SO TASTY: Among The Counter's new menu items is this tomato salad. (Kevin Herrera kevinh@smdp.com)

SO TASTY: Among The Counter’s new menu items is this tomato salad. (Kevin Herrera kevinh@smdp.com)

OCEAN PARK BLVD — Whenever I hit The Counter to satiate my burger craving, I always have trouble assembling the perfect meal. After all, it is the land of one million different burger combinations.

It’s a pretty delectable dilemma. With pencil and clipboard in hand, I scour the options available. While it can be a tad overwhelming, it does give me an excuse to order their 50/50 combination of sweet potato fries and onion strings. I have to have something to take my mind off of the difficult task at hand, and that tangy aioli and creamy ranch dipping sauce provide the comfort I need.

Well, they’ve just made it even more difficult, adding several new sauces, special toppings, salads, sides and fully-assembled burgers to the menu, just in time for the restaurant chain’s 10-year anniversary.

I’m not complaining.

“We first opened The Counter 10 years ago with the purpose of bringing a customizable burger to people who wanted to have fun with their food and with really good ingredients,” said Jeff Weinstein, co-CEO. “Since then we’ve grown to over 30 locations, introduced new items, such as bison and a gluten-free menu, and changed a few things, but the 10-year mark was a great time to shake things up on a bigger scale and address the evolving palates of the consumers.”

That means bringing in kale and quinoa, smoked gouda, jicama, pretzel buns and even vegan cheddar.

I recently ventured into the Ocean Park Boulevard location — the one that started it all — with my writer Dave Simpson to sample some of the fresh offerings and I was so satisfied that I didn’t even think about the sweet potato fries. Imagine that.

We ordered the deviled eggs with cheddar, bacon and parsley, as well as the marinated tomato salad with red onion and fresh mozzarella and my taste buds were blown — in a good way. While the deviled eggs could in no way match those made by my Aunt Barbara, a master in the kitchen, we found them to be creamy with just the right amount of crunch and smoke from the bacon. The real winner though was the tomato salad. The cheese was soft, but firm and had a real richness that paired well with the tart vinegar and juicy tomato. I can see myself definitely ordering this when I want to steer clear of the fried foods.

From there we tried four of the new sauces, including the sweet Sriracha, which was my personal favorite. The ground house mustard was also pretty tasty, as was the sesame ginger, which paired nicely with the new Southeast Asian ahi tuna sandwich.

We also got to try the onion confit and smoked jalapeño, which tasted like it came right off the smoker. Warning, you better dig smoked foods if you plan on playing with the jalapeño. It’s pretty powerful. I loved it, along with the grilled veggie skewers. They reminded me of mine when I barbecue at home. Perfect grill marks, too.

The highlight of the lunch, however, was the bison burger. Not too gamy, it had enough fat to provide that juiciness you look for in a quality burger. It comes with smoked gouda, organic mixed greens, marinated artichokes, roasted red peppers and a lemon vinaigrette.

We didn’t get to try some of the new milkshakes since we were so full, but next time I will. The Counter wised up and now offers a smaller version so you don’t have to get a large order of sides, leaving room for dessert.

Normally I would say why mess with a good thing. But with these new options, The Counter has solidified its place amongst the best burger joints in L.A.

 

kevinh@smdp.com

 

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