330 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica CA 90401 (map); 310-587-2747; pierburger.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: A new Shake Shack-esque burger restaurant makes some burgers that match up to the original
Want Fries with That? Oh, yes! These skinny-cut fries are fantastic!
Prices: Pier Burger (w/ cheese), $4.50 (single), $6.50 (double)
If you're an Angeleno and anything like me you probably avoid The Santa Monica Pier like the plague. Don't get me wrong, I love an old-school pier—the all day fishers and ocean breezes never fail to evoke the best memories of my youth—but the Santa Monica Pier is nothing like the authentic piers of my memory. Rather, it's a self-styled tourist trap that literalizes the amusement park metaphor; that is to say, there really is a small amusement park aloft the pier that affords roller coaster views of the breakers.
But as tourist traps go, things could be much worse. Route 66 dips into the Santa Monica Bay, which stretches out for miles around you as the mild air floats between pleasant and meteorological perfection.
A recent visit from some out-of-town friends prompted revisiting the Santa Monica Pier. As expected, there were throngs of tourists crushing for room for a view. As you'd imagine, there was little fun to be had for me on this visit until I spotted a friendly sign: Pier Burger. Delightful. A new burger to try with my guests made the visit less the exercise in patience I'd expected it would be. In fact, the burger itself was attraction enough.
Once upon a time I was serious fan of Shake Shack. Since then many of the similarly fast-casual, high quality burgers I've tried—some of which owe no small debt to the success of Danny Meyers' Shack Burger—supplanted the original. That said, I still find myself longing for that initial allure Shake Shack once held.
Enter the burger at Pier Burger. It is undoubtedly Shack-esque. Let's call it an homage. The location (The Santa Monica Pier) coupled with a Shack-esque menu (they've got concretes!) led to to some high expectations. Pier Burger surpassed them. It's been a while since such a simple burger made such a big impression on me.
The 1/4-pound Angus chuck patty of the single Pier Burger had a surprisingly coarse grind and loose packing. The griddle seared it off nicely and there was a solid hit of seasoning. Although it was a bit overcooked, it maintained enough juiciness and flavor to stand up to the "secret sauce," which had traces of actual mustard seed and other fresh herbs. I normally don't love "secret sauce" on my burger—I find it tends to detract from the burger's beefiness—but this sauce was especially tasty and added a nice layer of fat.
As for the rest of the burger, the impressively vibrant lettuce and tomato tasted as fresh as they looked, and the American cheese added a nice tang and a welcome bit of extra fat to the overcooked patty. The potato bun had a soft, pliable chew that matched the loosely packed meat.
The fries were excellently rendered. The fries are skinny-cut—my preferred fry size—and Pier Burger managed to balance a crisp exterior and soft and fluffy inside. I must admit, I was deeply surprised that a fast food burger shack put out such a quality fry. Even better, they stayed perfectly crisp even 30 minutes later.
I don't think I'll ever find myself changing my tune about amusement park attractions like the Santa Monica Pier—I just can't abide a compulsory good time. But what I will always come back for is a quality burger. Considering how tasty Pier Burger's are I think I might have to come to terms with the fact that I might find myself braving Santa Monica's favorite tourist trap more often than I'd thought.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.