years. The Super Big Boy offers double helpings of meat and unmelted American cheese, slathered in a salsa-like secret sauce that adds a twang of nostalgia to each bite.
Burgers have come a long way since Scott MacDonald and Ward Albert built the joint in 1949, and the restaurant's refusal to conform to modern burger trends is a welcome commentary on the elegant simplicity of a well-done burger.
The same goes for Apollo Char-Burger at Magnolia and Glenoaks. Another throwback, the décor and prices look like they haven't changed much over the years. For a total $8.80 we tried the flame-broiled bacon cheeseburger and the pastrami burger. Somehow even under the salty pastrami or bacon this peppery patty holds its own under a mix of Thousand Island dressing, pickles, onions and lettuce. When the long lines at nearby In-and-Out start creeping out to the street, Apollo is a great second (or first) choice.
The same can be said for Peacha's on Victory. Its Mexican-American menu and classic-pop décor stand out amidst the strip of auto body shops between Verdugo and Alameda avenues.
With "Somebody to Love" playing on the radio overhead, I chose the Queen Burger among the music-themed sandwiches. It is a strong blend of personalities much like its namesake.
Red onion and mustard pound out taste like Brian May guitar licks, occasionally drowning the reliable bass groove of avocado. The real star is, of course, the beef patty – a satisfying melody of five or eight ounces of beef that hits all the right notes.
For an even more eclectic menu, the Asian-Mexican-American fare at Steve's Burgers on Victory Boulevard and North Brighton Street features 41 main dishes.
Tyler Salinas served me the standard cheeseburger, a pancake-thin griddled patty dripping with Thousand Island dressing and pickle juice. The condiment proportions overtook the taste of the meat and cheese until the buttery bun soaked up the dressing and leveled it a bit.
Steve's gets its fair share of regulars, Salinas among them. He visited Steve's for 10 years before working there, and he still scarfs a burger for lunch now and then. But when he wants some sizzle on his sandwich, he heads to Tinhorn Flats.
"The burger at Tinhorn is a production," he says. "It's huge. I like to go and share one with a friend."
I know where I'm off to next — burgers so big and daring they defy every convention of the classic burger and do so triumphantly.
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. Read the conclusion of his burger odyssey next week. He can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter at @818NewGuy.