The Counter – BYOB, BYOB, but you don’t have to BYOB

BYOB: Bring Your Own Blogger
There’s something to be said about this clunky old machine known to us as The Internet. I often take it for granted because it has become so integrated into my
life – almost like eating or breathing – that I forget how truly lucky I am that it is available to me. Uncovering information is as easy as google. Communication is as convenient as typing an email. Therapy is only as far away as logging into Blogger. People and places are closer than they have ever been. I can allow my fear of flying to keep me in LA (at least for now) because there isn’t a place on earth that I can’t see with the internet. Google Earth is scary, isn’t it?

The Internet connects us with our friends and family and keeps us close.

Whether a good thing or bad thing, The Internet has become my primary means of socializing. It’s not that I don’t ever take a shower, put on makeup, change out of my three-day-old outfit of sweats-that-double-as-pajamas, and go out to hang out with friends or meet my sister for shopping or my family for dinner. However, it has become a way for me to meet new people. Not “meet” new people the way other people use The Internet to “meet” new people, but just, you know, meet new people.

In the real world, I am horrible at meeting new people. I am introverted. I am shy. I am painfully insecure and so obviously self-conscious that I stumble over myself and my words. At a party, in a lounge, at any type of social function, I am that awkward girl who is hovering around the food table with a death-grip on a security cocktail, occasionally pretending to be too busy taking pictures of food to talk to anyone so she doesn’t look like a total loser standing there by herself in the corner with a broken cracker stuck to her elbow.

Sometimes it’s a piece of cheese.

Many people do as I do and “meet” new people via various webbish outlets, develop relationships via email, and maintain friendships via IM. However, there always comes that point when they take it to the next level. They might be outgoing, extroverted, and secure enough with themselves that they meet after one email exchange. They might need a year of IM to “get to know” one another. Either way, they take the friendship outside the “personality” and “intelligence” of the Internet and actually meet in – fully Technicolored, untouched by Photoshop, up close and personal, real, live, face to face – person.

the counter burger, santa monica, los angeles, ca
blogger blackmail




I don’t do that.

But I still agreed to meet up with a fellow sometimes food blogger at The Counter.

The Counter had been on my To-Dine List for some time, though it wasn’t for the usual reasons. Oprah. GQ. General hype in the foodish underground.

I just like a good burger. Meeting up at The Counter had to be done. I gagged and blindfolded my personal Nervous Nellie, shoved her in the pantry and agreed to meet for burgers.

BYOB: Build Your Own Burger
Twice, I drove past The Counter without its seeing gray, black, and blue sign. Twice, I circled the block looking for street parking even though there is a parking garage under the corner plaza where the restaurant is located, perhaps with a subconscious hope that I would have to give up in mock desperation and go home. My inner Nervous Nellie was trying to influence me back to the safety of the anonymous Internet.

I pulled into the garage, turned off the car, and took a deep breath. I eventually let it out. I’m too weak to make myself pass out in the car.

It was odd looking for someone for whom I had no mental image. It had not even occurred to me to ask for a physical description before we met. Somehow, though, it was obvious to us who we were. We introduced ourselves on the small set of steps in front of the restaurant. It was fluttery and weird for me. I hope it didn’t show.

Whom am I kidding? It showed.

We went inside. The Counter is housed in what looks like might have been an auto body shop. The airspace is lofty with exposed ducts in the ceiling, as well as railings for what used to be garage doors, but are now permanently fixed as the front, glassed wall. The bright dining room was full of people hunched over their tables in the BurgerBend – leaning forward so that whatever renegade burgers toppings escaped the monster mess in the hands would be captured back on the plate.

the counter burger, santa monica, los angeles, ca - interior
“build” seems appropriate in a garage
the counter burger, santa monica, los angeles, ca - menus on clipboards
vote often! vote early!

Apart from my being already slightly ruffled by the first-time meeting, I was overwhelmed by what appeared to be some sort of silently understood assembly line process in The Counter’s industrial factory atmosphere. The line at the ordering counter was chaotic, and yet it seemed a
s though people know what to do. For someone new to the operation, it could be intimidating. Luckily, I was with someone who had been there before. We grabbed two clipboard “menus” from the stack and proceeded to Build (Y)Our Own Burgers.

