646 South Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Dip your toe into the internet musings about Meatzilla, and you likely will find yourself annoyed. The exclamatory nomenclature. The burger with a pepperoni pizza bun. The unshakable feeling that everything about the place was conceived with a smirk. Indeed, even without the deviant punctuation, the name itself is really an etude in hipster snark. There’s very little in the reportage about this place that would inspire any reasonable person to take it seriously.
Most of this stuff had escaped me when DJ, a partner in my office, told me he had it on good authority that Meatzilla made the best burger in Downtown Los Angeles. Now, having waxed adoring on a different downtown burger myself, I felt predictably compelled to investigate. So I headed over to Meatzilla with Bret and Greg. It’s a shack on Main Street, a pretty barebones affair, with a cramped kitchen, a whiteboard menu, stacks of soda boxes filling a side doorway, and a playlist like a Tarantino soundtrack. If they’re trying to project the image of hustling newcomers just trying to make it, it’s coming off gangbusters. Think Steinbeck repurposed for the Snapchat generation. Okay, that might be overstating the point a bit, but you get the idea.
The Order: Beef! Beef!
The Price: $9.50
The whole concept of the place may seem tongue-in-cheek and affected, but the fare on offer is far from it. While there are some experimental items on the menu to be sure, Meatzilla is conceptually a purist’s burger joint, whose bread and butter is no-frills, beef-forward presentations redolent more of summer cookout than a hipster Thanksgiving.
The Beef! Beef!, for instance, features two absolutely mammoth patties with discs of housemade pickles about the diameter of a nickel laid sporadically on top, along with tangy white onion. A thick primordial ooze of cheese – Muenster on one patty and American on the other – drips from the meat. You might mistake it for a runny fried egg (which you can add, by the way, for a buck fifty). A generous – but not excessive – helping of Sriracha ketchup films both buns. And that’s it. No lettuce, no tomato, none of the other standard garnishes.
The beef is flavorful and surprisingly not overwhelming. It was a hair overcooked, and while that normally wouldn’t be an issue, when there’s this much beef, there’s a smaller margin for error. The pickles were utterly exceptional though, perfectly sour and with a healthy snap to them. The onions were similarly well integrated, soaked in ketchup, and smartly kept raw to add more crunch and tang to complement the massive amounts of beef. The ketchup was not overpowering, offering a nice sweet-hot undertone to each bite without being too assertive. The cheese was a coup: gooey, rich, and indulgent, it gave every bite a sumptuous, smooth warmth.
All these garnishes, though, were just complementary though. While Burgerlords and In-N-Out seek to harmonize all the ingredients into a coherent, synthesized whole in which all the components cooperate to create something larger than the sum of its parts, Meatzilla is, true to its name, a beef-first and beef-last kind of enterprise. If, at Burgerlords, the burger is an orchestra in which the meat is just one instrument, at Meatzilla, the beef is the soloist, with other instruments there to add color and texture, but never to command your attention.
So is this the best burger in Los Angeles? I guess that depends. This burger is not a work of art. But I left my meal with a pretty clear understanding of why someone might fall in love with it. If you think a burger should be an unapologetically beef-focused dish, Meatzilla will appeal to you. They’re about beef. Not about buns (though the bun holds up impressively here, even if it isn’t the most dynamic component of the burger), or garnishes, or balance, or anything else. But beef.
What’s more, there’s a sentimentality inherent in this dish. Meatzilla has the sort of unbalanced charm that will take you back to the backyard cookouts with friends you only distantly remember from a washed-out photograph. The smell of the grill would waft over and intermix with the harsh scent of chlorinated water. It’s the burger you ate before you cared that soda was bad for you. It’s the burger you ate before you started obsessing over calorie counts and carbohydrates. It’s the burger that would buckle a paper plate. It’s the burger you ate before you became a well-heeled culinary connoisseur and forgot how to enjoy something unsophisticated. It’s the burger you ate when you cared more that your food was fun rather than an immaculately curated art project, when it didn’t matter if a dish wasn’t a perfectly manicured harmony of flavors and textures.
The last word is that while it’s hard for me to say this is downtown’s best burger, it’s hard to argue it isn’t either. It’s a strange, unsettled feeling I left with, but it’s a feeling that is pulling me back to Meatzilla for another visit. Which, at bottom, is all that matters, I guess.
Flavor: 8.60 / 10.00
Freshness / Quality: 8.80 / 10.00
Value: 9.00 / 10.00
Efficiency: 9.50 / 10.00
Creativity / Style: 7.50 / 10.00
Bun: 8.00 / 10.00
Patty: 8.70 / 10.00
Toppings: 8.70 / 10.00
Sauce: 7.90 / 10.00
Balance: 7.90 / 10.00
Total: 84.60 / 100.00