The ALL FOUR STARS blog tour – stop 4

all four stars tour buttonHappy July 4 to all who are celebrating!

Today was the fourth stop on the official All Four Stars blog tour, and a great day for recipes. Over at A Baked Creation, Sylvia has created a crème brûlée recipe inspired by the opening scene from the book! Check out her beautiful pictures. As a bonus, it’s flavored with osmanthus (which, I admit I had to look up. It’s a flower that tastes like peach or apricot–yum!).

AND, over at Spirit of Children’s Literature, Katie has concocted a recipe for “Mrs. Anderson’s Aztec Brownies with Caramel Walnut Glaze,” inspired by the experimental brownies that Mrs. Anderson bakes (and Charissa adores) in All Four Stars. These have ancho chile powder and ground ginger in them, and look absolutely amazing!

Foodie Kidlit Friday iconI can’t wait to try these recipes, and will be linking both of them from my own four-star recipes page for the future!

Hope you had a delicious day, and I’ll check back in on Monday with the next stop on the blog tour and the winner of The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by Jessica Lawson!


Four-star recipe: Green tea cupcakes with sesame icing

“Their flavors will send  your taste buds on a trip around the world…the Chinese cake has green tea and sesame seeds...” All Four Stars, page 268

Classy Cakes–the fictitious “dessert bistro” that Gladys is assigned to review in All Four Stars–is famous for its delicious, internationally-inspired cakes. As for how I decided to write about such cakes…well, if you guessed I was inspired by my travels, you’d be correct!

Sesame pops up a lot in Chinese cuisine. Here I am with a giant sesame bread (kind of like a sesame bagel without the hole) in the market in Xian.Giant sesame bread in Xian

And green tea is definitely a popular flavor for sweet things. For instance, check out these green tea oreos…Green tea oreos

…and this green tea Blizzard (yes, there are Dairy Queens in China!).Green tea blizzard in Singapore

So when I wanted to create a “Chinese”-inspired cake, those were the two flavors that jumped to mind. And they’re both strong flavors, so this recipe took a few tries to get balanced. I’ll admit now that it’s probably not for every palate–but my three students (ages 9-13) who tried these swore that they really liked them, so that seems like a pretty good recommendation. (Plus, of course, Gladys and I think they’re great!)

Green tea cupcakes with sesame icing
(makes 9 large or 1 dozen small cupcakes)

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ½ tablespoons matcha green tea powder
1 egg
2/3 cup white sugar
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup milk
1.5 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 tsp almond extract plus 1 tsp vanilla extract)

2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp cream cheese
1 Tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp milk

Black sesame seeds for garnish

If you are a young chef, ask an adult to work with you on this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a muffin tin or line it with cupcake cups.

Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and matcha green tea powder in a bowl. In another bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and oil together with an electric mixer on medium speed. Beat in milk and vanilla extract. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined.

Pour batter into muffin wells until they are 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes (or, if you’re at high elevation, bake for 17 minutes at 365 degrees).

Let the cupcakes cool completely before removing them from the muffin tin and icing.

To make the icing: Cream the butter and cream cheese together with an electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in the tahini, then gradually beat in the powdered sugar until well-incorporated, alternating with a little milk. Pipe the icing onto the cupcakes and garnish with black sesame seeds.

Voila! The finished products.

Green tea cupcakes with sesame icing



ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman coverThis recipe is part of a series inspired by dishes from All Four Starsmy middle-grade novel about 11-year-old restaurant critic Gladys Gatsby. It will be published by Putnam/Penguin on July 10, 2014.

Find more recipes on my four-star recipe page!

Four-Star Recipe: Gajar ka halwa

“What’s gajar ka halwa?”  Gladys was intrigued.
“It’s a traditional north Indian pudding made with carrots,” Parm said.

“Trust me, it’s the best dessert on earth.” All Four Stars, page 208

Parm Singh is right. Move over, carrot cake–gajar ka halwa is the tastiest sweet dish made with carrots you could possibly imagine!


The first few times I tried this dessert, at Indian buffet restaurants in America, I had no idea what it was–I just knew that I loved it. Then, when I traveled in India, I had a chance to see some halwa-makers in action. Here’s a picture of my husband on the street in Delhi beside a large vat of the steaming pudding, which sells there for around 50 cents a portion. (And considering that you can often get a full dinner for a dollar in India, that’s quite expensive. Gajar ka halwa is a delicacy!)