Making an order at The Counter seems as easy voting in a Presidential election – check-box your way through a burger size, meat type, cheese, toppings, sauces, and bun – but given the sheer volume of choices and additional parameters like “included,” it rendered me almost…paralyzed. I had no idea what I wanted because I wanted everything from avocado (a “premium” topping that costs a $1 extra) to simple sliced tomatoes. I could feel my grip tightening around the tiny golf pencil under the pressure as I moved it up and down the clipboard, unable to bite the bullet and actually leave a mark on the page. I felt like I was taking the GMAT all over again (wait a second, I rocked the GMAT).

I made it through the harrowing process – 1/3 pound turkey burger with the standard LOT (lettuce, onion, tomato), and rhyme-less, reason-less pepproncini and Feta cheese. My decision-making mind was exhausted.

Then I was faced with French fries. I almost fell over.

the counter burger, santa monica, los angeles, ca - turkey burger on english muffin with feta and pepperoncini
test results: positive
the counter burger, santa monica, los angeles, ca - french fries, sweet potato fries, and onion rings
when in doubt, go balls out

We made it easy for ourselves and made an order of The Fifty-Fifty: sweet potato fries and onion rings. When in doubt, go balls all out.

The staff at the counter was surprisingly friendly and composed for how chaotic and busy the restaurant is. After placing our order, which was expensive for a QSR burger joint, we went to sit down at a table and wait for our food. We stepped carefully and slowly through the dining room, but my mind was racing. With the ease of discussion that comes with the comfortable task-at-hand of placing our orders now behind us, there was a growing dread about The Conversation While Waiting. Had I read the blog recently? What was that last place he posted about and did he even like it? I can’t remember! Where have I eaten that’s interesting? What’s in season right now at the Farmers’ Market?

Why didn’t I cook anything besides hard-boiled eggs this past week?!?!

The fear was escalating at the prospect of long, awkward silences.

I can’t even remember what came out of my mouth at the table. I’m sure we commented about the restaurant, opined about the reason for the hype, gave brief histories about our foodish lives, etc. For all the internal stress through which I went, it wasn’t awkward at all. When the food arrived at the table, we flowed naturally right into The Conversation While Eating. We marvelled at the pho-sized bowl of deep-fried deliciousness in The Fifty-Fifty. We praised the place for “sauce.” We challenged each other to be the first to tackle the depth and breadth of what had been constructed on our plates.

Then we ate.

I swear I think I am going to get lynched for this by Oprah and all the thundering hordes of uber-fans of The Counter.

I thought my burger was just…eh.

*ducks under her laptop from flying meat patties*

After all that hype, all that anticipation, all that prolixity for a single post about The Counter and all I have to say about the Burger that Sarah Built was that it was *eh*?!?!

No doubt, my turkey burger was beautifully browned, securely anchored on a bed of shredded lettuce with red onion rings and sliced tomatoes playfully peeking out the sides, accessorized with a pert little pendant of Feta cheese. Even the top half of the English muffin had been artfully placed slightly askew in the vignette that was my lunch. It was almost slightly annoying that it was too much to put together and take a bite. I ended up leaving it on the plate and eating it with a fork and knife. And for what I ate with a fork and knife, the taste of the burger was not any more special than a good turkey burger anywhere else.

The Fifty-Fifty, however, more than made up for *eh*. The fact that we got both sweet potato fries and onions rings was a point on its own, but both were very well done – crisp, salty, and accompanied by three sauces made for people like me who have gustatory ADD.

Perhaps under duress, I had made the wrong decisions. I had chosen turkey over beef (clearly, I was not of sound mind and body). I had put together a random pairing of Feta cheese with pepperoncini. I selected the waistline-wary English muffin. But I don’t think those are the reasons I wasn’t more impressed with the burger. Maybe the burger was just overshadowed by the Fifty-Fifty. And the conversation. Whatever the reason, the burger wasn’t bad enough that I wouldn’t go back, but not good enough that I would go back.

BYOB: You Don’t Have to BYOB
Oh yeah. The Counter serves beer and wine.

