The Digest: The Spot

The Spot - Two burgers and chili fries

People are a fan of generalizations. Not only to group things, but to judge things as well (generalized puns intended here, dear reader). The word “good”, for example, is rarely used these days to define whether something is actually good or not. It’s a word of approval for the speaker, not only that their preferences have weight, but also to convey their preferences on the listener as well. As to whether the speaker has the authority to slap the “good” label on their subject… well, that’s up to the listener to judge as well. But most of the time we don’t have the authority, and thus we think the place is good and we go on with our lives just the same.

It’s no surprise that some of the most beloved places in the world have simple, unassuming names. A cursory glance of… well, any major metropolis across America reveals a gamut of restaurants, dives, liquor stores, bordellos, and drum circles that are called or referred to as “The Spot.” It’s a title and it’s a name. That leads to the question:

What does it take to really be “The Spot?”

Opened in 1914, on 389 Linden Avenue, this little seaside shack has been a favorite of locals, bikers, surfers and tourists alike. The Spot has proven staying power. It exists outside of the constant recycling of Los Angeles and the gentrified bohemia of the Bay. Located in Carpenteria, a seaside town ten miles south of Santa Barbara, it is a product of American automotive culture. It is a destination, kept in business by its idyllic location and consistently lip smacking food. The legend has grown out of weekend visitations from decades of enjoyment. This spot is tried and true. It encourages racing across freeways for the promise of an ocean breeze and a delicious meal. I have taken a lunch break just for a burger there. Too bad there was three hours of traffic on the way back.

The menu is a classic smattering of Californian roadside cuisine. Hamburgers, hot dogs, chili, and a variety of Mexican food are the staples of The Spot’s menu. Malts and shakes are available, as are root beer floats and “freezes”. Only several hundred feet from the Pacific, fish and chips, clam chowder, fish tacos, and fried clams or shrimp are all on the menu for your ocean fix. I loathe Americanized Mexican food (you won’t find me at a Rosa Mexicano, but will find me at Xoco), but this is the only place I will order a Chimichanga. While I am normally adventuresome in my dining exhibitions, this place, as you can tell, is a place I stay consistent. For my dining companion and I, this was all we needed: Chili fries, two burgers, a chocolate shake and a soda. I’ve been known to eat two, possibly three of these burgers in one sitting. But the ocean beckoned.

I should have bought one anyways so I could have eaten it while swimming.

In true Californian fashion, almost everything can take an upgrade. Bacon, avocado, and chili can be put on pretty much everything. And pastrami… well that can be put on anything there too. It’s a surfers dream, the perfect food after being in the water all day. You could – I haven’t, but I hope someone does – order a bacon, avocado, chili pastrami burger. I like the idea of a pastrami quesadilla, or a chili dog with pastrami on it.

Rumor has it that this was Julia Child’s favorite burger. This word-of-mouth assertion possibly has two originating points. First, Julia grew up in Pasadena, maybe venturing into Santa Barbara before she left for Smith College. Second, in her golden years, she lived in a retirement community several miles north of The Spot. It is possible she never visited The Spot until ten years ago, yet equally plausible she was there when it really was a shack. Regardless of when her lust for these burgers originated, I like to imagine that, for Julia, these burgers were exemplary of simple, fresh American food. Butter on the lightly toasted buns, juicy ground chuck, and fresh lettuce that snaps with each bite. The validity of the rumor feels inconsequential. Each swallow corroborates The Spot’s association with Julia.

So what does it take to really be the spot?
A little bit of local legend, a cult following, a great location, and some timeless food.

Or you could just be this spot.

The Spot
398 Linden Avenue, Carpinteria, California


July 13, 2011