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Can We Count on The Counter for a Top Burger?

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Well, it was bound to happen someday. All this talk about burgers, compounded with all the fuss over cheap eats in the city, and yet another national ranking of the beef, and we knew we needed to high-tail it on down to Santa Monica's The Counter to have a bite for ourselves. Their Bulid-Your-Own Burger is the 15th best in the country, and one of the best in the city--so how did our experience rate?

The Counter
was pleasantly full--no wait, but just full enough to remind us that this was a spot folks flock to. We were seated right away, and presented with the ordering clipboards. The choices were plentiful, and it was fun to try to construct our own concoction, though we admit we like to be on the safe side, so we stuck with the ol' pickles, onions, tomato, lettuce, relish, mayo and cheese setup on our 1/3 pounder on a whole wheat bun. Our dining companion got a little craftier, and checked off fried egg and avocado. We ordered the 50/50: A basket of fries and fried onion straws. While we waited we noticed the folks to our right had ordered sweet potato fries, but we hadn't seen them on the menu. Turns out there's a sign up front declaring them as the special, and we wished we'd had our attention directed to that, although our fries were tasty, and the onion straws superb, with their bits of rosemary clinging to their crispy edges. They served the basket with two dipping sauces, ranch and BBQ, and though there was ketchup in a squeeze bottle on the table, there was nowhere or nothing to squeeze it on! We made do. We waited quite some time, actually--long enough to finish our fried goodies well before our burgers appeared, and this was a major turn-off. But we were here for the burgers, which did, finally, arrive...

Our little 1/3 pound patty looked lost among the bread and toppings, so what sounded like a lot of meat at the time suddenly seemed miniscule. We fussed with the burger a bit--applying the relish that came on the side, and--hey! Where's the mayo? We had to find out waitress, ask for the mayo we'd ordered, and then wait again. It takes a long time to get a little dollop of mayo in a cup to your table. By the time it came, things on the burger were cooling down. Actually, they were pretty cold. But we smooshed the bun down like a lid, sliced it in two, and took a bite. Because the bun-to-patty ratio was so off, we got a lot of bites of bread before beef. It was good--not too messy, not too greasy. Oddly enough, the second half was far more flavorful in terms of the meat. It seems they use a very high quality of beef, which is apparent by glance, by texture, and by taste--no gristle or junk in there. We were just the slightest bit nostalgic for our Dad's homemade bar-b-qued burgers, because there was something homey about the taste. It was fresh, flavorful, and filling.

The last test for The Counter was the check. Could we get the two of us out of there for under $25, like Los Angeles mag mentioned? Close to it. With our two smallest burgers, the fries and onion straws, and two sodas, plus tax and tip, we made it out for just over $25, around $28. We wouldn't call The Counter a "cheap eat" necessarily, but a good eat, yes. The best in the city? A rad burger? The jury's still out. We need to prep our palate for some more burger eating.

The Counter 2901 Ocean Park Boulevard, Santa Monica (310) 399-8383