Andy eating gajar ka halwa

In India, this dessert is often made with a special red variety of carrot, which doesn’t really affect the flavor, but makes the dish even prettier to look at.

In any case, when I needed to come up with an Indian dessert for All Four Stars that picky Parm would actually like and want to teach Gladys to makegajar ka halwa was the obvious choice! Here’s my version of the recipe.

-Traditionally, one would use ghee (clarified butter) as the fat, but don’t worry if you don’t have any on hand–I’ve made it with plain old butter and it has still turned out delicious.

-Also, this recipe contains extra nuts, since Charissa loves them, but if you don’t or are allergic, they are easy to omit.

Parm Singh’s Favorite Gajar Ka Halwa
(makes 4 cups)

Nut-and-raisin topping:
1 Tbsp ghee or butter
2 Tbsp cashews
2 Tbsp almonds (sliced, slivered, or chopped)
2 Tbsp raisins

Carrot pudding:
4 Tbsp ghee or butter
11 carrots, peeled and shredded
3 cups milk (at least 1%, and the higher in fat the better)
1/2 cup sugar (plus more to taste)
1 tsp ground cardamom

If you are a young chef, ask an adult to work with you on this recipe.

In a large, deep skillet (preferably nonstick), melt 1 Tbsp ghee or butter over medium heat. Add the cashews and almonds and toast until the nuts are golden-brown and fragrant, 4-5 minutes. Add the raisins for the last minute and cook, stirring, until they are plumped but not burnt. Remove the nuts and raisins into a bowl and set aside.

Melt the remaining 4 Tbsp ghee or butter in the skillet. Sautee the shredded carrots in the fat for 3-5 minutes. Add the milk, bring the mixture to a simmer, and cook until the milk is all evaporated, about one hour.

Stir in the sugar and cardamom and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes, until the sugar is melted and well-incorporated. Taste and add more sugar as desired. Before serving, stir in the nuts and raisins, or reserve as topping.

Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold in small bowls (a little goes a long way).


ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman coverThis recipe is part of a series inspired by dishes from All Four Starsmy middle-grade novel about 11-year-old restaurant critic Gladys Gatsby. It will be published by Putnam/Penguin on July 10, 2014.

Find more recipes on my four-star recipe page!

Four-Star Recipe: Tree-Nut Tarts

“Omigosh, wasn’t Saturday so fun? I keep thinking about that tree-nut tart. Do you think you could find a recipe for it?” All Four Stars, page 263

Why yes, Charissa–there is such a recipe!


Charissa Bentley, one of the main characters in All Four Stars, loves desserts and nuts, so it’s no surprise that this dish from Classy Cakes quickly becomes one of her favorites. A twist on pecan pie, the tree-nut tart contain a variety of nuts as well as ground almonds in the crust. (Learn more about the differences between pies and tarts.)

To get the traditional straight-sided tart shape, you’ll need a springform pan–either the standard size (for one big tart) or four smaller pans (which I used to make the tarts pictured). However, if you only have a pie pan, that should work, too.

Note: If you want to be all posh like Allison Sconestein-Alforno (pastry chef at Classy Cakes in All Four Stars), you can seek out fancy nut varieties to include in your tarts–her menu boasts a mix of black walnuts, Marcona almonds, and DuChilly hazelnuts for the filling. But regular old nuts from the grocery store will work just fine, too, as long as you have a good mix.

Classy Cakes’s Tree-Nut Tarts
(serves 8)

Almond-spiked crust:
½ cup almonds
1 Tbsp sugar
1 cup flour (all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour, or a combination)
¼ tsp salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp almond extract (or use all vanilla extract)

Tree-nut filling:
2 cups of mixed tree nuts of your choice (such as walnuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and/or pecans)
2 large eggs
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon canola oil or melted unsalted butter
¼ tsp salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

If you are a young chef, ask an adult to work with you on this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease one large springform pan (for tart version), four small springform pans (for small tarts), or a pie pan (for pie version) with oil or cooking spray.

In a food processor, pulse the almonds and sugar together until they form a coarse meal. Add flour and salt and pulse to blend. With the motor running, add the butter a few pieces at a time and process until well blended.

In a bowl, beat the egg yolk and extracts until combined. With the processor motor running, add this mixture to the food processor. Process until a sand-like mixture forms (about 1 minute).

Turn the mixture out into the prepared tart (or pie) pan or pans, pressing it into the bottom and up the sides to form a crust. Place pan(s) on a baking sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until the crust is no longer raw.