The Counter
2901 Ocean Park Blvd (at 29th)
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Who Else Built Their Own Burgers at The Counter?
~ Yelpers give it 4 out of 5 stars
~ Build your own belly-bustin’ burgers
~ CAroline on Crack: Pimp your burger (Nov 2006)
~ The New Diner: The Counter (Jun 2006)
~ la.foodblogging: Burgers at The counter (Apr 2006)

** a year ago today, there were rumors about me at pho 99 **
** two years ago today, i ate baby eels in the year of the cock **

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  • Acme Instant Food

    I want that for breakfast soooooo bad! I’ve not ventured to the Counter either, but it’s on “The List.”

    I’m glad to hear that other’s have now seen what lies above Sarah’s nose and cheekbones! :)

  • Eddie Lin


    So who was your date?

  • elle

    You don’t write like you are shy. I’m just the opposite, I have to talk with everyone-I should have been a therapist…anyway, just know that you do amuse your readers.

  • elle

    You don’t write like you are shy. I’m just the opposite, I have to talk with everyone-I should have been a therapist…anyway, just know that you do amuse your readers.

  • sarah

    a.i.f.: rumor has it that others just might catch a glimpse of The DL sometime in the future, too ;)

    eddie: not a date. sadly. it was a friend-ish meeting. my god. had it been an actual date, i might have imploded from the pressure and nerves!

    elle: thanks for saying that i amuse. that makes me happy :)

    as for the writing…writing is soooo different from in-person! i think that is the express reason why i write – it’s so much easier. *sigh* sad, isn’t it?

  • One Food Guy

    Great post. I’m an east coaster, a Bostonian to be specific. On my last trip out west I stopped into The Counter in Santa Monica and loved it. My burger choice was great, and those sweet potato fries, mmm mmm mmm! Chocolate shake, also delicious.

    Boston needs a place like this!

  • Anonymous

    You didn’t like it?

    Your high.

  • sarah

    one food guy: won’t be long before the oprah-ization starts spinning out of control and the counter becomes as close as the nearest starbucks!

    anonymous: i didn’t love it. and i do need to correct you. i am not high. :)

  • sarah

    one food guy: won’t be long before the oprah-ization starts spinning out of control and the counter becomes as close as the nearest starbucks!

    anonymous: i didn’t love it. and i do need to correct you. i am not high. :)

  • j gold

    A turkey burger? For cryin’ out loud!

  • The Spinster

    Ha ha, I think we’re the same person. Good review, I felt like I was there with my heart in my throat with you.

  • sarah

    jgold: i know. i hate myself.

    megan: you have no idea. i mean seriously, this happens to me all the time. er, rather, whenever it is i meet up with someone new, which isn’t all that often, so i guess not all the time, but you know what i mean? i ramble…just like i’m doing right now. :)

  • sarah

    jgold: i know. i hate myself.

    megan: you have no idea. i mean seriously, this happens to me all the time. er, rather, whenever it is i meet up with someone new, which isn’t all that often, so i guess not all the time, but you know what i mean? i ramble…just like i’m doing right now. :)

  • JF

    j. gold makes an appearance on the delicious life, that’s freaking awesome! As for the Counter, I like creating my own burger, but I apparently suck at choosing the right options (and thus I why I don’t cook). Enjoying a bottle of wine and having a plate of 50/50 more than makes up for whatever crappy burger I impose on myself.

    I got next for a meal with delicious life! ;)

  • Anonymous

    You really should go back and try a REAL burger, not a turkey burger, before deciding whether or not you like the place. You wouldn’t want someone making a judgment of you based on something that was a true representation of you, would you?

  • Anonymous


    Sorry, I do not want to burst your frosting bag, but how do you know that was “really” your venerated, Pulitzer prize recipient, Mr. Jonathan Gold and not some impostor yanking on your Cuisinart cord?

    If that was really J.Gold, then rock-on dear Ms. DL!!!

  • Anonymous

    See Sarah, you & I know it was…(btw. jg, it’s “for fox ache” ;) ), but if you told them about the other meals, all the trolls would just tell you you are having more vodka laced delusional fantasies. jg & gm know better, we can keep a secret ;). Yes, DS (or as jg likes to call her DS) does rock most awesomely anon#3 !

