Step aside boys, Chef Makani is bringing everything she has to the burger table. Her debut LA restaurant, Pono Burger, which opened in Santa Monica a little over a year ago, is a bright mix of Hawaiian philosophy, playful flavors, and professionall skill. I believe that chefs who focus on one genre of cuisine and aim to do it better than anyone else, have a high success rate. Pono Burger continues to generate unique burgers, fries, and shakes all while using organic, California-made ingredients.
Last week was my first visit to the quirky and hip quanset hut that houses Pono Burger. Narrowing down my order to two burgers was one of the toughest decisions in my food pervert career. I opted for The Palani, one of three Summer Seasonal burgers, and The Kuawa (Kuava) Crunch from the signature menu. I figured there were no wrong choices and I could always come back, multiple times. I also had to get the Russet Potato Fries with traditional aioli and the bacon/chipotle aioli, The Farmer's Market Salad and the Salted Caramel Milkshake. Go big or go home, right?
The Palani: Organic beef patty, Herbs de Provence, grilled organic sliced tomato, Cypress Grove purple haze chévre, Niman Ranch Bacon, organic sunny-side up egg, organic arugula drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.
The Kuawa Crunch: Organic beef patty, Hook's 1 yr. cheddar, topped with organic housemade russet potato chips, organic green leaf lettuce, housemade cole slaw and housemade spicy guava rum sauce.
The Farmer's Market Salad: Organic arugula, organic farmer's market peaches, local Gioia burrata, crushed organic Santa Barbara pistachios, housemade champagne vinaigrette.
The Milkshake: Salted caramel sauce with Niman Ranch housemade bacon bits.
Notice two words coming up a lot? Organic and housemade. As mentioned earlier, Chef Makani is all about using the best ingredients, organic, locally sourced and made by hand when possible. "Pono" is a Hawaiian word meaning, "To do things the right way." It's the special ingredient that's in everything she prepares.
As a young woman with a very distinguished burger palate, my expectations were beautifully met. The Palani was obviously the perviest burger, making it a must-taste for me. The Kuawa Crunch appealed to me because of the spice quotient, I do like it hot sometimes. Both burgers held their own on the flavor battle-field. I could taste the pureness of the grass-fed beef and the character of each additional ingredient and topping from the vegetables to the cheese. Each component had the taste of thought, it was specifically recruited, not randomly added.
The sides, salad and fries, were delightful companions. Again, the flavors were fresh and real. Using seasonal produce makes such an impact in one's dining experience. The peaches were freshly picked. They were sweet and earthy. Perfect. The fries were deep golden brown and could have easily stood alone in their flavor without the additional aioli. Not that the aioli wasn't good, it was a great alternative to traditional ketchup.
How about that milkshake? It one-hundred percent gave me a tingly mouthgasm. Salted caramel is my go to sweet fix right now, so this was absolutely the right choice for me. The texture was so smooth and decadent and the bacon chips...well, they just sent me over the edge! Please note, I am lactose intolerant, but risked it all to taste this shake, a choice I don't regret.
I am hoping that Pono Burger opens its doors in more LA neighborhoods in the future. It is a full-proof concept, great food made with great care, simple and satisfying. Other highlights include the awesome beer and wine pairings suggested for each burger, a turkey and veggie burger option, a dog friendly patio and freshly chopped and stacked white oak that gives each burger a hint of wild smokiness. Chef Makani, I totally have a crush on you now...
For more info please visit www.ponoburger.com