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But some people might be surprised to learn there are plenty of other restaurants that do great under-the-radar specialty burgers. At Napa Valley Grille in Westwood, the meaty, juicy “29,”—named in homage to the Napa highway— is an eight-ounce Angus beef patty sandwiched between a housemade milk-dough bun and accompanied by smoked sea salt, Mountaineer cheese, market-fresh veggies and melted beef jerky butter. Chef Joseph Gillard confides that last ingredient, which comes from his own secret recipe, “adds the intense flavor of umami.”
Sam’s by the Beach is another industry institution, given its proximity to Santa Monica and the ‘Bu—not to mention the creative Mediterranean fare. Two specials pop up for in-the-know vets: seasonal sea urchin risotto and giant clam salad. How exactly would one know to order these? Owner Samer Elias shares, “regulars know that I get up very early in the morning and go to the Japanese fish markets.”
The restaurant will accommodate just about any reasonable request—and even some that really aren’t. The record is held by a customer who requested 25 modifiers on the Cobb salad, even though there are only 12 ingredients! But it’s the fried chicken that has become a thing of legend. First run as a special back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, regulars loved it so much, they still order it. Meola shares an important tip: try to reserve at least a day and half in advance. It’s butchered differently than those actually on the menu, and prep time is helpful, particularly during the prime weekday power-lunch rush.
The Chocolate Box Café offers an array of hot chocolates made via real, flavored shavings. It’s become popular to mix and match; in fact a whole list of “secret menu” specials exists. Examples include the Orient espresso (Orient coffee and espresso), caramellow (caramel and hemp) and cinnamint (cinnamon and mint).
Known for their extensive burger selection, Toluca Lake favorite Mo’s has created a burger/salad mash-up of sorts known as the “grilled veggie burger salad” or “Jay’s special,” in reference to foodie/owner Jay Sadofsky, who first experimented with it. It combines two existing menu items, the homemade, dairy-free veggie burger and the grilled vegetable salad.
For vegetarians, M Café de Chaya’s playfully monikered “big macro” can be ordered “loaded,” meaning toppings of tempeh “bacon” and avocado are added to the whole-grain brown rice and veggie patty, with regular toppings like soy cheese, sprouts and Thousand Island-style vegan special sauce.
By now most everyone is aware of In-N-Out’s not-so-secret menu—be it “animal-” or protein-style preps; the burger-bunned “Flying Dutchman;” or the Neapolitan shake, which mixes the three individual flavors options of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla.