It’s not for nothing that The Spot — located spitting distance from Carpinteria State Beach even on a windy day — boasts some of the longest lines of any restaurant in Santa Barbara County. Its only rival in this regard is the much-mythologized La Super-Rica Taqueria on Milpas Street. It’s no coincidence that both establishments incited Julia Child — world-famous chef and Santa Barbara’s former grand dame of gastronomical fame — to gush and fawn.
The Spot is one of those iconic Southern California, just-fell-out-of-bed, shorts-and-sandals, beach-shack burger joints that, for 60 glorious years now, has defied the march of time. Whether The Spot’s burgers are as good today as they were in 1958 — when Cecil and Garnet Hendrickson converted a six-stool joint named Sheri’s that then catered to workers at the lemon packing plant across Linden Avenue — is frequently the subject of considered debate among the masses in line.
A vigorous granddad wearing a Napoleon Dynamite T-shirt who is accompanied by his two granddaughters and keeps a $1,000 bill perpetually tucked in his wallet “just in case” tells me the quality of meat isn’t what it was 10 years ago. Still, he’s happy to wait. His granddaughters, it should be noted, are great company.
For my money — $4.55 for the cheeseburger — it still tastes great. As owner Jesse Bustillo, who bought the place in 1999, told me, The Spot still steams their buns, still uses leaf lettuce — as opposed to the sliced and shredded variant that is favored by most burger emporiums and could double as hamster food — and still makes its own signature secret sauce. According to the Carpinteria Valley Historical Society, the original secret sauce was invented by Garnet Hendrickson, who also came up with the name itself.
The vibe of the line is convivial and relaxed, and nothing says “summertime” quite so decisively as chilling at The Spot. The same cannot be said for the poor souls who work inside. Imagine the Rockettes trying to dance the can-can inside a mini-submarine, and you get the picture — cramped and relentless and hot, too.
The Spot’s milkshakes are made with honest-to-god ice cream — not that hydrogenated, nondairy product impervious to temperature change. They alone justify the expenditure of icecap-melting fossil fuels required to get there. Bustillo said The Spot goes through nearly 50 gallons of ice cream a day. That’s a lot of scooping, fostering bulging forearm muscles that would make Popeye wince with envy.
Taking orders against the screaming roar of multiple milkshake machines can be challenging. Details can and do get lost in translation, so speak loudly and clearly. Aside from The Palms, The Spot — undersized, modest, and charmingly utilitarian — is perhaps Carpinteria’s most recognized architectural landmark.
But it’s not about the architecture. It’s all about the spot itself: a magical confluence of beach and town that takes place on hundreds of taste buds a day.
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