Meanwhile, make the tree-nut filling. In a food processor, pulse the nuts together a few times until they are chopped to the size you prefer.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, maple syrup, brown sugar, oil or butter, salt, and vanilla extract together. Pour the nuts into the liquid mixture and stir until combined.

Remove the tart crust from the oven and reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Spread the nut mixture evenly in the crust. Bake until the tart no longer jiggles in the middle when shaken, 25-30 minutes.

If using a springform pan, cool tart on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then gently remove the sides of the pan. If using a pie pan, let cool to desired temperature.

Serve warm or at room temperature.


ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman coverThis recipe is part of a series inspired by dishes from All Four Starsmy middle-grade novel about 11-year-old restaurant critic Gladys Gatsby. It will be published by Putnam/Penguin on July 10, 2014.

Find more recipes on my four-star recipe page!

Four-Star Recipe: Bluebarb crumble

“So what’s it called?” Charissa asked.
“Bluebarb crumble.”
“It’s short for blueberry-rhubarb.”
“What’s rhubarb?”
“Well,” Gladys began, “it looks kind of like celery, but you can’t eat it raw. It tastes sour, and it grows like a weed…”
 All Four Starspage 222

Bluebarb crumble

It’s spring! Rhubarb is here, and blueberries are on their way.

In All Four Stars, Gladys bakes a “bluebarb” (blueberry-rhubarb) crumble for a fellow student as part of her plan to convince that student to give her a ride into New York City, where she needs to review a restaurant.

Now, I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but I’ll just say that blueberries and rhubarb taste pretty delicious together, so the crumble probably doesn’t hurt Gladys’s efforts. 🙂

The Backstory

Gladys knew that strawberry-rhubarb was a classic dessert combination, with the sweetness of the strawberries balancing the sourness of the rhubarb. But she’d never thought of using blueberries for sweetness instead, and the idea fascinated her.
– All Four Starspage 214

When my husband and I were planning our wedding, we decided to serve pies for dessert instead of having a wedding cake. We surveyed our guests to make sure that all of their favorite pie flavors would be offered, but when it came to the true “wedding pie”–the one we would cut into together–we wanted something special.

My husband’s favorite pie flavor was blueberry, and mine was rhubarb, so we asked our pie-bakers (the fantastic Kristin’s Bakery in Keene, NH) if they could put our two favorites together in a custom “bluebarb” pie. They came through with flying colors, producing an amazingly sweet and tart dessert with just the right hint of lemon in it.

Bluebarb wedding pie

Our bluebarb wedding pie

In All Four Stars, Gladys doesn’t have time to make a pie crust, but that’s okay–most of us don’t on a typical weekday night. A crumble or crisp is much easier to throw together, and with its tastily textured topping, it’s arguably even more delicious than pie.

Is there someone in your life who needs a little buttering up with the perfect sweet-and-tangy dessert? If so, start gathering ingredients.

Gladys Gatsby’s “Do Me a Favor” Bluebarb Crumble
serves 4-6

2.5 cups rhubarb, diced
3 cups blueberries, rinsed
½ cup sugar
3 Tbsp tapioca starch or cornstarch
2 Tbsp lemon juice
¼ tsp cinnamon

¼ cup walnuts
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup flour (whole wheat pastry or all-purpose)
½ tsp cinnamon
4 Tbsp butter, cut into bits
1 Tbsp neutral oil, such as canola
½ cup rolled oats

Optional garnish:
vanilla ice cream


If you are a young chef, ask an adult to work with you on this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

In a large bowl, combine all of the filling ingredients. Toss to mix everything well, then transfer mixture to a loaf pan.

In a food processor, pulse the walnuts, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon together a few times until the walnuts have been broken into smaller pieces. Add butter bits and oil and process until the mixture has a uniform, crumbly texture. Add the rolled oats and pulse 10 times, until the oats are incorporated but are still mostly whole.

Spread the topping on top of the fruit, covering it evenly. Bake for 30 minutes.

Let cool a bit before serving either on its own, or topped with vanilla ice cream.





ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman coverThis recipe is part of a series inspired by dishes from All Four Starsmy middle-grade novel about 11-year-old restaurant critic Gladys Gatsby. It will be published by Putnam/Penguin on July 10, 2014.

Find more recipes on my four-star recipe page!

