Tell Philip I sent you

The outside of the Java House doesn’t look like much. It sits next to the docks, tucked between a kayak rental shop and the looming shadow of the ballpark. The inside doesn’t offer much more. A busy grill, a cooler of drinks, and a menu on the wall that offers all the basics by grill or fryer. You know the joint. Nothing jumps out. But then maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of another order, like I did. And it seals it. You know what you’re getting even before the words come out of your mouth. Bacon Cheeseburger. With fries. And a beer.

The place has a way of making you feel like a tourist and a local at the same time. You could be on vacation anywhere from Hermosa Beach to Astoria and find a place just like it. Or, like a lot of regulars, just happened down to the docks for a quick lunch. And it seems like no matter when you’re there, Phillip, the owner will be there too. If he’s working he’ll grumble behind the register, short with his words and his patience. Or on his day off without the comfort of the counter, he doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself, like an ex-con newly released from a long-term sentence. In fact, if it wasn’t for his endearing wife and daughter softening his image a little, it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear that Philip might have served time. He clears tables and casually watches the day go by. He’ll visit the different tables, ask you your name and where you’re from. He’ll flirt with the ladies and talk baseball with the guys. A sign on the register answers any question about his loyalty. “Osama bin Laden is a Dodgers Fan. Go Giants.” With the Java House a foul ball’s throw away from the ballpark, this isn’t too much of a shock. When Philip comes by my table, I do let him know I’m from L.A. I don’t let him know I follow the game.

The simplicity of the place belies the quality of the food. You don’t see the crisp romaine coming. That isn’t to say the food isn’t dead simple. It is. But the quality is top-notch. With one bite you’re taken back to a camp cookout, a $15 burger served on white tablecloth, and any seaside shack you’ve ever chanced on at any coast, anywhere. This is a burger you’ll crave again.

The food takes a little bit longer than you think a short-order should, but it’s worth the wait. And something happens while you’re waiting for the bacon to crisp, for the cheese to melt over a perfectly-cooked patty on a warm-toasty bun. Sitting on the embarcadero in a slice of sunshine blissfully free of any wind, you hear the dockside sounds of seagulls and bells, watch the methodical chores of boatkeeping, and an hour passes like an afternoon vacation in any coastside town. You drag your feet to leave, wanting to hold on to that vacation feeling just a little longer before you pull yourself away from the weathered picnic table and back to the workday week.

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