1001 N. Ventura Ave.
About a month ago a small and unassuming restaurant/grill celebrated its one year anniversary with gala neighborhood festivities and special burger offerings. The business was also featured as an outstanding locally owned establishment at the Latino Business Expo last April. For Juan Unda and Jose Rojas, and their other three partners, Bear Bites Grill is truly a dream come true after many combined years of experience in a variety of restaurants.
Simply put, Bear Bites is a hamburger stand smack dab in the middle of Ventura Avenue, also known as simply the Avenue in West Ventura, between Main Street and Stanley Avenue. The burgers are in fact a great draw: good-sized, grilled to order, juicy fresh in taste and take-away presentation. The guacamole claw burger adds a tangy fresh guacamole dip covering the burger. I’m partial, however, to the hot dogs, grilled and full flavored, I envision being at Nathan’s on Coney Island and having a completely satisfying hot dog experience. The Cave dog with bacon, grilled onions, bell pepper, ketchup and mustard is particularly memorable.
But burgers and hot dogs are not the only attraction for local diners. I can’t think of any other burger stands that serve a well prepared (and with fresh ingredients) cobb salad, overfilled with hearts of romaine, a generous portion of grilled chicken, crumbled fresh bacon, hard boiled egg slices, avocado, garbanzos, crumbled blue cheese, finely chunked salami and plenteous tomato bites in a large wooden bowl, served, of course, with your choice of dressing. It is a delicious meal and the hearty serving could easily feed two (but it is so good you may not want to share). My companion one day ordered the spring salad, which was simpler, but still laden with tomatoes, cucumber, cranberries, glazed walnuts and feta cheese. This was served with raspberry vinaigrette, and although lighter than the cobb it was more than rewarding in its combination and blend of flavors.
I have a friend who lives on the Avenue and eats breakfast at Bear Bites many times during the week. If he’s feeling the need to eat heartily, he orders Joe’s omelet: three fluffy eggs filed with mushrooms, onions, serrano chili, spinach and ground beef. He offered me a bite and it certainly would serve as a primary meal of the day for most of us. That day I ordered the French toast breakfast, which had four triangles of egg bread battered and grilled, two rashers of bacon, and two over medium eggs, which were cooked exactly as I had ordered them. It is very apparent the cook has spent some quality time as a short order cook in a previous employ.
French toast breakfast
One item I always look forward to at a burger stand are the shakes and malts, and here Burger Bites does not disappoint. Thick, creamy and blended to order with calorie filling ice cream, these shakes are the perfect comfort food on any hot day. They are so good I’ll assuredly come up with a justification for cold and rainy days as well. Besides the regular soda fountain drinks Bear Bites also makes its own horchata, which is well worth sampling if you a fan of the rice beverage.
For the side dishes Bear Bites also comes out a winner. The onion rings are crisp and fat, and the French fries taste like they may have been sprinkled with seasoned salt. Both are adequate, but the real star in appetizers are the sweet corn nuggets: golden fried in a sweet batter the corn tastes so fresh it wouldn’t surprise me if the cook actually takes the corm off the cob himself. More than anything else, these scrumptious appetizer nibbles are yet another example how this fairly ordinary hamburger stand sets itself apart not only by freshly prepared and served items, but pays attention to freshness, unique offerings, and food that almost always calls you back for another visit.
Ventura Avenue always seems to be re-inventing itself; now, with the addition of Bear Bites as a food alternative to the local culture and cuisine one hopes more people will venture to “the Avenue” to at least have a burger and watch the ever changing parade. And don’t forget to notice the trompe l’oeil palm trees decorating the side of the building.