Butterbeer! Pumpkin Juice! Puking Pastilles! (What I ate at Harry Potter World)

Foodie Kidlit Friday icon“I’m going to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with my cousin this month!” I spent most of January telling anyone who would listen.

“Oh, that’s so nice of you,” a lot of them replied. This response baffled me at first, until I realized that they thought that my cousin was a small child whom I had volunteered to chaperone around Universal Studios. Then came the awkward moment when I had to explain that no, my cousin was my age, and that we were going to Harry Potter World… well, just because we wanted to.


Whatever. Harry Potter is awesome, and Merrie and I have been wanting to check out the Universal versions of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts for years. (And as a kidlit author myself with a particular penchant for writing about food, I was especially excited to do some taste-testing of Potter-inspired foods at The Three Broomsticks and Honeydukes!) So in the last week of January, off we went to Orlando.

I would like to say that we arrived via Hogwarts Express, but apparently the track-elves are still working on the Denver-Hogsmeade line. Still, we were welcomed at Hogsmede station by a conductor, who seemed to be legitimately blown away by Merrie’s impervious (i.e. rubberized) rain pants. (The weather was shockingly British for our Orlando visit–high 30s and rainy most of the week!)

Hogwarts Express

Hogwarts castle was truly impressive from the outside.Hogwarts castleBut inside it was even better! There’s so much to see as you wait in line for the Forbidden Journey ride–such as the house points hourglasses filled with emeralds for Slytherin, sapphires for Ravenclaw, rubies for Gryffindor, and…what the heck is Hufflepuff’s stone, anyway?House points

You could stop off for a quick look in the pensieve in Dumbledore’s office.PensieveMerrie and I particularly enjoyed that the ride warning signs were provided by The Department of Magical Transportation. 🙂 Warning signCloser to the ride entrance are walls of talking portraits…Portraits…and right before you enter, the sorting hat recites a rhyme about how pregnant ladies and people with heart conditions shouldn’t get on the ride. It was brilliant.
Sorting HatIn retrospect, perhaps I should have paid more attention to the sorting hat’s warnings about dizziness. The Forbidden Journey is a thrilling, but also kind of sickening ride. Once was enough for me and Merrie.

On to Hogsmeade! The rooftop snow is fake, but it could have been real that day–that’s how cold it was.Hogsmeade

Into The Three Broomsticks to warm up. I was really hoping for a hot tankard of butterbeer, but alas, the only options were cold or frozen. I went with cold (drink on the right), and Merrie ordered a pumpkin juice and a strawberry-peanut-butter ice cream (which I believe is the flavor Harry eats at Florian Fortescue’s parlor in book 1). Butterbeer et alCheers!Tara with Butterbeer

Okay, honesty time–we were actually pretty disappointed with everything in this first order. The pumpkin juice was refreshing at first sip, but tasted more and more fake the more we drank of it, like artificial pumpkin-pie-flavored Kool-Aid. The butterbeer tasted kind of like cream soda with a thin butterscotch-flavored foam on top, and for me, once the foam was gone, so was the novelty. And the ice cream tasted mostly like peanut butter, which isn’t a bad thing, though it was frozen so solid that we really had to dig at it with our spoons.

We finished the ice cream because…well, it’s ice cream, but couldn’t make it to the bottom of either of our drinks. Alas.

But the pub atmosphere was great, and it sure is fun to eat in a place where Butterbeer is on tap!Butterbeer on tapThere was also a giant Butterbeer truck in the street. I bet that it’s really popular on non-freezing days.Butterbeer truckOn to Honeydukes!Honeyduke'sPossibly my favorite window dressing in all of Hogsmeade: an animatronic doll continuously puking a sheet of puking pastilles into a bucket. 🙂Puking pastillesWhile I thought that the prices at The Three Broomsticks were pretty reasonable for a theme park (specialty drinks around $3 and change, full meals $8-$15), the shops are definitely where they aim to get your galleons. Almost every candy package at Honeydukes cost at least $10. Still, it was fun to see so many items from the books–like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.
Bertie Bott's Every Flavor BeansThere were huge chocolate cauldrons filled with marshmallow…Chocolate cauldrons…and, in the bakery section, cauldron cakes, which apparently have about five different types of chocolate in them.Cauldron cakeMerrie bought a chocolate frog, which comes with a cool pentagon-shaped wizard card inside. The frog is just a massive, solid block of milk chocolate, though, and it’s pretty hard to crack apart and share. (However, packages of much smaller peppermint toads were available, and Merrie hacked the system by refilling her chocolate frog box with toads so that her kids could open it up and enjoy them without getting frustrated by the giant frog. That’s an engineering mind at work right there!) Chocolate frogMy haul from Honeydukes: Bertie Bott’s Beans and a chocolate cauldron for my students, and ton-tongue toffee for my husband. (Sadly, it did not turn his tongue into a three-yard-long purple snake–but it was sort of shaped like a giant tongue and did have a ton of calories!)Candy haulHere’s Merrie in front of Hagrid’s hut. Which, honestly, was a little nicer than I’d pictured it! Note the giant pumpkin in the yard.
Hagrid's hutHey, it’s lunchtime–back to The Three Broomsticks! I opted for the Cornish Pastie lunch, which included three hot little meat pies and an enormous iceberg lettuce salad. Lunch at the Three BroomsticksThe pies were good (mostly because they were hot). The salad was a salad. Merrie and I lamented that your meal does not magically float up through the table like it does at the Great Hall feasts in the books. That would be some good technology–er, I mean, magic.

