San Diego

Monday, March 5, 2012:

Hodad's Ocean Beach

Hodad’s Ocean Beach
World’s Best Burgers

Of all the DDD places ever featured on the show, our number one all-time favorite has got to be Hodad’s.  Of course Guy himself is funny and highly entertaining; and Mike Hardin (HoDaddy) is the coolest guy in the world and has a brilliant sense of humor.  Put the two of them together and look out.  That’s to say nothing of the killer burgers and shakes.  It’s kind of a fluke that we didn’t get to San Diego sooner than we did, but Hodad’s was always the place we wanted to visit the most.  The undisputed Mecca of hamburger greatness at a cool little spot where the ocean meets the shore, on Seaside Eats (Episode 206).

Anna at Emma Jean's

Anna in front of Emma Jean’s
Holland Burger Cafe
Getting her kicks on Route 66

We were happy to make a few stops on the trip south.  Our first stop (for lunch) was at Emma Jean’s Holland Burger Café in Victorville, California.  I must admit that I wasn’t expecting much from this little roadside eatery, which in relative terms is out in the middle of nowhere.  Boy, was I wrong.  Emma Jean’s is a great place to get some great American food, made with love by some great American people, Brian and Shawna Gentry.


They both looked just like they did on the show, and although they were very busy, they were friendly and took good care of us.  The place isn’t very big, but it certainly is inviting and has a great atmosphere.  Nothing fancy, just real American working people having lunch.  They’ve been in business since 1947 so they must be doing something right.

Brian Burger at Emma Jean's

Brian Burger at Emma Jean’s

We still had a lot of driving to do and I didn’t want to pig out, so we ordered and shared the eponymous Brian Burger with onion rings.  Wow.  As you can see from the picture, it’s a great burger.  The meat, chiles and melted cheese were scrumptious, but the real kicker was the parmesan Texas Toast.  I forgot to ask Brian his recipe, but I will be heading back soon.  The Brian Burger was so good, as were the onion rings, that I can’t wait to try the rest of the menu. That big cheeseburger looks amazing on the show. They’re doing it up right at Emma Jean’s; and by the way, they did get the parking lot paved.

Peanut Butter Pie at Ramona Cafe

Peanut Butter Pie at Ramona Cafe

We tooled on down to Ramona and stopped for a little dessert at the Ramona Café.  Sonja, the owner, was not in (sadly).  She looked like a lot of fun on the show and we were hoping to meet her.  The Ramona Café is aptly named as it sits on the main drag, which is busy.  The café is big, and they had some nice tables out front, which is where we sat.  We ordered a piece of the peanut butter pie and shared it.  It’s too bad we weren’t able to try more of the menu, but it looks like a great place to go and have some good cookin’.

Fish Sandwich at Blue Water Grill

Fish Sandwich at Blue Water Grill

We arrived in San Diego, got a room, and rushed right over to the Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill.  From watching the show, you just can’t get seafood any fresher than this.  The tacos looked killer and we’d had this place on our radar for a long time.  We ordered a fish sandwich and two tacos.  I’m happy to tell you that we were not disappointed.  It was the best fish sandwich we have ever had, and the tacos were killer too.  You can pick your fish, sauces/glazes and cheeses.

Fish Tacos at Blue Water Grill

Fish Tacos at Blue Water Grill

Our sandwich featured Mahi-mahi with chipotle marinade and pepper jack cheese.  It was grilled and prepared to perfection, and I’ll be truly amazed if I ever come across a better fish sandwich. This sandwich makes Ken’s Top Tens. The tacos were just as good.  We had one with halibut and the other with Ahi.  We sat on the outdoor patio and the service was great.  Everyone was having a great time (they also serve beer).  If I lived in San Diego, I would want to eat there every day.  I can’t wait to go back.  If I ever make a Ken’s Top Ten list of Great Tacos, these will be on it.  Come to think of it, some other tacos come to mind, so watch for that list soon.

We took a long walk down the harbor, to the USS Midway, and up into the downtown area.  We were striking out for the downtown location of Hodad’s, but it was too far.  We headed back to the motel and grabbed the car.  We drove to Hodad’s and went in to meet the manager, Eric.  We told him about being fans and how much we were hoping to meet Mike Hardin (the next day for lunch).  Eric phoned Mike for us, and Mike said we could meet him there the next morning at 11:00. Cool. Our thanks to Eric, as meeting Mike was to be the highlight of the whole trip.  We never intended to eat at the downtown Hodad’s, but it is a great place and it’s obvious that Eric must be one hell of a good manager.

We drove over to Pizzeria Luigi and picked up a Mona Lisa pizza to go (combo with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions, black olive, hold the bell peppers).  I was really impressed with the pizza from watching the show, and looking forward to some authentic thin crust pizza.  The place was packed, with people waiting in line the whole time we were there.  The pizza was great, but… by the time we got it back to the motel room and opened it up, it had got soggy in the middle. We’re not used to the thin crust.  It was our mistake, and from now on we will eat the pizza there.  Live and learn.  It was still tasty and fun to eat.

