No-beef burgers: Third and Hollywood
The restaurant: Embracing and attractive, Third and Hollywood is the most moneyed member of the extra-smart Northstar Cafe family of restaurants. In 3&H's case, the locally sourced apple didn't drop far from the organically grown tree. So though it's a darker, jazzier and bar-equipped full-service eatery, it's likewise stylishly casual with a serious commitment to super ingredients, delicious dishes and a sharp kitchen consistency.
The burger: The Northstar's dazzling veggie burger is not on my list simply because it's already been written about to death (certainly by me), and therefore I decided to highlight its equally good, Southwestern-accented cousin produced at Third and Hollywood. Just like its groundbreaking kin, 3&H's Black Bean and Corn Burger is huge enough for two hungry eaters and it's endowed with a great grilled crust and a deep and smoky "beefy" flavor derived from black beans and, I suppose, alchemy.
Unlike Northstar's model, Third and Hollywood's version is not beet-powered but is instead slightly sweetened by sprinkles of corn and red pepper. It's really great, and just as deserving of fame as its renowned relative.
The bun: It's terrific -glazed, golden, sesame-seeded and given a seriously buttery toasting. Plus, it impressively manages to retain most of its crunchy texture throughout the chomping process.
Toppings, sides and extras: A substantial dollop of untraditional but rock-star-quality guacamole blasts this not-burger to the top of the charts. There's also diced red onion, melted Monterey jack cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce, mayo and a slice of good tomato. This results in a veggie-tastic but still rich, texturally diverse and double-fisted dining delight.
The wide range of top-notch side choices varies from thin and crispy fries to serious slaw to supremely satisfying mashed potatoes, but I usually opt for 3&H's sophisticated and pretty warm green bean salad. In it, too-often-bland green beans -wispy al dente French-style ones -get heft from fingerling potatoes, earthy brine from kalamata olives, brisk sweetness from uncooked corn kernels and a nutty saltiness from shards of parmesan. Tying everything together is a bright and lemony herb vinaigrette.
I'm a sucker for 3&H's gingery mojito, but their margarita is also excellent - and both have the tart and aromatic power to slice through the food.