At Harry Potter World, The Hog’s Head is actually just an extension of The Three Broomsticks, but I did appreciate the enormous head behind the bar!Hog's HeadAnd the head on the tap. I’m not sure what actually comes out of this tap, though. Anyone know?Hog's Head TapOh, look–it’s students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons! Apparently they sometimes do an acrobatic show, but the stage was too wet for them to perform. 😦TriwizardWhile there were plenty of school scarves and hats and other expected apparel you could buy, what surprised me most was that you could also get Hogwarts cheerleading uniforms. Funny, I don’t remember cheerleaders in the books (though I can only imagine the height they could get on those basket tosses with the aid of a wingardium leviosa charm!).Hogwarts cheerleaderMerrie insisted that, as a writer, I take a picture in front of the quill shop. Thanks, cuz. 🙂Scrivenshaft'sIt was still freezing that afternoon, and we were hungry again, so we decided to give The Three Broomsticks one last try. We ordered two potato side dishes: the seasoned fries and the garlicky potato wedges. Both were really tasty, and this visit got our biggest thumbs up of the day. Potatoes at The Three BroomsticksI’ll wrap things up now in a different section of Universal, outside the Dr. Seuss bookstore. A perfect place to take a picture with your cousin: note the quote!CousinsDespite the weather, and the nauseating ride, and the “meh” drinks, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter didn’t disappoint us. The level of detail put into the buildings and atmosphere was really impressive, and I’m sure that once the new section opens up this summer, it’s going to be even better. I’ll probably skip the pumpkin juice and Butterbeer next time, but I wouldn’t mind having some of those hot potato snacks right about now. Hooray for Harry Potter!

**UPDATE: I returned to Harry Potter World in 2017 to try frozen butterbeer and eat my way through Diagon Alley. Read my updates here!**

Like this post? Then you’d probably love my middle-grade novels about tween restaurant critic Gladys Gatsby!


A Quest for the Best Burger in L.A.

Foodie Kidlit Friday iconWhen you write books about a made-up restaurant critic, sometimes you get the urge to channel her and do a bit of critiquing yourself. Which is why my husband Andy and I decided to fly to L.A. over Martin Luther King weekend and eat as many different hamburgers as we could. 🙂

This whole crazy idea came about last year, when I tagged along with Andy on a work trip to L.A. I put out a call online for restaurant recommendations, and ended up with a lot more recs for burger places than I would have expected. There wasn’t enough time to hit them on that first trip, but Andy and I vowed to come back and eat at as many as we could in an effort to find L.A.’s best burger. Our friends Katie and Jason, who live in L.A., immediately agreed to join us, and a quest was planned!

Your judges:

Andy & Tara

Andy (financial professional) & Tara (children’s author)

 Jason & Katie

Jason (TV writer) & Katie (environmental communications expert)

In three days, we managed to hit nine places, running the gamut from humble fast food shack to high-end French bistro. I know that this doesn’t even begin to be comprehensive (I’m already compiling a list for next time!), but it made for a decent sampling.

So without further ado, here’s where we went and what we ate!

Stop #1: Hole in the Wall, Santa Monica
Burger base price: $8.95

Hole in the Wall is a cute little fast-casual place with a decent-sized outdoor patio.
Hole in the Wall

(And a mission statement!)
Hole in the Wall interior
You order using a handy checklist. Andy and I kept things pretty basic, though we did go for the pretzel bun and the cranberry mayo, which sounded like the most fun of the spread choices provided. Katie and Jason got cheese on their burger, and tried the mustard pickle relish.

