This past Saturday I was headed to the Laemmle’s Monica Film Center on Second street to see Lost in Paris. The film is a French light comedy, subtitled in English and is beautifully done with moments that are ‘tips of the hat’ to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and probably some other filmmakers that I didn’t recognize. I enjoyed it immensely, as did most of the almost full house of other movie-goers. The audience was decidedly skewed towards the retired set, which may have been more of a result of the screening time (4:50) than the subject matter.
I prefer to show up early for most things, and movies are in that category so when I and my friend Anne (you know her from seeing her drive around town in her little yellow electric car, usually with two slobbering beasts in the back) had our tickets it was time to look around and grab a quick snack.
Looking North on Second Street I noticed three new restaurants just doors from the theaters. There is CAVA – a middle eastern “make a bowl” type of casual quick dining. It looked interesting and tasty, but not what I wanted. Next up was a new Italian place Uovo, which has not opened yet but appears to be a new twist on an Italian favorite. The floor layout looks like they have counter seating, ala Ramen style diners, with a few tables. I’m sure I’ll be stopping in there soon.
Between those two is HIHO Burgers. Originally a popular burger joint in Ojai, the owners (Matt Levin, Jerry Greenberg, Ajay Sahgal, and Lowell Sharon) decided to relocate to the newest restaurant row in Santa Monica on Second street. The two year old company was a popular destination spot for their grass fed Wagyu burgers and homemade pies.
On Saturday as I was trolling for some grub, I came across this burger joint that had people in it but wasn’t open yet. Being the shy retiring type, I knocked on the door and wanted to know when they were opening. Lucky for me, they have a soft opening strategy, and Sunday was the shakedown cruise for friends and family to come in and work the kinks out of the operation for the staff. I managed to finagle an invite for me and my companion the next day.
Anne works for Free Ride, those electric shuttles you see running around town with tourists from the big hotels. They are supported by advertising and she wanted someone from Free Ride to reach out to the HIHO owners for support.
Sunday comes and I’m dutifully ready to go sacrifice my body in the name of the next great burger joint. I pick up Anne’s husband Paul and off we go to suffer the gastronomic excesses of double Wagyu cheeseburgers. It’s hell I tell you.
The dining room is small, it seats about 50 people and when I arrived it was mostly full and buzzing with the hum of adults and children chowing down on burgers, shakes and fries.
As menus go, this is a pretty simple one. There’s a choice between the HIHO which is a double patty, double cheese with all the best accoutrements, or the classic double, double with only ketchup. For the vegetarians there is a house made vegan patty.
I opted for the HIHO, fries and Key Lime Pie. The burger I had, came medium rare – which is itself a rarity in today’s overly regulated, food safety paranoid professional kitchens. It was amazing. Tasty and juicy with a robust beefiness, but not overpowering. The patty itself was clearly well prepared and held together nicely. Most importantly it was obvious that the chefs were properly trained and had avoided that horrid habit of pressing the meat on the grill which does nothing but ruin a good burger by forcing out the juice, compressing the meat into a hockey puck and destroying what should be enjoyable experience.
Speaking with Matt, he said the grass fed beef comes from New Zealand and that they are the exclusive purveyors of this brand of Wagyu beef in the country. It shows in the product.
The French fries are usually where most places lose me. Overcooked or undercooked and soggy, there’s frequently a lack of attention paid to them. But not at HIHO, I spoke with Lowell and he specifically shared about how he focused on the fries and what he wanted them to be like. These fries are handcut, skin on, and deep fried to crispy perfection.
But honestly the biggest winner for me was the pie. I love pie. A good pie crust is a thing of flaky, crispy, salty, sweet heaven. Then there’s the filling. Properly done a good pie is a balance of flavors, textures and appearance. I’ve had the best Key Lime pie in the world and it comes from a little shop in Naples Florida, but this Key Lime pie was in the top three. It was mercifully free of that gross floating layer of goop called meringue that separates from the filling and is some throwback to 50’s food styling. The HIHO pie was delightfully tart and sweet with a thick and lush graham cracker crust made with too much butter for my cardiologist to approve.
We had to try the Banana Cream pie. Which bested the Key Lime pie. A feat of culinary mastery. It was cool and lightly sweet with a creamy pudding interlaced with slices of fresh bananas that had the exact right amount of ripeness. Still firm and not turning black, sweet and chewy for a good bite. Both Paul and I were mightily impressed with it.
All in all I’d say that HIHO has a winning game plan. They are opening on Wednesday and I’m sure I’ll be having more of their burgers as the summer progresses and the Laemmle continues to program cool art movies that I like.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra