Long before the Burger Exotica of Umami Burger, Shake Shack, Slater’s 50/50 and so many more, there was the Hard Rock Cafe, which first opened in London in 1971.
It did not serve an especially outlandish burger. But in a city famed for its ghastly Wimpy Burgers (essentially a squirt of grease on a cottony bun, rescued, if at all, by a lot of ketchup), what the Hard Rock served was a real, genuine, edible American hamburger.
And for the waves of baby boomers celebrating college graduation with a trip to Europe, the Hard Rock was a much-appreciated taste of home.
Over the years, the Hard Rock chain has grown to 191 branches in 59 countries — countries that offer little that even comes close to a proper hamburger. The Hard Rock has long been a refuge for those in need of a break from Andrew Zimmernian animal parts and spices that border on the incendiary and sometimes cross over into the potentially lethal.
The Hard Rock also features a museum’s worth (heck, 10 museums worth!) of rock ’n’ roll memorabilia, along with a soundtrack that gets the pulse racing — and a menu of lots more tasty Americana.
The hickory smoked ribs are a longtime favorite. Ditto the barbecue chicken.
But at the heart of the menu continues to be The Original Legendary Burger, served with seasoned fries. As the menu says: “The burger that started it all! A juicy half-pound certified Angus beef burger topped with smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, golden-fried onion ring, crisp lettuce and vine ripened tomato.”
And how appropriate that, 45 years after the Hard Rock was born in London, it celebrates with two months of International Burgers — global cuisine at one of the world’s most global restaurants.
There are two local branches of the Hard Rock. One is in the heart of Hollywood, in the Hollywood & Highland complex. The other is up at Universal CityWalk, where the options are many, though not all come up to the Hard Rock.
If you’ve gone to Universal to spend a day in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you may well stay in character and drop by the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade for some Pumpkin Juice and ButterBeer, and a meal of fish ’n’ chips and shepherd’s pie.
Meander outside of The Wizarding World, and the options include such local favorites as fried chicken at Ludo Lefebvre’s much acclaimed LudoBird, along with iconic chili dogs at Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs, and Puckian cuisine at the Wolfgang Puck Bistro. The Chinois chicken salad has long been a dish worth the journey, the crowds and the parking.
You can also drown in a sea of red sauce at Buca di Beppo or go cinematic at Bubba Gump. But right now, you might want to grab some global burgers at the Hard Rock; it’s not every day that a tandoori chicken burger with mint mayonnaise is an option, this side of Mumbai.
The good thing about the Hard Rock’s World Burger Tour is that the burgers continue to be the same admirable creations that birthed the Hard Rock nearly half a century ago. The meat is juicy and never overcooked, unless you insist. The buns have tooth and texture. Toppings are, for the most part, not necessary, for these burgers come with everything you need, and perhaps even more than that.
Till the end of May, there’s a somewhat whimsical English Breakfast Burger, with sliced ham, a sausage patty, a fried egg, a portobello mushroom, arugula and garlic aioli with a side of baked beans.
The Java Lava Burger (from Seattle), features an espresso rub (more whimsy) and fried jalapenos. There’s the above-mentioned Tandoori Chicken Burger, which I don’t love as much as a beef burger, but it’s very good for what it is. And from Montego Bay, there’s the Jamaican Jerk Burger; the jerk flavored mayo is a treat, but the jury is out on the mango-jalapeno cream cheese.
And coming in June, there’s the ATOMIC! Burger (from Las Vegas), which may or may not be a reference to the nuclear tests in the Nevada desert. The Tango Salsa Burger from Buenos Aires. The Greek Burger from Athens — sort of a Greek salad on a bun. And the Aloha Burger from Hawaii, which comes with the inevitable pineapple slice.
I do wish they had gone further, with a Peruvian Burger (ceviche on a bun!), a Chinese Burger (kung pao beef?) or a Japanese Burger (though sushi burgers can be found on sundry food trucks).
There are cocktails from around the world to match the burger. But I prefer my burgers with beer. So, as I recall, did the original Hard Rock.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to go?
Rating: 2.5 stars
Address: 1000 Universal Studios Blvd., Suite 99, Universal City; 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Suite 105, Hollywood.
Information: 818-622-7625, www.hardrock.com.
When: Lunch and dinner, every day.
Details: Full bar. Reservations essential.
Prices: About $25 per person.
Cards: MC, V.