Mick's Karma Bar in Irvine―and Soon, Beyond

One of O.C. best burgers seems to be spawning an empire

When it comes to Orange County burgers, Mick’s Karma Bar appears on every Top 5 or Top 10 list—and is more than a few people’s top pick. Somehow, I’d never made it to the Irvine office-park favorite, a situation rectified last week when I met a Mick’s-goer friend there for lunch.

I love it when the experience lives up to the reputation. Fresh sirloin ground fresh several times per day, hand-formed patties, buns custom-made by Solomon’s Bakery in Laguna Hills, and an array of house-made condiments and choice of cheeses all add up to one remarkable burger. Sirloin is among the leanest beef cuts, yet this was juicy, rich, tender—I have no idea how it remained so toothsome. The commitment to in-house grinding of quality meat  plays a big part, but it was also perfectly cooked. The part-whole-wheat bun, which Solomon’s makes to owner Mick Scheper’s specs, easily maintains complete integrity to the last bite, and isn’t the super puffy mushroom-top seen with so many gourmet-style burgers—a welcome change. Your choice of burger, thick, golden, crisp frites, and the justifiably famous strawberry basil lemonade (or another house-made drink—I had iced green tea) comprise the combo, at an ultra-reasonable $9.25. Something I find extra-refreshing: No commercial soda at Mick’s. Enjoy your burger among oversized, colorful sculptures that double as some of the outdoor seating overlooking luxurious fountains—your free parking (don’t forget to get validated at the restaurant) is good for 1 ½ hours.

I was there for the burger, but couldn’t help a bit of newsgathering. In addition to the Karma Bar, Mick and his wife Mojgan own Kitima, the Thai restaurant right next door. Now, they’re casting their net wider, building Pie Dog in Fullerton—with a projected spring 2014 opening, where sausages and grilled meats will turn on a circular, multi-level grill of Mick’s own design. Beyond O.C., a second burger concept is in the works, coming to Silver Lake, on Los Angeles’ east side. I think it’s fair to say we’ve got a mini-empire on the rise.