#15, Build-Your-Own Burger, The Counter, Santa Monica

So I finally knocked off the other SoCal location on the 20 must-eat hamburgers list.

 Build-Your-Own Burger at The Counter in Santa Monica

To The Counter’s infinite credit: a little on the rare side.

It’s a tough one to evaluate. The meat quality was spectacular. I opted for the two-thirds-pound patty and asked for medium-rare — that worked out great. The hard part, though, is that it’s up to you, the restaurant-goer, to figure out what you want on the burger. Anyway, maybe I just played it too safe by opting for a barbecue-bacon situation that might be better left to a place like Chili’s. So the accoutrements were merely okay and the bun had pretty much evaporated by the time I was half-way done.

I think Joe (to whom I owe mad props for facilitating the lunch) pretty well loved his. No idea what he got on it, though. Probably Russian dressing and “Danish Blue Cheese” (sic). It also struck me as hard to imagine that the burger at The Counter in Santa Monica would’ve been noticeably different from the burger at The Counter in Irvine. I’ll have to try the Irvine location one day. And don’t get me wrong, mine was a very good burger, no doubt. But I liked the California Burger at Houston’s better.

And I’ve now hit four of the 20 on the list.

Slowly and steadily,


#6, California Burger at Houston’s in Santa Monica

Was in South El Monte today, which is bothersome in that, if it’s going to be “El Monte”, then the southern version should be El Monte del Sur. Or, if we’re going to anglicize everything, South Elmont.

OTOH, that was one of the ten worst injustices I noticed today, so, by and large: pretty good day.

Since we were in El Monte del Sur today, we figured we might as well drive another 30 miles to go to Santa Monica. It’s closer than I usually am to Santa Monica. #6. Houston’s. Supposedly the one in Santa Monica is The One. Houston’s in Irvine, no. Santa Monica.


California Burger at Houstons in Santa Monica

 The California Burger, #6 in the GQ Top 20.

Burger was $15 on the menu and came with fries. Burger was big. Asked for Medium-Rare and it came Medium-Rare, without having to sign any sort of release form prior to burger arrival. In this case, “California” means: arugula, provolone, tomato, red onion, honey-mustard, slab of avocado. Was somewhat pretentious, but only in the romantic way that California is sometimes pretentious.



Keller’s Drive-In in Dallas: the 10th-Best Hamburger in the Country

The seminal work on the subject, of course, being this article in GQ. Maybe seminal. Regardless, it’s the list I’m using to define requirements on my quest to eat all 20 of the country’s most necessary hamburgers. Been working on it for a few years and have, now, eaten two of the 20.

Slow and steady wins the race.

I’m in Dallas for a “client summit” with one of our vendors (I’m the client). Man. I hate exposition. Keller’s Drive-In. A lot of bikers — I sat on the bench with them. It’s a pure drive-in, no dining room. Just some benches for bikers. Not mountain bikers. No photos of the bikers. No real camera, everything done with cell phone. Quality: poor. Short sentences are ascendant. Fragments also.

keller’s drive-in east northwest highway in Dallas

The ambience is the good part.

Number 5 Hamburger

The No. 5.

Per the article, I ordered the No. 5. Per online reviews of the place, I also ordered the tater tots. The tater tots were like tater tots. The burger was like a sloppy, cheese-less In-and-Out double-double with a poppy seed bun and an extra tomato slice.

The other place on the list I’ve visited is the Burger Joint at the le Parker Meridien Hotel in Manhattan. That burger was fantastic, made from some of the finest beef ever ground. The experience at lPM felt a little faux and pretentious, fantastic for the absurdity of eating a $15 burger made to look low-quality even though it was high- after standing in line for a half hour and then fighting for a place to sit down in a closet-sized hole off the lobby of a $500/night hotel with a name that even the French might find overwrought.

I think Keller’s is on the 20 Must Eat list for being typical of the exact opposite of that. The burger was good, no doubt, but the experience with the Hell’s Angels smoking and complaining about their ex-wives, the waitresses yelling heartfelt profanities at the guy who owned the bar across the parking lot, and the unapologetically Texan accents was pure and unpretentious. Which I appear to support.