The Oinkster II

The Place
The Oinkster
2005 Colorado Boulevard
Eagle Rock, CA 90041
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It’s pretty safe to say the Oinkster has made its mark on this Project. It was one of the earliest entries, and is linked by blood to the best burger here reviewed to date. Besides that, Andre Guerrero’s so-called “slow fast food” restaurant is quite beloved in its own right. Its house-cured pastrami is some of the best this city has to offer.

The Oinkster’s menu is a tiered affair, at least as far as its showcase pieces are concerned. Their two big-ticket items – the pastrami and the burger (nothing against the pulled pork, but it’s a bronze medalist here) – come in two versions: the first a more traditional iteration (the uncomplicated House Pastrami and the Classic burger) and the second a more, well, exotic version (the Oinkster Pastrami and the Royale).

It’s on this second tier that Andre Guerrero shines. In fact, those first tiers probably exist more as a show of respect for tradition than a reflection of his actual creative impulses as a chef. That first tier will give you a glimpse into his heart, which bears an abiding love for the classics. The more elaborate presentations, though, will show you his soul.

Shannon and I took a trip to the Oinkster last week – the O.G. one in Eagle Rock, mind you; not that Hollywood nonsense. She had an Oinkster Pastrami. I tried the Royale.

The Order: The Royale

The Price: $11.25

The Burger
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At this point, you may be a) hungry, b) vaguely disgusted, c) physically uncomfortable at the sight of all that food, d) confused, and/or e) wondering what in God’s name is on that burger. I can help with problem (e); this monster features a 1/3 pound of Nebraska Angus beef, chili, pastrami, bacon, American cheese (though you have choices in that department – you can also have sharp cheddar or gruyere), lettuce, onions, pickles, and Thousand Island.

I’ll just let that sink in for a minute. Take all the time you need.

Yes, your arteries will protest. Yes, you’ll feel it all night. Yes, whatever your doubts are, they’re justified. This burger will take a piece of your heart (possibly quite literally, I can almost feel the sclerosed remnants of this caloric titan blocking my arteries like the bouncer at the door of Hakkasan).

I can’t tell you conclusively that it’s worth it. I don’t know if I think it was worth it for me, let alone for anyone else. But I can tell you this without hesitation or qualification: This burger is the most extravagantly ambitious item on Guerrero’s menu. It is a maximalist paean to the institution of the cheeseburger. It is a Jackson Pollock; what seems chaotic and arbitrary at first blush coalesces as you spend more time with it. By the time you walk away, it makes sense. You may not like it, but you get it.

There is a lot of meat here. The chili is thick and rich and bold. The pastrami is complex, peppery, smoky, salty, and delightful, but is rendered a subtlety by the brazen chili. The bacon adds a rustic crispness. The patty is juicy and cocksure, even in the presence of so many distractions. Its heft is necessary to anchor all the other flavors. Charred on the outside, but radiantly juicy on the inside, this patty is a worthy hub to this gustatory wheel of many spokes.

The other garnishes just can’t compete. The cheese is there, a vague and milky suggestion within an umami khamsin. The onions occasionally get a word in edgewise on the front end or finish of a bite, but don’t otherwise contribute much. The lettuce and tomato are throwaways – literally; they slid out of the burger, and I eventually got exasperated and threw them away. The Thousand Island isn’t good for much besides soaking through the bun and hastening its disintegration, which is a large part of the reason this burger is so hard to finish; the damn thing just doesn’t hang together. It physically falls apart.

Structural gripes aside, the meat-centric items on the burger hang together really well. The rest of the toppings fail to make an impression at all. That’s not all that surprising though. Their presence on the burger is an act of tokenism by Guerrero. It’s like the frat boys who let the one funny-looking nerdy dude hang out with them. It may not count for much, but bless their hearts for trying.

The Ratings
Flavor: 8.90 / 10.00
Freshness/Quality: 9.40 / 10.00
Value: 8.00 / 10.00
Efficiency: 8.30 / 10.00
Creativity/Style: 10.00 / 10.00
Bun: 7.50 / 10.00
Patty: 9.10 / 10.00
Toppings: 8.40 / 10.00
Sauce: 7.80 / 10.00
Balance: 8.80  /10.00

Total: 86.20 / 100.00

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