THE SPOT: Big Dean's on Ocean Front Walk is a favorite of locals and tourists alike, serving up classic Buffalo wings, burgers and beers. (photo by Michael Ryan)

The passing of Labor Day in Santa Monica means many changes but no more noticeable than down by the Santa Monica Pier. The Twilight Dance Series has come to a close, the beaches are much less crowded, and the leaves on the palm trees started to turn (well not really). With the unofficial end of summer amongst us, the droves of tourists seem to subside, but never completely dissipate from the pier.

With less crowd congestion, post Labor Day is a great time for us locals to see what is happening at the pier or in this case, below it. At the base of the pier, situated on Ocean Front Walk underneath most of the street musicians, gyrating silver mimes, and other hoopla, is a hot spot for both tourist and locals alike, Big Dean’s “Muscle Inn” Cafe. Before Big Dean’s, it was Sidney’s Cafe back in the 1970s, and it has been running as a cafe since 1901, making it older than the pier itself.

Big Dean’s claims on their menu that The Big Dean’s Burger is, “The burger that made Santa Monica famous.” Could it be possible that Santa Monica gets its world acclaim not from the beach, pier, or city itself, but from a burger? The answer is no. Big Dean’s sarcastically coined their burger “world famous” in a way to play with tourists as well as poke fun at the idea that nowadays almost everything and anything is historic and or famous.

World famous or not, locals and regulars know that the Big Dean’s burger is a goody. Double the meat, double the cheese, and grilled onions makes for one fantastic burger. The only problem with the burger was its height to width ratio. Let’s just say it is a tall burger and problematic like an SUV on a curvy road. The high center of gravity, melted cheese, and slick onions made it a tough burger to hold onto. Thankfully the 32-ounce beer special washed away any control issues I may have been experiencing.

One thing that should be noted about the burger and beer is that they are very reasonably priced, especially being in such a prime location where everything seems to be jacked up.

“You have to cater to your regulars, you can’t jack up the price just because tourists are in town,” General Manager T.J. Sorady said.

T.J. realizes that if you gouge your customers then Big Dean’s becomes just another tourist trap along the boardwalk. Big Dean’s prime sightseeing location juxtaposed with its local customer base is what makes it so unique, and a fun place to hang out. It is a place to go with your friends as well meet some random couple from Sandusky, Ohio. It is an embassy that serves cold beer and from what I learned a really good hot wing. T.J. went to college in Buffalo and brought his wing sauce recipe here to the West Coast.

“I’ve had people from Buffalo in here eating our wings telling me that these are the best wings that they have had outside of Buffalo” T.J. said.

The wings are indeed meaty, have a decent crunch, and have a fantastically tangy and spicy sauce. Leave it up to the guy from Buffalo to bring some kick ass wings to the party.

Big Dean’s offers up good deals on beer, has a “world class” burger, and makes some of the best wings outside of Buffalo, and all just in time for the start of football season. Some general food and beer for thought if you decide to venture out to the Santa Monica Pier.

If You Go

Big Dean’s Cafe

1615 Ocean Front Walk

Santa Monica, Calif.


(310) 393-2666

Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike. To reach him visit his Twitter at or his website at

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