Shaka Shack: Kauaiian Burger

There's skill on the grill at Shaka Shack, an island-themed burger joint on the south side of Santa Monica College. Tricked out with mismatched vintage furniture, moai figurines and a wall-sized print of a dreamy island sunset, Shaka Shack has the laid-back vibe of a beachside café — but with far better burgers than any touristy beachside spot.

After a yearlong permitting ordeal (de rigueur for local eateries, it seems), Shaka Shack finally opened in late November. It's easy to see why it quickly won over locals. It's the best kind of neighborhood restaurant, festive but mellow, with food that's consistently good and affordable. If the burgers are a cut above what you might expect from such a joint, it's likely because owners Michael Anapol and Kathie Gibboney brought in former Ma Maison chef Lisa Stalvey to do the recipes.

The basic burger is a quarter-pound Angus beef patty — neither fast-food-thin nor thick as the gastropub hockey-puck burger — served on a sweet bun reminiscent of an overgrown King's Hawaiian roll. The meat is nicely grilled, the toppings simple and classic: iceberg lettuce, tomato and a secret sauce that adds a subtle sweet and tangy kick. At $4.95 ($6.95, if you want the double), it's a deal.

Shaka Shack: Interior

Shaka Shack also has more elaborate offerings: a burger topped with bacon, Swiss cheese and barbecue sauce, a salmon burger with soy mayo, a chicken burger topped with a light cabbage slaw and a black bean burger for vegetarians. None of the burgers costs more than $7.50, except the Kobe Kahuna — made with Kobe beef and topped with portobello mushrooms, wasabi mayo and Swiss cheese — which sells for $12.50, still well under the cost of a typical gourmet burger.

The fries, thick and nicely browned, are good too, whether served plain or generously laden with Parmesan.

We love deals, and Shaka Shack has one of the best, serving up near-gourmet burgers at budget eatery prices.

Shaka Shack: Shaka Burger

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