Hole in the Wall menuThe burger:
Hole in the Wall burger


Meat: I found the meat to be juicy, and Katie said hers had “solid char.” Andy thought the meat was on the mushy side. Quoth Jason: “It was good. I liked it.”

Bun: Everyone loved the pretzel bun, though Katie said the bottom of hers got a little soggy and that the cheese was poorly distributed.

Condiments & toppings: Andy and I found the cranberry mayo to be lacking in flavor, even when eaten on its own without a bite of meat. Katie and Jason gave the mustard relish a big thumbs up, though. The lettuce and tomato were fresh enough, though no one found them remarkable.

Worth mentioning: The fries were solid–worth ordering. Also, Hole in the Wall had a great assortment of shake flavors (including peanut butter and malt), which, sadly, we did not try. But they also has a fridge full of awesome-sounding soda flavors, including Shirley Temple soda, Cheerwine, and various cream sodas. I just had to get the praline cream soda from Louisiana. It was a little scarily sweet, but I appreciated the opportunity to try it.

Hole in the Wall soda

Bottom line: We all gave Hole in the Wall a solid for its burgers. We would return if we were in the neighborhood, though we probably wouldn’t drive across town just to go. The pretzel buns and fun beverage selection give it an edge.

Stop #2: The Apple Pan, West L.A.
Burger base price: $7.10

The only thing more adorable than the outside of The Apple Pan…
The Apple Pan
…is the inside of The Apple Pan! It’s just one giant counter (and in the middle of the afternoon, well past peak lunchtime, we had to wait for seats).
The Apple Pan interior
But while you wait, you can gaze into the back kitchen, where rows and rows of deep-dish apple pies wait to be cut up.
The Apple Pan pies
The menu features two “original” burgers–the Steakburger and the Hickoryburger–so we had to try both.
The Apple Pan menu
Burger cross-section:
The Apple Pan burger


Meat: These are thinner, smaller burgers than most of the other entries out there. While no one found the steak burger remarkable, we all agreed that the hickory burger had excellent flavor.

Bun: No one was very impressed. Comments included “generic” and “not substantial enough for all the condiments.”

Condiments & toppings: The condiments were overwhelming, exploding out of the sandwich to make this our messiest burger-eating experience. The relish had an interesting flavor, but everyone agreed that there was way too much of it, and the delicious hickory burger was almost drowned in ketchup. As for the toppings, Andy said “I liked that there was half a head of iceberg in my burger. I could have taken the extra home to make a salad later.”

Worth mentioning: The beverage selection was poor (no shakes or interesting sodas). The pies looked amazing, though, and it wasn’t until we were a neighborhood away in the car that we realized we really should have tried a slice while we were there. Our mistake.

Bottom line: The Steakburger got a B- from everyone, while the Hickoryburger’s grades ranged from B- to A- for an average grade of B/B+ (terrific meat surrounded by lackluster everything else). However, The Apple Pan gets an A for atmosphere, and we’d go back to try some of that pie, at the very least.

Stop #3: Father’s Office, Mid-City
Burger base price: $12.50

Atmosphere-wise, Father’s Office is pretty much the opposite of The Apple Pan–very slick and modern. (Though, like at The Apple Pan, you order at the bar/counter!)

Father's OfficeFather’s Office makes a lot of “best burger in L.A.” lists–but the thing is, they won’t do any substitutions. And since Andy doesn’t eat cheese (and I don’t like melted cheese), that meant that their famed burger (which contains gruyere and blue cheese, as well as bacon and arugula) was untasteable for us. And by the time we got there, Katie and Jason were burgered out, so we didn’t end up having a burger there at all.

We couldn’t pass up dessert, though. Here’s the gingerbread ice cream sandwich with pumpkin ice cream (looks kind of like a burger, no? 🙂 ) And even better was the sticky toffee pudding a la mode. YUM.

Father's Office ice cream sandwich

Nice desserts and beer list. Couldn’t try the burger, so if you’ve had it, feel free to weigh in in the comments.

