For me, Santa Monica doesn’t automatically come to mind when I think of grabbing a bite to eat. But I’m considering adding it as a destination with all the fresh, exciting ventures opening up. For example, when I’m looking to have a burger, drink a beer and watch sports in a classy space, I can seek this in the form of Upper West, a small place that packs a wallop.

Located off of Pico Boulevard across from Trader Joe’s, if you blink you might miss it; the signage is that small. Once inside, get comfortable and ready for classic American cuisine that has a bit of a twist.

Chef Nick Shipp, a native Texan, expands on traditional items like mac & cheese, tweaking it to be Shells & Cheese with goat, asiago, Irish white cheddar and mozzarella … all coming together in a creamy white sauce topped with an obligatory crunchy crust of parmesan cheese. Chef Shipp was previously at Pete’s, downtown’s longstanding café on Main Street. But while Pete’s food is straightforward, Upper West is indulgent.

Shipp’s imagination is your stomach’s friend. Say you’re feeling like something simple, like a BLT. Upper West’s version consists of thick-cut Nueske’s bacon that is delightfully heavy on the pepper with green tomatoes, sweet butter lettuce to cut the richness of the bacon and a tomato aioli served on focaccia.

Add to that the Jim Beam barrel-aged Allagash Curieux. The crispness of this beer makes the experience that much better. Even the citrus undertones of the Blanche de Chambly go well with the insanely good Burrata Caprese. I’m not much of a cheese person, but fresh cheese always gets me, and this one comes atop a green apple and blackberry bread salad, or panzanella, with bits of fresh cracked pepper. Beer and cheese is a meal, right?

OK, maybe not for you, so I’ll keep going. Happy Hour (Monday-Friday from 5 p.m.-7 p.m.) is a must at Upper West, where beer and wine are $4 and cocktails like the Ginger Cosmo are $6. Mint chili sauce gives the fried calamari a decidedly Asian feel, as do the plantain leaves in hard shell Ahi Tuna tacos with jicama and cucumber salad. Pair those with a fruity white like the Australian Poacher’s Blend, or even the always-reliable Flying Fish Riesling, and yet again, Happy Hour gives customers something to smile about.

Like I mentioned, I’m thinking of adding Upper West to my options when I want a burger. Reason being, the signature Upper West Burger’s presentation got my mouth watering. Served on a giant wooden slab with a steak knife through the heart and a tin of fries, I knew this sandwich meant business. I didn’t even bother using that knife; I just picked the behemoth up with my hands and dove right in.

The first layer consisted of sweet caramelized onions, followed by the freshly ground aged beef, then the mild goat cheese finish. It’s so good I forgot about the accompanying pomme frites. Not that they’re an afterthought, but honestly, you don’t need them. Just the hearty burger and celery seed coleslaw are all you need. You can take your pick on the beer pairing with this one, from Chocolate Porter to the familiar Pabst Blue Ribbon.

A bonus while you’re enjoying all the food and beverages that Upper West has to offer, the atmosphere strikes the fine balance between fine dining and a spot to catch sports without being too frat style. The name of the restaurant comes from a section in New York, the Upper West Side to be exact. Sophistication oozes from this East Coast area, and that’s exactly how you feel at the restaurant. While there’s a Westside atmosphere because of the location, the high ceilings and rustic décor are still very New York.

The huge projection screen in the patio section sealed the deal for me as a spot for game night. I was there during the intense Lakers playoffs, and I can’t wait to return for another game … burger and beer in hand.

For more information, visit (310) 586-1111 or visit