Los Angeles has a longstanding, well-documented love of fast food. It’s waxed + waned over the years, embattled by every possible health food trend from gluten-free to all things kale. Today, though, fast food and more indulgent eats seem to be enjoying a pleasant and peaceful coexistence with more health-centric foods as the city’s eaters and culinary taste-makers embrace a love of diversity in menus and a more popular focus on fresh produce across the board.
Two current stars in LA’s nouveau fast food scene are brothers Frederick and Maximilian Guerrero—sons of chef Andre Guerrero of Oinkster fame and owners along with close friend Kevin Hockin of their own venture, Chinatown’s Burgerlords, a quick-serve burger joint that focuses on simplicity and quality with their food. We wrote Burgerlords up last fall because we were so excited to hear that they featured vegan burgers on their menu and they quickly became our favorite vegan burgers in town.
Now, about a year in, the Guerrero brothers and Hockin have announced new, monthly collaborations with local chefs (also vegan-friendly), and we took the announcement as an excuse to reach out and talk with Frederick Guerrero (pictured right, jamming) to find out more about the collaborations and the origins of Burgerlords in general.
raven + crow: So, thanks for taking the time to talk—I know you guys are beyond busy right now. Sooooooo, you guys like burgers. A lot. What’s the story, first, behind the overall obsession, then behind the Tumblr account and restaurant predecessor?
Frederick Guerrero: Hmmm….where to start? Well, my family owns a few restaurants, which includes The Oinkster. My brother Max and I helped open that and worked there up until 2013. We were always brainstorming different ideas, and he came up with the name “Burgerlords” during one of our meetings. We never really knew what to do with it, so it was just this idea we had on the back burner. While we were doing research for the second The Oinkster location, I was cataloguing tons of burger inspiration photos that I would gather online. One day I just decided to make a Tumblr called “Burgerlords” to host a bunch of it and then integrate our own content into it. Tumblr really loved it, so they promoted it all over the site and the audience grew to 200K followers.
When we left the restaurant, no one really knew what to do with it, so we decided to just turn it into the burger restaurant we always wanted to make. We thought it was funny to name such a simple restaurant after a site known for posting the most over the top burgers.
Yeah, some of those burger pics over the years were…intimidating, is the word, I think? So, alright, question for you then—NYC’s got pizza; Chicago, dogs; do you think burgers are LA’s thing? Or is it just one of many?
I think burgers and fast food are definitely LA’s thing. We grew up here and it’s such a huge part of the culture. I’m not sure how many people are familiar with the story, but fast food was invented here with restaurants like In-N-Out, McDonalds, etc… The unofficial In-N-Out biography tells a really great history about not only their origins, but fast food as well.
Yeah, no, that makes sense, especially paired with the emphasis on cars + driving here—it’s just logical, to an extent, that fast, convenient food would evolve alongside LA’s commuter culture.
Was there a specific desire to strip things down with the concept of Burgerlords (the restaurant)? You guys really seem to focus on the essentials and work to get those right, low to no frills—was that a reaction to the preciousness or over-complication the food world sometimes presents?
Definitely yes to all of that. We really wanted it to be simple and straightforward. Nowadays it seems like people are so focused on one-upping each other, that they lose sight of their original vision. We would much rather develop as we go rather than to start out big and have to scale back because of operational issues. We really learned that firsthand working in our family’s restaurants. Also, by having such a small operation, it gives room to do more collaborative projects like “Burger Merger.”
Nice segue—tell us about that. Where did the idea for the Burger Merger come from?
It’s a new monthly chef residency we’ve started. Each month we’re partnering with a new chef to come up with a special regular burger and vegan burger. We’re calling it a residency because it’ll only be served on Mondays. Our restaurant is 235 square ft, so it would be impossible for us to add anything else to the menu and serve it all month long.
You’ve got vegan options with that too, right?
Yup, part of the requirement is to have a vegan option.
I feel like you all benefitted from a decent amount of pre-opening buzz and you both come from a pretty significant LA restaurant lineage, so it strikes me that you could totally have gotten away with having a meat-only burger joint—where did the desire to accommodate vegans come from?
My brother and I are actually both vegetarian and have been since we were kids. When we were venturing off to do our own restaurant, we were leaning more towards a vegan burger concept. Having it be our first restaurant independent of our family, we were a bit nervous to start with an untested concept, so we decided to just stick with what we knew. Knowing what we know now, we probably could have done it, but we’re really happy with the way it turned out. We have something for everyone and no one is excluded or needs to feel weird about their dietary choices!
Nice. I feel like a lot of places that do accommodate vegan diets seemingly do so with the approach that it just needs to be ‘good enough for vegans,’ like that audience has a lower bar when it comes to taste level or is more accepting of sub-par food in favor of ethics and/or health benefits. It seems to me you guys didn’t settle for that mentality though.
It’s important to us that everything we serve in our restaurants is at a consistent quality level. It’s frustrating to go out to an amazing dinner, and then end it with a crappy espresso. That still happens so much, and it’s like “why not just put the same thoughtfulness into everything?” You are doing the same amount of work to make something bad as you are to make it good. It’s just changing your conciousness and approach. I think in the past chefs did have a mentality of just putting something together that would pass as “good enough for a vegan,” but I think we can really see that changing. Good food is good food, it really doesn’t matter if it’s vegan or not.
How did you come up with the recipe for the vegan burger patty—was it a long, pain-staking process for you all?
It was definitely a painstaking process. We came up with a good base recipe and then just continued to tweak it to taste. Now that it is catching on, we are still making adjustments to do them in larger batches and keep it consistent.
You recently started doing a vegan take on ‘beast fries’ too, right, “Lord of the Fries”—fries, covered with vegan cheese and grilled onions and Thousand Island?
Yeah, we had all the ingredients already, so it was just a matter of figuring out how if we could pull it off. Like I said earlier, it is easier to add things on later once you see if you can do it.
I know your kitchen’s small, but any plans for other vegan meals or sides down the road?
As of right now we don’t have any plans to add any other menu items, vegan or not. We just don’t have the space. We’ve talked about adding shakes or soft serve, so if we do that, there will definitely be a vegan option.
Was having the vegan option on the new collaboration a hard sell with your first Burger Merger partners—Otium + Chef Hollingsworth—or were they game out of the gate?
Chef Tim is so easygoing and chill, that it all went down really smoothly. We had met a few months ago through mutual friends and this idea was kinda shaped around us partnering up.
Do you plan to have vegan versions for each of the coming collabs too?
Yup, there will always be a vegan version, if not only a vegan version for some. There are a few vegan chefs on our list.
Oh, hell yeah! That’s awesome. If you end up doing this long-long-term and need any ideas, let us know—we know a lot of vegan and vegan-friendly chefs.
You launched the Merger last Monday night, right? How was that?
The launch went really well. We were a bit nervous because it was the first time running it and we didn’t know what to expect. We had a really great turnout and sold out of burgers by 8:30PM. There was also a cocktail reception at General Lee’s with Otium’s Mixologist, Brian Hollingsworth guest bartending.
Yeah, we saw that—looked awesome; we’ll totally make the next one if you do it again. That reminds me though—I’m sure you likely field this a lot, but why Chinatown? I love the square and the neighborhood in general, but I didn’t really think of it as a burger destination before ya’ll moved in.
Growing up in Northeast L.A., this was always a destination for our family dinners, so a big part of it was nostalgia. There’s a really strong sense of community down here which is getting lost upon other bourgeoning neighborhoods in LA. It’s really great to be a part of that. We also saw a need for a QSR down here. A majority of the restaurants here are sit down.
Well we love having you so close to our studio. So are you able to talk yet about whom you plan to team up with in the coming months or is that top secret shit?
We’re keeping all the future chefs a secret for now. We’ve gotten such positive feedback for the project that there are a lot of chefs who are game to partner up. This is a really exciting project for us, so we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve. There will be some big names people definitely wouldn’t expect. Best way to stay up to date is through our instagram @burgerlords. We’ll be announcing the next one real soon!
Awesome, man—we’ll be on the lookout for that.
Burgerlords is located at 943 N Broadway in historic Chinatown and is open seven days a week (11AM-9PM Sun-Th; 11AM-10PM Fri + Sat); Burger Merger collaborations are available Mondays only, and last one month until moving on to a new collaboration with a new chef/restaurant, so get em while you can.
Pictured, said Lord of the Fries and the vegan option for the October Burger Merger—the most excellent Burgerlords vegan patty with shaved carrots, carrot top pipian, avocado spread, and habanero pickled onions, around for the rest of today and only two more Mondays after that.