Santa Monica, California
While walking to California Shabu Shabu (totally recommend), the Canadian and I saw a new burger joint called Pono Burger, so we did some googling and discovered that it was founded by a husband and wife (Chef Makani) team with a focus on organic, locally-sourced ingredients. We went back the next day... and the weekend after.
First off, when a restaurant claims to have organic, high quality ingredients, sometimes you can taste it, sometimes not and it can elicit a major eye-roll from me. At Pono Burger, you can taste it. You are eating a cheeseburger, but it tastes clean.
On our first trip we ordered the Pono Burger and added Hook's 1 Year Old cheddar, wood smoked/caramelized onions, and the Niman Ranch bacon. The burg comes with green leaf lettuce, ripened tomato, thin sliced white onion, crisp pickle slices and housemade Pono sauce. I have to say, the tomato was delicious and the pickles were the best I've had on a burger. They are sliced super thin, and very crisp, not falling apart in the middle, or getting juice everywhere. I also appreciate the one piece of lettuce, as opposed to a stack of it, or a chunk. The meat was really tender, but it didn't crumble apart. The whole combination was awesome. I didn't add any ketchup/mustard/mayo... but I may have dipped the burg in the aioli for the fries... Like I said, it tasted clean, full of flavor, and not greasy at all.
Obviously, we got the fries (Russet Potato version) and they're tossed with thyme, parsley and salt. I loved them, the addition of thyme to the seasoning mix really made these fries stand out for me. They are served with an aioli that I very much enjoyed, but there is organic ketchup available for you die-hard ketchup folks. Ahem, Canadian.
On our next visit I ordered the Pono Burger with Mycella Blue Cheese and Niman Ranch bacon. This burger tasted the way a beach bonfire smells. That is the only way to describe it. I don't know if it was just an amazing batch of bacon, or the combination of bacon and blue cheese but it was fantastic!
The Canadian ordered off the Specials menu: the Wahine Burger, a spicy burg made with wasabi, avocado and ginger, and it was like eating sushi in burger form. It was a little mind blowing actually, the transfer of those staple sushi flavors into a burger. "I'm biting into a burger, but it tastes like sushi, but its a burger, but the wasabi, but the red meat ... "
Pono has a small selection of beer and wine (Scrimshaw pilsners for us!) but I also ordered the House Milkshake with salted caramel sauce and Niman Ranch bacon bits. They asked if I would like the shake at the beginning, middle, or end of the meal and I chose middle. Unfortunately they don't quite have the kitchen timing/service down yet. Everyone is friendly and helpful if you ask for things, but its still disorganized. They just haven't found their rhythm. However, the quality of the food is so great, I imagine the rhythm will follow, or they'll succeed despite themselves. After being told the shake machine was down, they brought out the shake and it really hit the spot. They also said there should have been more bacon in it, so I'll have to have it again. (Twist my arm!)
Pono Burger is definitely stiff competition for the Santa Monica burger market (Umami, Father's Office, R+D Kitchen and Hillstone - not to mention a pending Stout - will it ever open?!) I can't wait to go back and try another burger with a crazy new flavor profile!