Monday, November 15, 2010

Four Questions

any of which could have made a good start for this blog.

Question #1: "Do you feel like an old person yet?"
Question #2: "Can I see some I.D.?"
Question #3: "It’s pretty big. Do you want me to cut it in half?"
Question #4: "What’s a hodad?"

Here we are in Ocean Beach, CA, looking for a restaurant that I had seen featured on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” a few years ago. This seemed to be one of those places one visits as much for the experience as for the food. Still, Hodad's has been recognized as one of the top five burger joints in the country by CNN with Hodad's being the only West Coast restaurant to be so recognized.

“In 1969, Byron and Virginia Hardin began serving the world's best burgers. Hodad's
first location was located on the beach at the end of Santa Monica Avenue in Ocean Beach. In 1991, after several moves, Hodad's opened at its present location in the heart of Ocean Beach's Newport Avenue. Hodad's is now owned by second generation Burgermeister Mike "Boss Man" Hardin and long time friend Teri Rhodes” (from the restaurant’s web site).

“No shirt, no shoes, no problem! ...Hodad’s has now expanded into a burger empire by serving their own signature but simple baskets of burgers, fries, onion rings and milk shakes. Their uncompromising commitment to quality and service has elevated this burger joint into the top spots. Located right off the beach near the infamous Ocean Beach Pier, Hodad’s is a fast food paradise within San Diego’s busy dining scene” (from

To say that Ocean Beach is a surf-loving youth paradise would be an understatement. Everywhere you look are surf shops, tattoo parlors, t-shirt shops, and itinerant street musicians one of which must have been a gardening aficionado since he was singing an original song about weeds.

Oh! That weed.

As Emily Litella on SNL used to say: “Never mind.”

You walk through the doors and are blinded by the plethora of license plates covering every space on the walls and the numerous surf boards hanging from the ceiling. The front windows were open to the street and you could hear the blare of loud music from half way down the block.

When we saw the VW bus front seat, we thought that would be the perfect seat from which to enjoy a burger. However, the father and son looked very happy there, so we switched our thinking.

We took a seat at an open high top; I looked around and noticed that other than the three of us (our friend Tom Goldman, Chuck, and I) no one seemed to be over thirty. Thus my question to Tom: “Do you feel like an old person yet?” (Number One)

I decided to live large and order a beer with my dinner. When I asked our server for a Negra Modelo, she looked at me and asked: “Can I see some ID?” (Number Two)

Taken aback, I looked at her and responded: “You are kidding, aren’t you?” It seems that they card everyone. In a way, this makes sense. If the kids with fake IDs see an old lady being carded, they can’t complain-–much–-when they get carded.

The menu is very short. In the place where the burger reigns, you can also get a Veggie Burger, a B.L.T., a tuna sandwich, and a grilled cheese sandwich. As sides, you can order fries, onion rings, and “frings” – an order of half fries and half onion rings.

Oh, the menu also lists “All You Can Eat - $100.00.”

But it was to be burgers for the three of us. And let me tell you about Hodad’s unique spin on the bacon cheeseburger. Not content to just slap some bacon on the grill, Mike Hardin first parboils the bacon strips and, after they have softened and rendered some fat, arranges a few slices in a circular pattern on the flat top where they fry to a crisp deliciousness. This way, every bite of burger gets you a bite of bacon. Heaven on a bun.

The burgers come in three sizes – miniature, single, and double – and come dressed with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, mayo, ketchup, and mustard unless you specify otherwise. For Chuck it would be the single with cheese and hold everything but the onion.

Tom ordered the single bacon cheese-burger-–hold the mayo.

Casting all prudence aside, I ordered the double bacon cheese-burger without mustard and ketchup. It was then that our server looked at me and said: “It’s pretty big. Do you want me to cut it in half?” (Number Three) I knew then that I would be eating leftover burger for breakfast the next day.

And, as an adjunct to this fatty unhealthiness, we shared an order of the frings.
Anyone who thinks that this place is all gimmicks would be dead wrong. The onion rings were thicker than we normally like, but under the ultra crisp coating lie tender rings of mellow and sweet onion. The twice-cooked fries (somewhat smaller than a steak fry) were perfect with a crisp grease-free exterior and with a steamy and moist interior.

And the burgers were extraordinary. Chuck, with his basic burger, was reminded of the ones he would order at the former Goodnoe’s Dairy Bar in Newtown, PA. Flavored by nothing but a well seasoned flattop, this was a burger elevated to stratospheric deliciousness. Although I went in an entirely different direction with double burger, double cheese, and double bacon all sitting on a bed of lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, and mayo, it was no less spectacular.

(As an aside--when the topping are on the bottom of the burger do they then become bottomings?)

Chuck has named Hodad’s burger his favorite of our travels. Better than the Squeeze Inn (Sacra-mento, CA), better than Bobcat Bite’s (Santa Fe, NM), better than Classic Burgers and Moore (Kerrville, TX). It is no wonder that Hodad’s proclaims “Under 99 Gazillion Served.”

And the answer to Question Four--a Hodad is a nonsurfer who spends time at beaches masquera-ding as a surfer.

I don’t know what our friend Tom thought about our big night out in Ocean Beach, but Chuck and I have declared Hodad’s to be a keeper and award it our ultimate 5.0 Addie score.

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