Bonus:  We also picked up a slice of the Dulce de Leche cake at Extraordinary Desserts (which Marcella Valladolid recommended on The Best Thing I Ever Ate).  Sorry we didn’t take a picture, but it was one of the best pieces of cake we have ever had.  A work of art.

We slept good, despite the loud trains and even louder planes.  It was a beautiful morning and we set out on foot for breakfast at the Hob Nob Hill Restaurant.  The neighborhood is spectacular, with well-kept older homes, manicured landscaping, tall trees, views of the harbor and clean streets.  Lovely.  A great setting for such a nice restaurant.

Although we were only there for a light breakfast, we could tell immediately that the Hob Nob Hill Restaurant is a very special place.  Anna picked up right away that the place had been redecorated since the show.  The décor is rich and elegant, very inviting.  Not surprisingly, the owner (Tanya) was there and she was very gracious to us.  The waitress staff was perfect and our Eggs Benedict turned out to be the best we’ve every had anywhere. (Missed the photo, sorry.) The coffee was a real treat, as was the free slice of pineapple coffee cake.  They bake an assortment of coffee cakes every morning, and there are free samples at the counter when you walk in.

They’re doing everything right at the Hob Nob Hill Restaurant and all the people who live close enough to go there whenever they want are lucky ducks.  The menu is incredible, and everything is made with TLC and time-honored recipes.  It gets our highest recommendation (and makes Ken’s Top Tens list for breakfast).

We walked back to the motel, and drove the car out to the Hotel del Coronado.  We walked all around and through the place until we had to leave for Hodad’s.  It was fun to see all the shops and take in the ornate wood carvings and other architectural features.

11:00 a.m.  Hodad’s (downtown)  Mike “Boss Man!” Hardin…

HoDaddy with Anna & Ken

HoDaddy is in the house, Say “Ho”

We made it back to Hodad’s and didn’t have to wait at all before Mike Hardin appeared and introduced himself.  We asked for some pictures (which he graciously posed for) and then we all settled in for what turned out to be an hour-long chat.  We had the best time, and learned a lot about Hodad’s and what makes it so special.  Of course, Mike himself is special, and he is committed to doing it right.

One of the things that is unique to Hodad’s is the bacon.  I asked him about that and found out that it was born of necessity.  Sliced bacon (the pretty stuff) cost a lot more than the ends and pieces of bacon (which taste just as good if not better).  By cooking the bacon in water, they can get it to form up into patties and take on a satisfying crunch of pure bacon delight.  Clever and cost effective.

Mike was very friendly, down to earth, laid back, and fun to talk to.  He has become friends with Guy Fieri, and we are really happy for his success.  In parting, Mike gave us a certificate to present at the Ocean Beach Hodad’s for lunch to be his treat.  We were really grateful (although we didn’t plan to use it).  We hated to leave, but knew that we couldn’t keep him all day.  If you haven’t seen it yet, get yourself a copy of Guy Fieri’s More Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives and check out Mike’s DDD tattoo.  It’s a show stopper.

We drove strait to the Ocean Beach Hodad’s (the original place that was featured on the show).  The line was out the door when we got there, but it went fast.  The music was rockin’ and the atmosphere was fun/good times.  Our server was Thomas and he took excellent care of us.  We didn’t let on to anyone that we had just come from a pow wow with Boss Man! himself.  It’s true that we like to meet the owners and chefs when we can, but we don’t ever ask for special treatment.  Of course, now that this blog is out with our pictures in it, we’ll probably get the rock star treatment whenever we go to a DDD joint. (Maybe not)

I knew the burgers were big, so I was undecided whether to go for a single or a double.  In the end I figured I may as well go for it and have the double (I didn’t want to leave with any regrets).  It was time to Man Up.  I ordered the Double Bacon Cheeseburger with the basket of fries/onion rings.  Anna ordered the “mini” Bacon Cheeseburger (which was anything but mini), and we shared a vanilla milkshake.

Bacon Double Cheeseburger at Hodad's

Bacon Double Cheeseburger at Hodad’s
It was so big, I didn’t know whether to eat it
or ride it.

The anticipation was intense.  We had been looking forward to this moment for about three [long] years.  You won’t get bored while you wait. Besides the great rock and roll, and the chance to spot some lovely ladies in bikinis, there are plenty of license plates to read/decipher.  Thomas brought our food out and I had the same reaction Guy Fieri did.  I said to Anna, “Take my picture with it.”  I don’t even like to have my picture taken, but it was a special moment and I wanted to capture it.