    But of course I still rule.

    a.i.f If you haven’t seen the DL in person, no picture can do justice (not saying that she isn’t a cuttie in 2D). but Sarah doesn’t like her lovely classic Korean cuttie; most very, very prettier than her ‘mixed’ looking sisters, eyes; nore her supposedly big as she claims her family calls her ‘moonface’ forehead which is exaggerated nonsense, IMNSHO; she thinks her eyes are currently flawed for reasons I won’t get into here, because she doesn’t understand that lots of Asians/Koreans have such eyes. Sarah is just sooooo hot, when you see all that supposedly shy personality come to life in her face, at her best, she’s amazingly enjoyable company as I’m sure in private jg would agree with me on that (we won’t get into when she’s not at her best).

    a.i.f. Cause I’m a world-class tease just like DS, I’ll just say she kind of looks a little like the top female star in Korean right now (which I’m sure doesn’t make DS happy; you know, because DS is white :p) when Jeon Ji-hyun did this
    rockstar pose

    Jeon Ji-hyun isn’t the only one who can get males tongue’s wagging (see the full shot of her leopard print top in the flikr group in the links ‘hidden’ here, and I think you’ll agree :-) ).

    L. Lo has competition for ‘America’s Sweet Tart‘ lol

    And let’s face it, Lindsay Dee is scarcely the most aggressive self censor in the world. The editor in her head takes a lot of “personal days,” so perhaps we’d get a sly little peek into her impulsive and exotic life, which is really what every red-blooded American desires, anyway, right? This all screamed love and sex and madness.

    Ah, just sounds so much like DS’s “madness” over-stresed/self-imposed hyperdriven lifestyle these past few months-February/V-Day in particular.



  • sarah

    jf: simon la?

    anonymous #2: yes, i will likely go back and when i do, i will try a real burger.

    but i’m still doing the English muffin. i fell in love with that at The Bowery.

    anonymous #3: it’s kind of like faith. if a person believes it to be true, and that belief makes her happy, why would you take that away from her? it doesn’t do harm to anyone (i don’t think) for me to think it is j. gold. it just makes me shriek.

    which i guess only harms the ears of the people around me. :)

    g: ;)

  • Anonymous


    it’s kind of like faith. ? Either it is or it is not…not like. If your faith is true, then neither I nor anyone else can take it away from you. Keep it real baaabyyyy! I would want to think it was really J.Gold too, for your happiness.

    btw…do I detect a bit of starry-eyed, sentimentality from our “type-A, dominant, ball-busting, take no prisoners” Ms. DL? lol…

    Also, why don’t you add some mp3 clips of the DL shriek for all to hear???

  • sarah

    starry-eyed? absolutely! sentimentality? maybe a little.

    it IS jonathan gold, after all! his writing makes me weak in the knees.

  • joanh

    hey sarah! yeah, i had heard so much about the counter too before going… the line is strange at first, but once you go, you feel like a pro for knowing what to do the next time. the first and third time, i had the beef burger and the second time i was extremely disappointed w/ the turkey burger. it’s much drier and less flavorful than the beef… can’t beat the sweet potato fries though!

  • sarah

    joanh: okay, since you’ve tried both and say the beef burger is betterm i WILL go back and get a regular burger.

    just not quite yet though.

    i am on a “diet.” (blasphemy for a food blogger! i know.)

  • sarah

    joanh: okay, since you’ve tried both and say the beef burger is betterm i WILL go back and get a regular burger.

    just not quite yet though.

    i am on a “diet.” (blasphemy for a food blogger! i know.)

  • abraxis

    The Counter looks neat. I’ll have to go there if I ever wind up in LA again.

    And when I’m there, I’ll have a BEEF burger! Why oh why did u have turkey?? Didja fall asleep afterwards? =P

    I was in Beijing (as part of a three week trip) recently and I was craving a good beef burger while I was there…

  • JF

    simon LA or Celadon Galerie?


  • motosport

    Good review, I felt like I was there

  • Megancake

    The abundant number of choices mixed with my inability to make a decision led to my choosing of the “burger of the month” when I visited the counter. It was delicious, and much better than my friends BYO burgers, so maybe you are better of trusting their burger crafting skills. If you go again be sure to try the fried pickles, they are pretty darn good and their milkshakes are sweet as well (in all meanings of the word)

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