Belcampo Meat Co. at Grand Central Market
317 South Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013
On some day during your life in Los Angeles, you will experience a moment of being utterly overwhelmed by Grand Central Market. In that ever-trendier, neon-lit, culinary sprawl you will find yourself staring off into space. Your eyes will start to glaze over as you bathe in the crowded fluorescence and the pan-ethnic gamut of scents and the heat of stove and sun. You will equivocate, vacillate, hesitate, and calculate. You will consider – and this time, really consider – whether braving the line at Eggslut is worth it. (Hint: It’s never worth it.) You will think, “If only DTLA Cheese wasn’t out of that burrata toast.” (Hint: They’re always out of the burrata toast). You will quietly entertain the notion that today is the day you put aside your existential objection to vegan ramen (Hint: You’ll never put aside your existential objection to vegan ramen – and that’s okay; Vegan Ramenism is the lone form of bigotry that is socially desirable).
I’ve had a few days like that. On those days, I usually wind up at Belcampo. In the midst of that kind of uncertainty, I take comfort in the fact that even the worst case scenario includes me eating very, very high quality meat. Now, admittedly, I didn’t find myself particularly overwhelmed by Grand Central Market today. I just found myself in the mood for a burger. So I stopped in at Belcampo and ordered the Double Fast Burger.
The Order: Double Fast burger
The Price: $9.00
The nice thing about Belcampo, which has shown up on the Project before, is that you can always count on extremely high quality meat. When they tell you that the Fast Burger is their homage to the drive-thru burger, you should only believe them so far. In the main, I can think of no drive-thru slinging burgers made from beef this luxe. More subtly, this burger is not an homage to the drive-thru writ large; it’s an homage to In-N-Out.
Both of my regular readers will know that I am not opposed to doling out high praise to Double-Double rip-offs. But imitating the greatest burger chain on the planet is a high-risk, unforgiving enterprise. And Belcampo’s attempt, while estimable, falls noticeably short in several respects.
In the first place, the patties, while certainly flavorful and of the utmost quality, are not well packed, and too flimsy. They never quite fell apart while I was eating, but threatened to on several occasions. And while it’s admirable to use such excellent meat, Belcampo’s purism means the beef is barely seasoned at all. That, coupled with the fact that this beef actually is just the trimmings of the beef from everything else they use, means you won’t be able to pin down precisely what you’re eating, and it may even vary from bite to bite. One bite may ring out with marbled echoes of Porterhouse, while in the next, gritty chuck will elbow its way to the forefront. The quality of the meat is there, but the initial momentary thrill of variety quickly gives way to frustration at a patty that is unfocused and incoherent.
The toppings, in the aggregate, are fine. Like its cousin the Belcampo Burger, the double fast burger features lettuce that is a bit too wilted and sad not to notice. The tomato does not offend, despite being a bit slippery and lacking in that sunny juiciness that you hope for. The cheese is a standout – housemade American that is creamy and unfussy. It oozes about the patty like sap on a tree stump.
It’s hard to argue this is a better buy than In-N-Out. The beef is the centerpiece of the burger, but the patties are not as carefully composed, and the toppings are nowhere near as fresh-tasting. The bun, too, is a pale imitation of a pale imitation of In-N-Out’s standard setter. The lack of sauce is the final insult: an incomprehensible choice that seriously undermines the balance of the burger (you’ll appreciate In-N-Out’s dressing that much more after eating this).* And at $9.00, while it’s still quite a bargain, it’s vastly more expensive than In-N-Out (or Burgerlords).
It occurs to me that this review reads pretty negatively up to this point. Belcampo does a lot of things right. They offer ingredients-first burgers that don’t attempt to hide behind gimmicky ingredients or high-cuisine shenanigans. To the extent this offering falls flat, it does so relative to its industry-topping comparables, In-N-Out and Burgerlords. In its own right, it’s a good burger. Inconveniently, though, it has some stiff competition, and that’s hard to forget.
It may be that the Fast Burger is the “worst case scenario” for Belcampo to which I alluded above. Indeed, the very concept of a drive-thru inspired burger seems anathema to the Belcampo’s whole schtick. And that’s really the big problem here: Belcampo isn’t a burger stand. It’s not a fast food restaurant. It shouldn’t pretend to be one.
*Because this burger did not have sauce, I haven’t included sauce in my ten-point scale. However, the lack of sauce affects the quality of the burger, which I’ve reflected in a lower score in the Balance rating. The overall score – without the sauce category – is out of 90.00, which I then normalized to 100.00 by doing cross-multiplication. Be impressed.
Flavor: 8.00 / 10.00
Freshness/Quality: 9.00 / 10.00
Efficiency: 9.00 / 10.00
Value: 9.00 / 10.00
Creativity/Style: 7.50 / 10.00
Bun: 7.20 / 10.00
Patty: 8.10 / 10.00
Toppings: 7.80 / 10.00
Balance: 7.40 / 10.00
Total: 73.00 / 90.00 = 81.11 / 100.00