It’s true that I’ve been speaking/butchering English for most of my life, but no amount of writing or pictures can take the place of this burger experience.  It’s something you have to enjoy for yourself to fully appreciate.  There’s no corner of the world too far or too remote, that the trip wouldn’t be worth it (it’s not called the world’s best for nothing).

Ken at Hodad's with the Beast

Ken at Hodad’s with the Beast
Getting ready to unhinge my jaw.
(Sadly, I missed ND GIRL from Nebraska)

The first bite was like the consummation devoutly to be wished.  It was better than I could even imagine.  Every bite of this burger was its own unique blend of ingredients, and the diaper was necessary to hold it all together.  One of the things that surprised me the most, besides the tremendous flavors and symphony of tastes and textures, was that the diaper makes the burger appear smaller than it really is.  It’s a huge burger (which I love) but until you get to adjusting hand holds and turning the burger around in its diaper, it’s hard to appreciate just how big the burger really is.  My experience was that as I turned the burger, and realized that it was bigger than it looked, it was like the more I ate, the bigger the burger seemed to get.  That’s a really cool bonus for a burger that tastes this good.

Massive Vanilla Milk Shake at Hodad's

Massive Vanilla Milk Shake at Hodad’s
A creamy and dreamy masterpiece.

If you’re thinking this burger eating experience just can’t get any better, let me tell you about the most amazing vanilla milk shake I’ve ever had.  It was part ice cream, part shake, more than big enough for two people, and in some feat of magic, it even had the flavor of an ice cream cone.  The rich vanilla flavor and the sweetness of the cold shake made for a great juxtaposition against the hot and savory burger and fries/rings.


I hated to leave, but I finally did get to the point where I was full and satisfied.  I didn’t lick the paper, but I finished every morsel of that burger.  We thanked Thomas and the manager (Jeremy) for such a great meal, and paid our check.  We were delighted that Mike offered to treat us to lunch, but we kept his certificate as a souvenir and still have it.  Actually, the prices are too low as it is.  Would you believe that the masterpiece Double Bacon Cheeseburger is less than ten bucks, and the shake is less than five?  Crazy.

The whole menu is great, but if you’re not sure what you want, try the “All You Can Eat” special.  It’s only $100.25  (It used to be only $100.00 but sadly Mike was forced to raise his price to keep up with the sky high inflation).

Bacon Double Cheeseburger at Hodad's (Angle 2)

The Hodaddy Bacon Double Cheeseburger making an encore appearance.
The Centerfold Shot (OMG Look at all the Bacon)

The Hodad’s experience was years in the making, and the only thing better than enjoying such a spectacular meal was meeting HoDaddy himself and getting the opportunity to sit and chat with him.  It was fun to read all the license plates too.  I’m curious about the girl from Nebraska.  I’ve got a pretty good guess about ND GIRL, but a picture would really clear things up.  It’s true, Hodad’s is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

We spent the afternoon touring the USS Midway aircraft carrier.  My dad served on the Midway as an aircraft mechanic, and he used to tell me what it was like.  When you get below decks and look at the bunks, it’s pretty amazing that people could live like that.  It’s real easy to get turned around and the decks seem to go on forever.  After a while, everything seemed to look the same.

By the time we closed down the Midway and the surrounding area, we went for happy hour at Tioli’s Crazee Burger.  It was a funky little watering hole, and we split a cheeseburger with pepper jack cheese.

Dinner finally rolled around and we headed over to the El Indio Mexican Restaurant.  Here we had the exact opposite of Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket.  We were expecting a sit-down restaurant with servers and instead we got a fast food set up.  You wait in line, give your order, wait for your number to be called, and then carry your food to a table.  That’s fine with me, but I was expecting regular service.

The woman at the register was very helpful with our menu questions and we ordered a carne asada burrito, a chile relleno, nachos, and the rolled taquitos that they made on the show.  The food was excellent and I especially enjoyed the carne asada burrito which had guacamole and cheese on it.  It was quite yummy and without having rice in it was different from what I am used to at home.  It was so big I could barely finish it.  The help yourself salsa bar was good too.  I still have fond and happy memories of that burrito and look forward to having it again on my next trip to San Diego.

We rolled out of town the next morning and planned to stop for breakfast at the Studio Diner.  We walked in and the place was empty.  The sign said to wait to be seated and so we waited.  And waited some more.  Finally, a guy came out and told us to sit wherever we wanted (duh).  No one would come to help us or bring us water.  We waited.  I saw one guy serve up a couple glasses of water onto a tray, but then he went to take a phone call.  We waited some more and finally gave up and walked out.  I know it sounds weird, but it just seems to be the case that no one wanted to wait on us.

We rolled out of town on a pair of empty stomachs, but we were still filled with the happy memories of some great food and fun times.

Next DDD Destination: Los Angeles  (DDD Count 147)

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