Excellent | Worth a Detour
Review by: Ant George
Beautiful beaches, stunning mountains, the glamor of Hollywood. All of these are nearly synonymous with Southern California. But longtime residents know it’s the food that plays such an integral part of our culture. The love of food extends far beyond Angelinos — into the valleys, the mountain ski towns, and the nearly endless beachside communities. While cuisine choices range as wide as the cultures they represent, there is one food that unites almost all of us – that delicious combination of beef and cheese: the cheeseburger.
Nowhere is the cheeseburger celebrated as well as the beachside burger shack. A staple of California’s beaches, these shacks offer an assortment of classic roadside diner fare – aside from burgers, there are hot dogs, chili bowls, burritos, fries, and onion rings… with an assortment of hand-dipped milkshakes to wash them down.
In the sleepy little beach town of Carpinteria, a place that’s not quite Santa Barbara and not quite Los Angeles but literally somewhere in between, the beach side location known as The Spot has been a fan favorite since they opened in 1958. Generations of beach bums and burger lovers alike flock here year-round (as the weather is always good for a beachside picnic).
The location itself is as classic as it gets: an analog sign offering their fares, yellowing and faded after decades of exposure to the intense California sunshine. And while the restaurant ownership has changed hands a number of times over the years, the building itself stands nearly unchanged in the over 60 years of operation.
The food is delightful in its simplicity. Nothing here is breaking the rules or changing the game, but its done right and in a way that would challenge anyone to find anything short of blissful joy from the very first bite. Food like this is just fun to eat, fun to share, and fun to talk about.
What to eat at The Spot in Carpinteria, CA
The double cheeseburger with the works: Two patties – that’s the only way to go with a burger like this; the mountain of meat & cheese make a great bedfellow to the side-salad slapped between the steamed sesame seed bun; crisp whole leaf lettuce (a rarity in fast food joints nowadays), rich, acidic tomato slices, tart, sour pickles that still have a good bite, and the sharp, pungent diced onions sit together atop the star of the show: beef. Perfectly charred and yet still juicy, the meat is savory, salty, rich, fatty. Bound together with simple American cheese and what feels like a quart of secret sauce (similar to Thousand Island dressing but each shack has its own spin on it) this sandwich practically sings The Star Spangled Banner. A Bald Eagle is born with every bite; images of old glory and bombs bursting in the air fill every one of your senses until the last bite leaves you longing to get another.
If you’ve never had a California burger shack burger, The Spot would be an ideal way to change that.
Pared thick cut French fries – crunchy on the outside but soft and pillowy on the inside. They’re a perfectly crispy vessel for ketchup or an extra serving of that tangy burger sauce.
Alongside the burger, a simple hot dog, dressed only in mustard. A classic combination that, again, wasn’t groundbreaking but it didn’t need to be. The hot dog, much like the Spot itself, can go decades with little to no change and still be an incredible experience. The Spot also did not spare on the mustard, smothering the length of both the dog and coating the bun. One only wished for a good sear or grill on the dog itself but still, split down the middle it was quite the tasty treat.
Aside from the standard backyard cookout fare, we had to try their burrito – a delicious mixture of chicken, cheese, and refried beans. Accompanied by your choice of salsa (a vibrant salsa verde or a biting, mildly hot red sauce that both brought the burrito to a new level). It was simple but incredibly filling. If ordering this, or their other Mexican inspired dishes, extra cheese or salsa would be recommended.
As someone who lived in New Jersey for a number of years, a good test of a diner’s capabilities is by ordering some of their simplest dishes. In this case, a BLT showed up everything but the cheeseburger. Perfectly cooked bacon, a good smear of mayonnaise, and of course quality lettuce and tomato on deliciously crusty white bread that was toasted to perfection. If you don’t get the burger, try this out for sure.
And what trip to a beachside burger shack would be complete without sampling their milkshake offerings. The ingredients at The Spot were on point – with vanilla, strawberry, chocolate (and chocolate malt!), chocolate chip, banana, and pineapple shakes are on the menu. One might worry that such a variety might cheapen the quality of each one. But they are all based on delicious ingredients – the chocolate malt was beyond excellent and all of the ones we tried were not overbearingly sweet.
Somehow, the food at these places never seem to be as stodgy as you’d find at a fast-food chain, despite the portions being bigger. Perhaps it’s the freshness of the ingredients, the friendliness of the workers (who were all excellent), or just the vibe of being by the ocean while enjoying a giant cheeseburger. No matter what it is, the consistently long lunch lines show that the longevity of the location is no mistake… The Spot stands strong and should for decades to come.
|Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Dessert
|Credit Cards Accepted