If anyone ever tells you that The Office Burger didn’t change the game in a completely fundamental way, point them in my direction. Sang Yoon’s restaurant is an institution at least, and a nascent empire at most. First, Father’s Office paved the way for Californian craft beers (way before it was hip), offering all of Anchor’s beers, and later Sierra Nevada and a bunch more.
Then, the Office Burger came along and revolutionized things again. More on that in a minute.
This place is famous enough for banning ketchup and stubbornly refusing any and all substitutions. It’s also a famously nightmarish logistical enterprise – i.e., good luck getting a seat. In spite of all this, Father’s Office is the darling of the denizens of Santa Monica. It is their flagship burger, often-imitated but never matched. They will tell you it’s not just the best burger in Santa Monica – it’s one of the best burgers in the country – NAY, the world.
It may have been obvious that I was going to go here, but Father’s Office falls pretty squarely within the category of “things that people in Santa Monica overestimate just because they’re in Santa Monica.” Let’s be clear, if Father’s Office was just in Culver City, nobody in Santa Monica would give one single shit about it.
It’s important, then, to tune out the Santa Monica exceptionalist noise when you go to Father’s Office. One of the best ways to do that, it turns out, is to go to the one in Culver. So Jules and I did just that after she fit me for an absurd suit. We managed to alienate basically everyone around us, and actually accomplished something I previously thought was impossible: we were so repellent that one party actually gave up their table to avoid being next to us. File that under “unprecedented things.”
Anyway. Let’s talk about this titan.
3229 Helms Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90034
The Order: The Office Burger (no substitutions, obviously), medium-rare
The Price: $12.50
So like I said above, Father’s Office made the fancy burger cool in Los Angeles. Before Sang Yoon dropped this culinary bomb on all of us, you’d have been laughed out of a room for putting arugula on a burger. But put arugula on a burger Yoon did. And caramelized onions, and gruyére and Maytag cheeses. All on a roll – yes, a roll, not a bun. The beef is dry-aged and deeply flavorful.
Yoon gets credit for being the first to fancify the burger. But he does not get credit for being the best. This burger is an unbalanced, inaccessible mess. The arugula dominates early in each bite, profoundly bitter and dry. It tips into the grainy gruyére, the complexity of which is too big an ask following the harsh arugula. The onions close it out, almost too sweet and very sharp. On the finish, the bitter garnishes melt into the sharp cut of the crisp exterior of the patty, leaving very little time to enjoy the delicious, dry-aged, medium rare perfection of the patty.
I don’t use the word “perfection” lightly. So let’s be precise. This is not the best burger in Los Angeles. Not even close. It’s not the best pub burger. It’s not the best fancy burger. It’s not the best craft burger. It’s not the best “gourmet” burger. It is a strong competitor for the best patty in Los Angeles. Sadly, the stellar piece of beef is is crowded out by a bunch of harsh toppings. The toppings are all of superior quality, but they don’t complement one another well. The burger skews too far in the direction of the bitter, the sharp, and the complex. Ultimately, all this makes the burger worse in spite of the beautiful piece of beef. To this patty, I would quote the Bard of Generation X: “You are not to blame for bittersweet distractors.” (Bonus points if you got the reference without Google.)
As it happens, Father’s Office’s unwillingness to make substitutions is reflective of a broader philosophical resistance to change. This burger has failed to adapt with the times. It has failed to compromise to mitigate its shortcomings. While the burger scene has evolved and developed around him, Sang Yoon has dug in his heels and served up the same deeply flawed burger for the better part of two decades. This burger made Sang Yoon famous. Now, it’s holding him back.
Flavor: 7.70 / 10.00
Freshness/Quality: 9.80 / 10.00
Value: 8.20 / 10.00
Efficiency: 8.50 / 10.00
Creativity/Style: 9.00 / 10.00
Bun: 8.00 / 10.00
Patty: 10.00 / 10.00
Toppings: 6.90 / 10.00
Sauce: 9.00 / 10.00
Balance: 7.80 / 10.00
Total: 84.90 / 100.00