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Hey, Santa Monica! You Don't Know Jack!  

By Michael Aushenker
Special to The Lookout

August 3, 2011 -- Cosmopolitan Santa Monica and its low-key neighbor to the north Pacific Palisades offer many, many charms…and one can go back and forth forever over which community is a better place to live in.

While the Palisades offers that small-town feel and a quaint heart-of-town village atmosphere, there’s nothing like the hustle and bustle (and the cultural institutions and stores) of downtown Santa Monica, where, let’s face it, many Palisadians go to do their errands.

Santa Monica has Michael’s and Boa and Lago and Sushi Roku and My Father’s Office while the Palisades has Casa Nostra in the Highlands and…and…hmm. Comparing Santa Monica’s awe-inspiring library to the Palisades Branch Library is like comparing “Blade Runner” to “Tron: Legacy”…no contest.

Then again, the Palisades has the Getty Villa. And while neither can lay claim officially to Santa Monica Canyon, it kind of leans on Palisades turf.

Yet at the risk of starting a cross-town feud, there is one area where Pacific Palisades reigns supreme over its neighbor down the hill. Yeah, I’m talking about you, Jack! I’m talking Jack in the Box.

Located near Gladstones Malibu where Sunset Boulevard meets PCH, the Pacific Palisades Jack in the Box is one of the best. It’s mere steps from the beach, and, if you’re dining in, it’s out of the way and nondescript. The place looks clean, and the sweet-faced window goddesses always smile on you and joke around, no matter what time of day you make that little drive-thru detour.

By contrast, the Santa Monica Jack in the Box on Lincoln and Santa Monica Boulevards is kind of skeezy. Usually teeming with aggressive pan-handlers, it’s a bit grimy looking…and that’s before you even step inside, where the restaurant has all of the ambiance of a glorified bus terminal.

I wasn’t always Jack-friendly. There were decades when I wouldn’t even touch the stuff. When I was about eight years old back in Canarsie, Brooklyn, I tried a Jack in the Box for breakfast once, and it was so disgusting (a concoction with soft, runny egg whites), I vowed never to go back.

In fact, I didn’t go near one for about three decades. And with maturity, I had slowly abandoned the fast-food addictions of my youth.

Gone were the spontaneous runs to Taco Bell and Del Taco, in came more cooking at home and obsessing over healthier intake. I’ve even regulated my high school obsession for Pink’s Hot Dogs – which might have well have been my second home during my Fairfax High days – to an annual visit.

Then came the scenario when I had no choice: road trip. In the last couple of years, on drives up to the Bay Area, I succumbed to the obvious and the expedient: a quickie meal along the 5. Somewhere beyond the Grapevine, a Jack in the Box won me over.

To my surprise, I found the menu an overhaul of the lousy slop seared into my cerebrum so many decades ago. Now there were grilled cheese sandwiches, the Sirloin Swiss and Grilled Onion burger, mango smoothies, seasonal pumpkin pie shakes (not pumpkin, mind you, but pumpkin pie!), exotic egg rolls, steak teriyaki bowls, and my girlfriend’s favorite, the seasoned curly fries.

The plot thickened when my neighbor called me over early one evening. He had picked up his favorite guilty pleasure––the Mini Sirloin Burgers––and I was hooked like a near-
sighted marlin.

What’s nuts about the Santa Monica location is that they have evidently dropped several grand on some kind of computer/robot that everyone roundly ignores. Yes, there’s this weird machine that welcomes people and dares people to come up to the screen, which scrolls messages such as “I’m friendly!”

I still don’t know exactly what this machine does or how it will make ordering fast food any faster. I’d like to know how many thousands it took to develop and install this reject from Disney’s The Black Hole. For the record, I’ve never seen this droid in any Jack except for the Lincoln and SM Blvd. one.

Of course, the downtown Santa Monica outlet does have its advantages. It’s located right up the block from the recently relocated Hi De Ho Comics––hands down the best comic book store west of Fairfax Avenue. And after loading up on some sirloin sliders and two-for-99-cents tacos, you can burn off some calories strolling and shopping along the Promenade.

Palisades and Santa Monica, you two can duke it out for Jack supremacy. In all honesty, I recently had my fill of fast food and I probably will not frequent either Jack in the Box for at least three months. As my bathroom mirror likes to say: “Let’s face it! Those heavenly seasoned curly fries are pretty much the last thing your waistline needs right now!”

But it’s nice to know that, on my next visit, I have so many choices to eat at essentially the same place, should I have that hankering…Instead of counting sheep, you can bet I’ll be counting Mini Sirloin Burgers until then.

 


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