Big Dean’s Oceanfront Café
1615 Ocean Front Walk
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Big Dean’s is a Santa Monica classic. It was there before Santa Monica was Santa Monica. Just south of the city’s iconic (and still rad) pier, it’s a bustling little dive just off the water. You walk through the charmingly cramped front patio and into a ramshackle bar space, customarily full of affably boisterous people, beer drunk and bleary-eyed. A ramp along the right wall of the room leads you to the back patio, which seems pulled straight out of Inherent Vice.
Sadly, instead of deliciously acid-addled hippies spinning conspiratorial yarns – about what Richard Nixon was really doing during those eighteen minutes and/or how Keith Richards really stayed alive all this time and/or what the White Album is really about – you will find yourself beset on all sides by six-foot-something bros speaking far too loudly about far too little. And if you happen to be a less-than-six-foot Sri Lankan man wearing an Aviator Nation henley, you’ll hear those delightful bros yell, “HEY, LOOK GUYS! IT’S AZIZ!”
Sadly, I’m not taking creative license here. Some drunk idiot bro in fact did yell that as I walked by. It was pretty great. Some people weep for the future. Based on my experience with some of the folks at Big Dean’s, I think the present is kind of a tear-jerker too.
Aberrant (and, let’s be real, woefully unclever) racism aside, this place embodies so much of what’s great about California. It’s got that famously L.A. beach-blown charm, it’s a short walk from stunning views of those famous Pacific shore sunsets, and it boasts a more down-to-earth (though “friendly” probably is a stretch) staff than you’ll find anywhere in downtown, Silver Lake, Hollywood, or anywhere else where the drinks are bourbon-based and the denim is black.
Big Dean’s is the kind of place you come to unwind after a day lazily baking in the sand under oppressively perfect azure skies. A place where you arrive still-glistening from a hike at Point Dume. A place where you bring friends when you want to scream at your favorite (or least favorite) sports team. A place where you come to share tables with strangers and drink unreasonably large beers. A pretty cool place to spend a Saturday afternoon with a buddy.
Anyway, they also have a burger. Eater L.A. called it one of the city’s best last year. Geck took me on a hot date to check it out. We talked about work. We argued about whether Cam Newton is less likable than Richard Sherman. We talked about how Geck eats his fries with mustard because you can take the dude out of Bakersfield, but you can’t take the Bakersfield out of the dude. We talked about the right girls, the wrong girls, the ones that got away, the ones that wouldn’t go away.We talked about letting them down easy and letting them under our skin. We talked about making things work and letting things go. We talked about rejection and acceptance. Things got deep. They got real. Then we forgot about all that emo shit, ate burgers, drank beer, and watched football. Because when in Brome, do as the Bro-mans do.*
*I’m deeply in love with that Bro-mans pun.
The Order: Big Dean’s Cheeseburger
At the outset, I think it proper to clear up a couple potential misconceptions. First, If you’ve ever looked at the Big Dean’s website, you might believe the burger awaiting you at this beachside dive even remotely resembles the perfectly manicured and crisped specimen on the website. It definitely does not. Second, Eater L.A. says this burger is like In-N-Out with a view. It definitely is not.
It’s odd that anyone would think of Big Dean’s offering in either of those two ways, really, because both ideas really miss the heart of this burger’s appeal. Let’s be real, no one loves Ryan Gosling because of his scintillating personality.
To be clear, Big Dean’s has not made the Ryan Gosling of burgers. To claim that anyone has would be a blasphemy of the first order, not one you’ll read here. This burger’s charm is not in its perfect construction, and it just isn’t In-N-Out. This burger fits this scene perfectly well. It’s got an unpretentious backyard grill quality to it that will make you immensely nostalgic. This is a summer cookout in a plastic basket. It’s lemonade on the lawn. It’s the sun-sizzling air on the blacktop. It’s a sun’s-out-guns-out, long weekend burger. The patty is a thick disc of chuck smashed carelessly together, teetering seductively on the edge of being overcooked. The bun tastes straight from a package. The garnishes are stereotypical, cool and fresh and summery.
I’ll readily concede, it’s not a compelling cast of characters. But the magic emanates not from the star power of any of the players, but rather from the surprising, cohesive harmony of the ensemble. The ingredients play off one another in a way that will be immediately familiar to anyone who has stood by the grill, plate in hand, enduring horrid dad humor while waiting for that burger to cook.
This burger, then, succeeds by way of raw pathos. It will remind you of a time when you were a little more innocent, a little less ruined by the world. It will take you back to the days in which it might actually have been surprising to have someone scream the name of the only South Asian celebrity they know when you walk by. The good old days.
Flavor: 9.20 / 10.00
Freshness/Quality: 8.30 / 10.00
Value: 9.10 / 10.00
Efficiency: 9.00 / 10.00
Creativity/Style: 6.80 / 10.00
Bun: 7.80 / 10.00
Patty: 7.90 / 10.00
Toppings: 7.80 / 10.00
Sauce: 8.00 / 10.00
Balance: 9.90 / 10.00
Total: 83.80 / 100.00