Stop #4: Stout, Hollywood
Burger base price: $11

Stout, which focuses on burgers and beer, was a late addition to our first-day agenda…but a great one. Read on.
StoutThis is a sit-down, table-service place, though it’s not fancy or fussy. And while you can’t mix and match toppings here, you can have them removed, which is what Andy and I did to the cheese on our choice, the “Truffle Shuffle.” Jason had his burger mojo back by this point and went for the “Goombah,” while Katie sampled the bean-and-quinoa a veggie burger.
Stout menu
The “Truffle Shuffle” burger (minus cheese):
Stout burger


Meat: Comments from the meat-eaters included “juicy,” “delicious,” and “solid.”

Bun: This is a tall, substantial bun–very aesthetically pleasing in its perfect roundness.

Condiments & Toppings: Stout eschews the typical lettuce/tomato/pickle for its own custom topping combinations–and we think they should keep at it. The sauteed mushrooms and truffle aioli on Andy’s and my burger was terrific, and Jason loved the combination of cheeses and prosciutto on his.

Worth noting: Our side of sweet potato fries was definitely worth ordering–a good “crunch to softness ratio” as one of our tasters (okay, I) put it. The beer and wine list is extensive and was enjoyed by Katie and Jason; Andy and I would have liked to see more interesting nonalcoholic options, but at a place called “Stout,” we weren’t going to hold our breaths.

Bottom line: Solid A- grades across the board (including for Katie’s veggie burger). As Jason said, the whole experience just worked altogether. We’d definitely go back to try some different varieties.

Stop #5: Astro Burger, Hollywood
Burger base price: $3.20

Moving now from the gourmet to the…less gourmet. We kicked off day 2 of burger-eating at Astro Burger, which Katie described as having a “Greek diner meets fast-food burger joint” vibe.Astroburger

The burger:
Astroburger burger


Meat: “Bland,” “thin and gray,” “well-done,” and “just like a Whopper.”

Bun: As Katie put it: “average and unnoticeable.” Andy, when pressed: “It had sesame seeds.”

Condiments & Toppings: Toppings were average/disappointing: bland shredded lettuce and mealy tomato. Katie and Jason got an avocado burger, and the avocado was nice and fresh, but Katie said it added more texture than flavor.

Worth noting: Thanks to the burger’s low price, we sprung for a pineapple shake, which was fine (though not so pineapple-y). Of note, though, is Astro Burger’s extensive vegetarian/vegan menu, complete with a lot of different fake meats. (Maybe they are better than the real meat?)

Bottom line: Our grades ranged from C- to C+, averaging out to C. Quoth Katie: “It hits all the requirements, but makes no attempt to excel.”

Stop #6: Fatburger, Los Feliz
Burger base price: $4.69

On to Fatburger, a California chain. Apparently, most of them look like generic fast-food joints, but this one was very cute!

Well, at least from the outside. It’s hard to see the menu in this shot, but Fatburger operates on a “build-your-own” model; no special buns, but all of the expected basic topping and condiment choices are available.Fatburger interiorThe burger:
Fatburger burger


Meat: Katie and I both found the meat to be tasty, and I liked that the patty was thicker and more substantial than the Whopper/Astro Burger style of fast-food burger. Andy, on the other hand, found it bland and said the burger taste was overpowered by the relish. Jason said that, of the fast food chains, it’s the best by far.

Bun: Andy enjoyed that the bun was toasted, and Jason said his didn’t get greasy. Katie found it unremarkable; I thought it was a step up from the average bun.

Condiments & Toppings: We all agreed that the relish was strong, and that pickles + relish is probably overkill on this burger. Next time, we’d pick one or the other.

Worth noting: Katie and I split a red velvet shake, and appreciated the novel flavor, though we wouldn’t run back for another one.

Bottom line: No one gave Fatburger the same grade; they ranged from a C- (Andy) to a B+ (Jason) for an average score of B-. Three out of four of us would come back, and I would definitely choose Fatburger over In & Out Burger (which we didn’t visit on this trip, but which we have tried twice before–I’m just not a fan).

Stop #7: Comme Ca, West Hollywood
Burger base price: $18

Oops, forgot to take a picture outside of this restaurant…or inside…or of anything but the burger. (But oh, what a burger!) Briefly, Comme Ca is a fancy French bistro where the burger–while being the most expensive of our quest–is by far the cheapest entree on the menu. It comes with skinny French fries, strong garlic aioli for dipping, and a crunchy, salty slaw as the burger’s only condiment (unless you have yours with cheese, also an option).

