Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Hankering for Hodad's Hamburgers

Their storefront sign humorously says, "Under 99 Billion Gazillion Sold!" Their motto, emblazoned on a sign above the cash register, reads, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem!” The definitive Southern California beachside burger joint is found at Hodad’s, where the line stretches a block down every day with crowds clamoring to get inside.

Named for “someone who comes down to the beach and has a surfboard, but never surfs,” Hodad’s opened in 1969 through the efforts of Byron and Virginia Hardin. First located on the beach at the end of Santa Monica Avenue in Ocean Beach, several moves took it to its current location in the heart of Ocean Beach’s Newport Avenue in 1991. They opened a second location downtown San Diego this past year, with the restaurants now owned by second generation Burgermeister Mike “Boss Man” Hardin and long time friend Teri Rhodes. Hodad’s has received national acclaim over the years. CNN named Hodad's one of the "five tasty burger joints worth visiting" (April 2009) and Food Network featured the burger joint on Guy Fieri's “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” (August 2008) and “The Best Thing I Ever Ate – Bacon” (June 2009). Fieri’s visit even prompted a burger dedication on Hodad’s menu: "The Guido," topped with fried pastrami, Swiss cheese and caramelized onions.

Fortunately, the line moves quickly for the number of people waiting. After about 20 minutes, we were ushered inside and seated at long benches (I was hoping for the 3-person car booth, but there were 4 of us). The menu is simple and straightforward: a single page listing different burgers, sides (fries, onion rings, or “frings”—1/2 and 1/2), and drinks. I was tempted by the strawberry milkshake (served in an icy-cold metal cup heaped high with huge scoops of ice cream, so thick you need a spoon to consume it), but knew I wouldn’t have room for what I was really here for. I decided on a Mini Bacon Cheeseburger (1/6 lb burger, about the size of a In N’ Out patty if you’ve ever eaten at the West Coast phenomenon). Our table also shared onion rings and fries.

Our burger accompaniments came to the table first as our burgers sizzled on the grill. The onion rings were delicious! The thick slices were coated with a light crispy batter; I was also happy to discover they were not greasy. The fries turned out to be potato wedges… not what I expected. The combination of mealy interior with the lightest crunch from the exterior tasted fine, but the potato was far outshined by the onion at this meal.

We immediately dug in when our burgers arrived. They possessed some of the freshest ingredients I’ve ever tasted on a hamburger. From the onion’s distinct crunch and spicy-sweetness to the green lettuce’s crispness, every topping seemed like it was just picked from the garden. The meat was good, each bite infused with juiciness and flavor. However, I would recommend getting a “Single”-sized burger (1/4 lb); the thickness of the patty will make it juicier.

My conclusions: Hodad’s makes a solid burger. We were quite satisfied with our meal and I consider the wait worth it.

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