Thinking inside the bun: OC’s burger culture revealed

When you ask someone where to get a burger at Saddleback College, there seems to be one definitive answer: In-N-Out. It always floats to the top of the heap, and admittedly for good reason. The never-frozen 100 percent beef patties, the hand-cut potatoes, the real ice cream milkshakes… just saying it conjures up images of juicy goodness. There’s a whole culture around it. How many times has a Southern Californian uttered the words, “let’s go to In-N-Out?” Perhaps a few million times too many.

After years of “double-doubles” and “flying dutch men,” the basic In-N-Out burger can start to get a bit tiring. Still, many cannot escape the calls of America’s culinary sweetheart. The burger is the quintessential American meal; our cultural icon, our chief export. There’s a million ways to do it- that doesn’t involve a “secret menu.”

A’s Burgers

Luckily, awesome burgers are not too far from campus. Right down the street from Saddleback is A’s Burgers, a quaint little shop that serves Mexican Coke, killer onion rings and a mean traditional burger. The location itself (right off the I-5 South exit on Avery) hearkens back to the old days of dive bars and burger joints that sprung up when America’s highways were first built. They even serve their own interesting twist on the traditional french fry, involving a certain vegetable.

“I love the zucchini fries,” said Zak Bannett, a 20-year-old business major. “I’ve been to the Dana Point and the San Juan locations. It’s a great place to grab a quick burger.”

Breakfast-style bacon tops off a Bacon Cheesburger made by A's Burgers in San Juan Capistrano - Photo by Stefan Stenroos

Breakfast-style bacon tops off a Bacon Cheesburger made by A’s Burgers in San Juan Capistrano – Photo by Stefan Stenroos

Another great thing about A’s is the fact that breakfast is served all day long. And while this seems very run-of-the-mill for restaurants nowadays, it does mean that they make great bacon… which seems to go on just about everything they make. It’s made me a firm believer that the best bacon comes from all-day breakfast places.

Now while A’s was a good starting point, the burger is not just meat and cheese between buns. It was time think outside the concept of a burger.

The Flip Burger Truck

Food trucks are a revolutionary design that’s seemingly taken over SoCal. Uprooting the restaurant out of the ground and putting it inside a completely new setting has liberated many traditional foods from perceived ideas of what they should be. From Korean barbecue (Kogi) to soul food crepes(Lulu Blues in Houston, TX), food trucks have developed all sorts of new twists on traditional foods. Flip Burger has taken this revolutionary way of thinking and applied it to the burger, with some surprising results.

Take for instance a Kobe beef slider, topped with a savory aioli and arugula. It’s a recipe that’s high-end, but at the same time down-to-earth and deliciously simple. Garlic truffle fries are the perfect side to go with it, too. I suppose the only real problem with a place is like this the fact that it’s always on the move. And it’s a bit pricey.

Finally, after splurging on fancy new-age kobe burgers, it was time to return to the burger’s roots. American Food has always had a sort of comfort food connotation to it, so I was interested in seeing what I could find that was really “down-home.”

Royal Burgers and Donuts

Enter Royal Burgers and Donuts, a tiny shop up in Mission Viejo. Reminiscent of old drive-thrus and eateries, Royal has produced a decidedly decadent twist on the typical burger: the donut burger. No points for guessing what a “donut burger” is, or what it’s made of. They also include a fresh donut with every burger combo, so hopefully you don’t need triple bypass surgery anytime soon. It wasn’t just the burgers that caught my eye, either.

The Royal Combo, served at Royal Burgers and Donuts, exemplifies the classic American Burger - Photo by Stefan Stenroos

The Royal Combo, served at Royal Burgers and Donuts, exemplifies the classic American Burger – Photo by Stefan Stenroos

Royal Burgers and Donuts setting would be quite average if it weren’t for the massive picture of Angkor Wat, an ancient Cambodian temple, hanging on the wall. That’s right, Royal is run by Cambodian immigrants, and while the cultural crossover isn’t exactly represented in the food, there’s something to be said about people coming here and finding new opportunities through a simple meal like a burger. It’s an almost strange interpretation of the American Dream, but a tasty one at that.

While I think I had hit the mark with burger joints around SoCal, students around Saddleback had their own ideas about where to get a great bite to eat.

Sophomore Luke Chapman recommended Slater’s up in Lake Forest, who are famous for their 50/50 bacon and beef patty. Saad Sultan, a 28-year-old engineering major, suggested Delight Burgers and Shakes, which serves 100% halal burgers. It’s pretty extraordinary the kind of diversity and variety we’ve got down here in Orange County.

Overall, South Orange County has a myriad of different cuisines, experiences and tastes to discover. The burger was certainly no different, and this is only scratching the surface of what Orange County has to offer.