Petros was officially out—sorry Liz—; from the Wine Ghetto, we were committed to taking the winding drive down to the Jalama Beach Store for an authentic California burger experience. There was one slight hitch—my car wouldn’t start. A few turns of the ignition, nothing doing, and a fearful glance over at Kevin to test his patience, spying his eyes rolling back in a can-you-believe-this-sh@t kind of look. It was time to call on the generosity of Lee to help bail us out one more time. After the diagnosis he pulled up alongside and gave us a jump and directions to the nearest Auto Zone. Once the car was started we beelined it to H Street to swap out the battery and grab a snack to tide us over before our now late lunch.

It was a bucolic drive to the coast, even after adjusting for wildlife, when a doe would dart across the narrow lanes; it all seemed apt to our surroundings. Fourteen miles in we crossed the train tracks parallel to the ocean, which offered a pristine view of the coastline. A spot for Heull Howser, far enough away off the beaten track to be a mini-Shangri-la, Jalama reminded me of Laguna Beach where I grew up in Southern California, but even more untouched. We parked at the campsite, and communicated to the ranger we had come for burgers. He pointed us in the direction of the Store and we were on our way.

The breeze was intense near the shore, hurling a mixture of aromas like grilled meats and salty ocean spray that spiked our hunger. I was excited when I saw the signs boasting the “famous” burger.

We looked over the General Store before ordering, trying our best to imagine the burgers we could expect while picking up a few cans of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to wash it down (after a day’s worth of tasting wine, a beer isn’t a bad thing though Samsara’s Melville or Ampelos Syrah would have been handy too!). I placed my order for the Jalama Burger and suddenly had a nervous feeling wash over me that they might be serving American cheese, and after my last experience at Rally’s, I didn’t want it ruined by an inferior processed cheese and upgraded to Cheddar. Kevin followed suit.

We took a seat upstairs, admiring the panoramic view of the coast as we waited for our number to be called. Though we’d heard the line gets heavy in the summertime, it was a short wait till we were on the verge of eating.

The praises sung of the Jalama Beach burger matched what I had before me. A fresh California burger that would make In-N-Out jealous, with beautifully fresh shredded Iceberg lettuce, tomato, a third pound patty with a finely melted layer of cheddar framed in a sesame seed bun. The first bite was amazing; the warmth from a nicely seasoned patty and appropriately melted layer of cheese against the cold, crisp vegetables was sensational. Each ensuing bite got better, showing zero flaws as I moved closer to the core. The Thousand Islands sauce wasn’t copious, and each bite was in proportion from start to finish. Balanced. The fries were also top notch, long, seasoned liberally, and were slow to lose their heat—a nice counterpart to the epitome of a California burger.

I’m not a surfer, but if I had been at the beach all day, that burger would take top honors in the state. Savoring every bite until there was nothing more. We debated another burger because the likelihood of us coming back soon was out of the question. It’s definitely worthy of a repeat visit (and it’s a fair price: eleven dollars for a beer, burger and fries was a steal) but the next time I’m bringing a bottle of Samsara Syrah, a girl (no offense, Kevin), and a blanket to enjoy one of the best burgers in California on Jalama Beach.

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