Last updated: 12:00 PM ET, Fri June 05 2015

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  • Gabe Zaldivar | June 5, 2015 12:00 PM ET

    Remembering Great Meals: Behold the Greatest Burger of All Time, The Kuma Burger

    Remembering Great Meals: Behold the Greatest Burger of All Time, The Kuma Burger

    Image via Gabe Zaldivar

    There will only ever be one Michael Jordan.

    Try as we might, there will never be any closure to the ongoing quandary that is “Who is the next Airness?”

    Yet the debate continues, because it affords those who saw him play an opportunity to remind another generation what it was like to bask in greatness, which is something we do all the time outside the sports world, especially when it comes to food.

    Those bowls of ramen you are having with friends; oh they are great but not nearly as delicious as the time you were in Osaka.

    Sure that cheese steak in Portland might be the greatest to Rose City locals, but it can’t compete with the time you were in Philadelphia.

    Such is the case with the superbly fine burger I enjoyed at Los Angeles’ Plan Check, right in the Sawtelle corridor.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Chefs Favorite Burger, which is a cheesy, gorgeous mess that dances with the taste of bacon on every bite.

    It’s Kobe Bryant dropping 81; it’s LeBron James blocking a runaway dunk from behind. It’s, well, damn good.

    But it’s not Jordan. It’s not, however, the Kuma Burger at Kuma’s Corner in Chicago. But that’s the nice thing about the good ones; they remind you of the great ones.

    Now I’ve written about my naughty little love affair with Chicago before, but I just had to come back to Kuma’s again.

    Perhaps purging the experience here won’t mandate dropping money on a flight to Chicago, which is very nearly something I’m considering from LA after a bout of nostalgic eating.

    Noshing on something so resplendent as the Plan Check burger instantly had me reminded of the June, 2014, romp I had around Chicago.

    The great thing about eating is that it has the power to remind and do so with vivid power and precision.

    I instantly remembered walking into Kuma’s after a long bus ride that was characterized by groans of hunger and the optimism that this place would be as good as previously advertised.

    I even recalled the surprise when seeing that this heavy-metal gastropub was far more about the food than the kitsch.

    And I of course, and this is important, recalled being served a giant patty of perfectly charred goodness that seemed to be placated by a perfectly creamy fried egg.

    There was nothing highfalutin about the burger. There wasn’t a fruity demi-glace to finish it off or ketchup leather to wow the senses.

    It was just an identifiable hamburger that tasted like nothing you have ever stuffed glowingly into your mouth.

    Now it isn’t often when your thoughts on a ubiquitous item like a hamburger changes. We’ve been munching on these things since roughly our first barbecue or the moment we whined enough that mom and dad caved and went to McDonald’s.

    Decades later we have subjective thoughts on what makes a beef patty sandwiched between two buns magnificent. Well, I’m here to say what they have over on Belmont Ave. in Chicago is objectively great, perhaps the best.

    And I defy you to tell me otherwise, just make sure you are backing up your claims with the kind of arguments that come on plates and mandate a plethora of napkins.

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Gabe Zaldivar The Main Course

Gabe Zaldivar Born on the rough streets of suburban West Covina, I learned a great many things, some of which has proved useful: knowing the tell-tale sounds of an ice cream truck and crafting a world-class burrito come to mind. You have seen my work on Bleacher Report and possibly my mug on CNN. Perhaps, if you are into archaic modes of entertainment, you have also heard me on the radio. Pop culture is my beat. If it has to do with the intersection of travel, entertainment and pop culture, I'm your guy.
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