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The State of L.A.'s Burgers: Elina Shatkin Explains It All

Lazy Ox Canteen's Burger

Lazy Ox Canteen's BurgerPhoto: Hadley Tomicki

Squid Ink food critic Elina Shatkin survived her quest to eat 30 L.A. burgers in 30 days, and even added a 31st yesterday with a preview of one of the few non-vegetarian offerings at Silver Lake's forthcoming Mohawk Bend. Naturally, now that the series comes to an end, we want to know what lessons were learned about L.A.'s burger scene, how Shatkin is feeling after 31 days of eating beef and buns, and what she plans to tackle next. Check out our following Q&A with Elina "Burger Queen" Shatkin to find out.

How do you feel physically after eating 31 burgers over the last 31 days? Now, that I've had a day or so to recuperate, I feel fine. But for a while -- the last third of the odyssey -- I felt pretty gross. I felt logey and lardy.

How will your diet change now that the month-long burger run is over? I probably won't eat burgers for at least three, maybe four days. Seriously, I'm grateful to be eating more vegetables and lean meats. Hallelujah! The thing about the burgers quest is that it didn't just affect the one burger I ate that day, it often made me so full that other food, potentially healthy food, didn't appeal to me at other meals.

Was there any point at which you regretted beginning the endeavor or thought it might be hard to continue? Yes, pretty much every day after Day 20.

Having toured L.A.'s burger scene, what would you say are the greatest strengths of our burgers? Diversity, respect for tradition, and innovation. I am currently attempting to formalize a GUT (Grand Unified Theory) of burgers. It revolves around the idea that the burger has evolved along two parallel tracks.

There's the traditional, fast-food burger: a wide, flat, mildly seasoned patty topped with iceberg lettuce, raw onion, tomato, cheese and, possibly, mayo. Then there's the gourmet, pub burger: thick, tall, coarsely ground, loosely packed, usually cooked medium rare, topped with some obscure cheese and an assortment of fancy condiments. In between are what I call "mish-mash" burgers--I'll have to think of a better name when I write my dissertation--which combine some elements of both traditional and gourmet burgers. The patties are usually thicker, saltier and more heavily seasoned than fast food patties but not as thick as gourmet burgers. Toppings for "mish-mash" can have a lot of flair--eggs, pastrami, grilled onions--without the fanciness of the toppings on a gourmet burger. Most so-called "ghetto burgers" are mish-mash burgers. As a side note, there are stunt burgers (a.k.a. glutton burgers) like the Cardiac Burger at The Bucket and The Chi Chi Burger at Blue Dog Beer Tavern. Yes, I have spent way too much time thinking about this.

Did you have a stand-out, favorite burger? Because I went back and forth between traditional burgers and gourmet burgers, it's unfair to rank them against each other. But some of my favorites in each category include Bill & Hiroko's [and] Cassell's for traditional burgers, Hole In The Wall, The Bucket, [and] Mom's for mish-mash burgers, Lazy Ox Canteen, Osteria La Buca, Stout, The Oaks, Rustic Canyon, [and] The Bottle Room for gourmet burgers.

What about any weaknesses? Is there something you'd like to see be different in L.A. when it comes to burgers?
Precisely because there's so much variety in the LA burger scene, there's no endemic weakness. Each burger, and each burger joint, has its own pros and cons. Some burgers could use more char or a better bun. Others might need more seasoning or less mayo.

What food might you tackle next in this fashion? It should be "30 Salads in 30 Days," but when it gets hot, I'm planning on doing "30 Scoops in 30 Days." It will be a concentrated tour of ice cream and gelato, but not fro-yo, joints. I already have 44 places on my list.

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