Los Angeles is getting bitten by a burger boom. Not the fast-food kind, with a pickle and an onion. These are “better burgers” – you order them with apple relish, fig chutney or peanut sauce.

A broiler load of restaurants serving fine-dining versions of America’s quintessential meal have appeared across the city. Even big-name chefs such as Nancy Silverton are firing up their grills.

At least five “better burger” restaurants opened in Los Angeles this year, and four last year.

One chain that has popularized the gourmet burger craze is Counter. The Culver City-based company opened a Pasadena outpost in September, its 22nd location worldwide, and is planning to open 12 to 15 U.S. stores next year, including one in West Hollywood.

“We set out to make it OK for the burger to be a meal again,” said Jeff Weinstein, who opened the first location in 2003. “Counter was at the forefront of this premium burger trend you see people getting into.”

Even during these weak economic times, consumers have been eating their burgers big time. The limited-service hamburger segment grew by 4.1 percent to $64 billion in 2008, the latest available numbers from Chicago food industry research firm Technomic Inc. That’s faster than the 3.2 percent growth of the limited-service restaurant segment in total.

The recession may have helped fire up the gourmet burger market. Analysts said that consumers who used to go out for a steak are trading down to gourmet burgers.

“If you are trading down, you are trading to something you are accustomed to,” said Darren Tristano, an executive vice president at Technomic. “There has definitely been a demand by consumers and a resulting growth in what we are calling the better-burger category.”

Weinstein said Counter has seen a 5 percent increase from last year in the number of diners at its restaurants, although the average bill has dropped from about $13.50 to $12.

The burger boom has also resulted in high-profile players looking to get in on the action.

Silverton, of La Brea Bakery and Pizzeria Mozza fame, and business partner Amy Pressman plan to open a burger restaurant next year in Farmers Market at Third Street and Fairfax Avenue, possibly in a now-vacant space formerly occupied by Du-par’s bakery next to the restaurant.

“Burgers are just fun and easy,” Pressman said, “and we are sort of reinventing them so they are a little more interesting.”

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