Blue, Fontina & White Cheddar Grilled Cheese at Olive & Thyme ($10)
Forget chef-driven, corporate-backed dining: Olive & Thyme in Burbank is the product of Christian and Melina Davies, two food obsessives who decided to give restaurateuring a shot. If it's on the menu, that means it came straight from Melina's kitchen, with a few upscale tweaks, of course. The $10 grilled cheese is a perfect example of the buttery, lip-smacking tastes you'll find at Olive & Thyme, considering that it comes with blue, fontina and white cheddar cheeses. It's a funky, earthy mix that pairs well with a few slices of heirloom tomato and a soft pan de mie bread that's been given the once-over on the panini press. This isn't quite the end-to-end browning you'll find on your grandmother's cast iron grilled cheese version, but there's still something undeniably homey about the restaurant, the grilled cheese, and everything in between.
Cheesy Mac & Rib from The Grilled Cheese Truck ($6)
L.A.'s Grilled Cheese Truck may be the finest example of sandwich ambassadorship in decades. Thanks to their overwhelming success in L.A., Grilled Cheese Trucks now exist in Phoenix, Texas, and beyond. Much of their success may be due to one sandwich: the Cheesy Mac & Rib. It's an overwhelming thing, with heavily-buttered bread giving way to a layer of sharp cheddar macaroni and cheese. After that, there's a whole mess of tangy BBQ pulled pork, and caramelized onions for a sweet finishing touch. The sandwich doesn't look that powerful at first glance, but the cheesy, starchy, meaty sensory overload will put a serious dent into any post-lunch plans you may have had.
Eric Greenspan's The Champ at The Roof on Wilshire ($11)
The Champ—names for its trophy from the 2008 Grilled Cheese Invitational—is normally served at Greenspan's white-tablecloth dinner spot The Foundry on Melrose. But with the space down for renovations (and the forthcoming grilled cheese storefront next door still under construction) Greenspan has been forced to move The Champ to The Roof on Wilshire, a rooftop hotel restaurant he also operates. The change of scenery means you can eat his tallegio and short rib grilled cheese, with its funky apricot and caper backbone, while overlooking most of Los Angeles. But you may never actually look up from the raisin walnut bread that surrounds the cheese and short rib—it's that delicious.
Black Forest Bacon & English Costwalt at The Oaks Gourmet ($9)
Now that Campanile is gone, the weekly torch of grilled cheese night must be carried on by Hollywood's The Oaks Gourmet. The top-notch neighborhood market offers everything from olive oil and beer to fresh coffee and brick-oven pizzas, although seating is limited to a small patio and a few chairs inside. On Wednesday nights, the place is packed with locals eyeing the rotating grilled cheese menu, including the 2010 Grilled Cheese Invitational Peoples' Choice Winner, a combo of English cotswold cheese, black forest ham, and a run of Thousand Islands dressing, all on a couple of freshly grilled sourdough slices. At $13 it's no bargain, but it's easy to see why the sandwich garnered such praise from the crowd a few years ago.
Cheddar Cheese, Tomato & Bacon Grilled Cheese at Artisan Cheese Gallery ($11.25)
Well-to-do Studio City is the perfect place for a shop like Artisan Cheese Gallery. The market is small but comfortable, with wines by the glass and more delicate, hard-to-source cheeses than you might have thought possible. Their daily market menu includes reasonably-priced cheese platters and assorted paninis, but the aged cheddar grilled cheese is one of the most popular items on the board. Served at your request with thick, slightly chewy bacon and a few rounds of ripe red tomatoes, the pressed sandwich is served on a wide, airy pan de mie. This is high-end grilled cheese, sent your way on a dark wooden cheese board to let you know that you're not just eating a few slaps of American processed singles. Quality like this only needs solid preparation to make it shine, and Artisan Cheese Gallery excels at both.
Fontina & Cheddar on Ciabatta at Semi-Sweet Bakery ($10)
As downtown Los Angeles' staggering revitalization continues, small cafes like Semi-Sweet Bakery are popping up everywhere. At Semi-Sweet on 6th and Main, you'll find cake donuts, housemade ding-a-lings, and a cheesy ciabatta grilled cheese that might be unlike any other in the city. Fontina and a semi-sharp cheddar are melted together and flecked with fresh herbs, all inside the thick, rounded edges of a chewy ciabatta bread. There's even a splotch of melted cheese on top for maximum gooeyness, and the sectioned sandwich comes with a bowl of vibrant tomato soup so thick you might mistake it for a pizza sauce, if it weren't so creamy.