Le burger:

Comme Ca burger


Meat: Ah, subjectivity. Andy found our burger to be “flavorful but a little dry,” while Katie said her cheeseburger was “fairly juicy but not so flavorful.” Jason and I both thought ours had great flavor and texture.

Bun: Everyone was a fan of the toasted and buttered bun. “No bun-sog!” proclaimed Katie. (I should also point out that, between the thick burger and the substantial bun, this is a very tall burger, which may annoy small-mouthed folks. Given that, though, I didn’t have as much trouble fitting it into my [small] mouth after the first couple of bites, and it was not nearly as messy to eat as I feared.)

Condiments & Toppings: We were fans of the salty slaw…well, except for Jason, who said “it’s not a slaw.” Though, actually, I think he still liked it.

Worth noting: The fries and aioli were delicious. If $14 cocktails are your thing, Comme Ca has plenty of them to choose from, and according to Jason, an excellent wine list. Not so much of interest on the nonalcoholic side. The one dessert we tried, a caramel pot de creme ($8) was amazing. All that said, our service was kind of off–and when I’m eating at a place this pricey (entrees other than the burger were around $30), I kind of expect the server to be a little more knowledgeable and on-the-ball timing-wise than ours was.

Bottom line: Our grades ranged from B+ to A, averaging B+/A-. Jason and I both named it our overall favorite burger, but for the group, it came in a close second to Stout. If you’re looking for a swanky evening out during which you can still enjoy a burger, this is a great destination.

Stop #8: The Habit, North Hollywood
Burger base price: $2.95

From the priciest burger of our quest to the cheapest! The Habit is another California chain, and we visited the North Hollywood location, which is in a strip mall. No picture of the interior, but I thought it was a step up in decor and cleanliness from Fatburger, while Katie likened it to a Panera or Starbucks.

The Habit

The basic burger choice is the Charburger, which comes with mayo, pickle, lettuce, tomato, and caramelized onions on a toasted bun. There are also a few other variations, such as the Teriyaki Charburger (featuring pineapple), which Katie and I tried.

The Charburger:
The Habit burger


Meat: No one was blow away by the meat. Andy said it tasted like “a slightly less charbroiled Whopper,” and Katie felt it got a little lost among all the condiments.

Bun: “Normal.” “Unremarkable.”

Condiments & Toppings: Habit seems to go with a “more is better” condiment and topping philosophy, though Andy said that the caramelized onions on his burger were a nice touch.

Worth noting: Sweet potato fries were tasty. Shakes are available, and our malt vanilla shake was fine, though nothing to write home about. The price, however, really can’t be beat.

Bottom line: The Habit got B- across the board. (Personally, I’d rather sit down for lunch here than at Fatburger…but I’d rather be eating a Fatburger.)

Stop #9: Rounds Premium Burgers, North Hollywood
Burger base price: $5.45

Rounds is a little storefront on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Not terribly exciting outside or inside.

Rounds Like at Hole in the Wall, you build your own burger by ordering off a handy checklist. We stuck to the basics, but chose chipotle ketchup off the list of sauces.
Rounds Menu
The burger:
Rounds burger


Meat: Andy and I thought that the patty was juicy and had really good flavor. I liked the thickness, too. Katie was less impressed, calling both the juiciness and flavor “average.”

Bun: “Toasted.” “Above average.” “Solid.”

Condiments & Toppings: The toppings were pretty average; I wished that there had been fresh green lettuce instead of shredded iceberg. Also, while we thought the chipotle ketchup had a nice level of spice, it was too cold, even on a hot burger.

Worth noting: Drinks were uninspiring–no shakes, and just fountain sodas–and sadly, there is no public bathroom.

Bottom line: Our average rating was a B/B+. At $5.45, we all agreed that a Rounds burger is great value for the quality, and that if we were in the neighborhood, we’d make the effort to come back by. In fact, I’d be willing to pay a few dollars more for the same burger on slightly nicer premises, with a bathroom and better drink options.


Thus concludes our burger tour of L.A.–perhaps the first of many! Our winner overall was Stout, closely followed by Comme Ca.

Best meat goes to The Apple Pan for its Hickoryburger.

Best bun was the pretzel bun at Hole in the Wall.

Best toppings were found at Stout.

Best value was Rounds.

And for best fast food burger, Fatburger edges out The Habit.

Agree? Disagree? Couldn’t care less? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments. I’ll just say that I think we all had a great time channeling our inner Gladys Gatsbys for the weekend…and also that we’ll be quite happy not to eat another burger for a while. 🙂