Ercole’s (Manhattan Beach, CA)

My second night staying in El Segundo, I took the short drive down to Manhattan Beach for dinner. The next town south from El Segundo, it’s got a decent downtown, a nice beach and wharf, and a good cross-section of restaurants from fine dining all the way down to dive bar. In fact, that’s what brought me to Manhattan Beach, I wanted to revisit an old favorite from previous visits: Ercole’s.

Located on Manhattan Avenue a block up from the beach, and just two blocks off of Manhattan Beach Boulevard, Ercole’s has a great central location in central Manhattan Beach. Unlike much of the neighborhood that trends towards upscale restaurants, Ercole’s has been around since 1929, making it one of the oldest restaurants on this part of the South Bay. I think the next oldest places in town are Uncle Bill’s Pancake House and The Kettle, and they both date from the 1960s when Manhattan Beach was popular with the surfing crowd.

And it’s worth noting that Ercole’s is foremost a bar, one bordering on the “dive bar” end of the spectrum. I was first pointed here by a local (and I didn’t review it that time since I showed up on chili-dog night and was craving a burger), and it’s definitely still a locals joint; pull up a corner of the counter, grab a beer, and start chatting, or maybe even playing a game of pool. The decor? Aside from a few Budweiser posters that are faded enough that I was surprised there wasn’t a Spuds Mackenzie on them, the basic decor looks like it hasn’t really changed since at least the 1950s.

When I first started coming to Ercole’s (way back in 2008, when Offbeat Eats was still an infant blog on Blogger), the beer was definitely on the pedestrian end of the spectrum. But the craft beer revolution has definitely reached even to Ercole’s, with a good selection of craft beers in addition to the normal dive bar lineup. They’ve also got a decent set of cocktails available. In my case, I went for a classic West Coast IPA: Space Dust from Elysian Brewing and relaxed while waiting for the main reason I came to Ercole’s: a burger.

Ercole’s takes a lot of pride in their burgers, but with the exception of an occasional menu special, they keep to a simple and tight menu of basic burgers, hot dogs, chicken breasts, and Louisiana sausage. And the list of sides is basically “well, we’ve got chips.” But much like my other favorite “dive bar with great burgers”, Miller’s Bar in Dearborn, MI, the burger at Ercole’s is pretty much the definition of a perfect “bar burger”. A basic hand-formed patty with a good sear and a juicy interior. A slice of straight-up American cheese. Some lettuce and tomato, and a simple bun, and it’s served to you in a basket with a bag of chips.

Again, the magic is that there is no magic. No strange toppings. Just straight-up beef. Just a good burger, cooked on the small grill back behind the bar, right in front of you. You know when you make a really good burger on your own backyard grill? Yeah, that’s exactly the sort of burger you’re getting at Ercole’s.

So, if you find yourself looking for a meal in Manhattan Beach? There’s a lot of good options, but you should certainly put Ercole’s high on your list. Good beer, decent happy hour prices, and an outstanding burger. All in a nice, relaxed neighborhood bar.

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