Dining Review: North Shore comes up a bit flat

Verdugo Hills Hospital workers in O.R. scrubs sit beneath palm tree paintings and surfboard ceiling fans with a wistful look in their eyes. The wall-sized map of Oahu’s famous North Shore looks down at them as if to say, “Someday … your life will include balmy breezes and salty surf … someday. But for now, have a Waimea burger.”

Out on the wind-protected, heated patio, diners of all ages bask in the glow of the La Cañada United Artists theater marquee while wolfing down salads, sandwiches and fries before their films start. All in all, everyone seems to be having a good time at this new casual-style eatery. But to keep these customers, North Shore Burgers will have to kick it up a notch.

Co-owners Craig and Mike, a.k.a. “the two old dudes that don’t surf,” set out to create a Hawaiian burger joint. The final product has a more corporate franchise feel. The interior design and seating arrangements are studied but nonetheless pleasing. There’s peppy service, fun music, a slick menu, reasonable prices, and a decent wine and draft beer list. North Shore Burgers (or NSB as they call it) fulfills a need in this neighborhood for a family-friendly spot that’s more upscale than In-N-Out but not as thematically committed as Islands.

Still, because it is so new, NSB has a few kinks to iron out, the most important of which is the burger itself. The menu boasts burgers made from an exclusive blend of prime cut beef straight from America’s heartland. The beef did have a nice flavor and a chunky, freshly ground texture. However, their “medium” is my “well done.” So much so, it gave me heartburn. There was not a touch of pink in this patty, and it looked a lot smaller than the declared 1/3 pound.

However, the accompaniments were better. The pineapple on the Waimea burger ($6.45) was fresh, juicy, not too thick, and peppered as well as fire-grilled. The caramelized onions (free upon request) were more authentic than I expected. The house teriyaki sauce was generally unnoticeable. And the large white bun, while beautiful with its shiny crust, overpowered the sandwich.

The vegetarian Kailua burger ($5.95) was similarly underwhelming. A little more of their Island Dressing (Thousand Island with bits of pickle) might have sparked it to life, or perhaps an “add-on” of some of their flavorful Island Lager Chili ($1), but of course, that has meat. The candied walnuts on the Sandy’s Salad ($6.95) were good, but they couldn’t take the mango-goat cheese salad out of the ranks of just OK.

They have your usual sides, but what’s unusual is you can get all three — fries, onion rings and sweet potato fries — in one basket (the Off the Wall for $3.95). If you like sugar and salt on your fries, this is the place. The outstanding onion rings are thickly breaded and crispy and come with a side of ranch.

I had heard the service was slow at North Shore, but I found it to be fast and friendly. And they remembered me upon my return, a sure-fire way to engender “regulars.” North Shore Burgers has all the makings of a successful business, but the most important aspect, great food, needs improvement.

LISA DUPUY has written about food, travel and entertainment for more than 20 years. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.


What: North Shore Burgers

Where: 1929 Verdugo Blvd., La Cañada

When: Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Prices: Hawaiian-style burgers and sandwiches $3.50 to $7.95; Salads $4.95 to $7.95; Sides $1.95 to $3.95

Info: (818) 790-1672 and northshoreburgers.com.

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