[Update, January 2015: The Bar Fly Lunch menu has changed somewhat. The burger is no longer available as a $5 lunch option, replaced with a chicken salad, and some of the other items moved days of the week.]
If someone asks you what Santa Monica is known for, as far as food goes, there are a few ways to go. If you’re a gourmand, you’re likely to mention destination restaurants like Tar and Roses, Rustic Canyon, or Melisse. If you’re a New England expat, though, perhaps the newly opened Dunkin Donuts is on your mind. But “gourmet burgers” and “cheap eats” are probably not your first or second thoughts, and certainly not together.
However, even if you don’t realize it, Santa Monica is kind of known for gourmet burgers. Within the city borders lie The Counter, Father’s Office, Hole in the Wall, Pono, Stout, Umami, to name a few. But they are definitely not cheap eats! In fact, it is unlikely you can lunch at any of these establishments for under $10, considering the burgers themselves start at $9 (or higher) and just go up from there!
There is one place in town quietly peddling a gourmet burger that holds its own against the above high-end specialists, and it can be had for only $5!
The Misfit, a restaurant and bar in the space previously occupied by Anisette Brasserie, at the base of the historic Clock Tower Building off the Third Street Promenade, has a “Bar Fly Lunch” special Monday through Friday, where one dish a day is available for $5. The menu lists only three rules you must follow to take advantage of this deal: 1. only at the bar, 2. no holding seats, 3. done at 4 PM (doors open at noon).
The gourmet burger in question is available on Tuesdays for $5 at the bar. The eponymous Misfit Burger (regularly $14) is made with grass-fed beef from Bartels Farms in Oregon. It’s dressed with cheddar, dijonnaise, and caramelized onions, and served on a sesame brioche bun. A fried cage-free egg is available gratis on request, and gluten-free buns or “protein” style serving options are available as well. The burger itself is quite good and a decent portion, probably weighing in at a third of a pound. The fixings are classic and complement rather than overwhelm the burger.
If burgers aren’t your thing, The Misfit still has you covered. Two of the five Bar Fly Lunches are non-burgers/sandwiches.
Continuing on, Wednesdays‘ special is a Shredded Kale + Quinoa Salad (regularly $11). Chicken or salmon may be added for an additional $4 or $6, respectively. On the healthier side compared to the burger, the salad is composed of the aforementioned main ingredients, plus sunflower seeds, grapes, preserved lemons, manchego, and parmesan. The dish is good but needs something in it to contrast more with the natural bitterness of the greens and cheese; the grapes help, but they aren’t quite enough.
Thursdays keep the health kick going with an Heirloom Brown Rice Bowl (regularly $10). Replete with organic red quinoa, black beans, feta, pistachios, dandelion greens, with a poached egg cut right in front of you over the salad, and a bold smear of harissa against the side of the bowl, this is a well composed dish for ovo-lacto vegetarians, and anyone who wants to eat healthier without compromising on flavor. The dandelion greens are particularly good!
Returning to meat-between-buns is Fridays‘ Ahi Burger (regularly $15), made with carefully ground sushi-grade tuna, seared, and topped with avocado, and spicy mayo. You don’t come across many ground tuna burgers; most are just grilled solid filets of fish. I was surprised at how well the patty held together. With the other ingredients, this is a spicy tuna roll in burger form, which sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does!
Circling back to the beginning of the week, and probably my favorite of the specials, Mondays‘ $5 Bar Fly Lunch is a Crispy Chicken Sandwich (regularly $14). Made with Jidori chicken breasts, and dressed with a fennel apple slaw and spicy mayo, this dish is a winner (winner, chicken d–oh, never mind). The breasts are plump and juicy, with a really crisp breading on the outside. This is one of the better chicken sandwiches I’ve had–much better than Plan Check’s, in my opinion!
For sides, The Misfit makes some pretty decent shoestring fries (regularly $6 on the dinner menu, I believe it’s cheaper at lunch at the bar). One order of fries is large enough for 2-3 people, so, if you’re solo, be prepared to take some with you. But if you don’t want to fill up on fries, and one order of the special is not quite enough, you can order multiples! I saw a guy eat three ahi burgers at the bar on a Friday once.
But save some room, because each meal at The Misfit (Bar Fly Lunch and otherwise, I believe) ends with complimentary salted chocolate chip cookies! They’re not the best in the world, but they’re decent, and free!
So what are the downsides? The bar is first-come, first-serve, so you might find it difficult to sit together if you have a large party. Also, the place is pretty generous with the burger/sandwich toppings, making for pretty messy eats. However, unlike some of the fancy burger joints mentioned earlier, The Misfit does allow modifications, so if you want to go light on the dijonnaise or have the fennel apple slaw on the side, you can!
The Misfit also has a day-long happy hour, well drinks for $5 until 7 PM and discounts on other drinks. Since I had to go back to work on the occasions I visited, I mostly imbibed Kombucha Dog‘s pleasantly funky Wild Berry Ginger Kombucha, on tap at The Misfit for $4 during happy hour! The 1% ABV means they have to card you, but at least you won’t smell like a lush back at the office.
Oh, if you have little ones, they are allowed to sit at the bar to take advantage of the deal. Makes them feel real grown up. Just be sure to cut them off after a few Roy Rogers and Shirley Temples.
225 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90401