Dog House Diner
1001 N. El Camino Real, Encinitas CA 92024 (map); 760-635-3647; thedoghousediner.com
Cooking method: Griddled
Short Order: A burger inspired by Chicago-style hot dogs that's surprisingly tasty
Want Fries With That? Go for it. The lightly salted shoestrings are classic and simple
Price: Cheese weiner burger, $6.50; fries, $3.50
Most hamburger innovations involve tweaking toppings, high shock factor bun swaps (doughnuts come to mind), or making them mega- or micro-sized. Until last weekend, I'd never seen anything like what's happening at Dog House Diner, home of the Weiner Burger. The registered trademark item features a hot dog-shaped cylinder of beef served in a toasted hot dog bun, with tomato, a pickle spear, and house-made special sauce. Owner Sandy Cherman describes it as a "family creation." His son, Justin, (a Culinary Institute of America grad) dreamed up the idea when he was 12 years old, and perfected the recipe for the sauce on top with his wife over a decade later.
There's a version with cheese, another with cheese and bacon, and the "Mammoth Wiener Burger", which is served between grilled cheese sandwiches. Since it was my first time, I took things slow and started with the cheese wiener burger.
It made a funny first impression, but dismissing the wiener burger because of its quirkiness would be a mistake. The elongated Twinkie-shaped angus beef had a nice sear on all sides and deep, beefy flavors. It was fairly moist, despite being cooked to medium well. A slice of American cheese and Russian dressing-style special sauce upped the moisture and flavor significantly. I'm not a fan of most special sauces, but the sweet and spicy composition of this version was supremely addictive—five days later, I'm still thinking about it.
There were a few executional flubs, all of which could be easily corrected. The giant pickle spear does give the wiener burger most of its whimsy, but it was so large that most bites were too pickle heavy. Pickle slices or a sandwich stacker would be a better move. The sauce and cheese were also not uniformly applied, meaning some bites were sadly under sauced. Still, a Home Depot parking lot isn't the place to get too picky, and even though each bite was a bit different, they were all good.
There are plenty of permutations of fries (garlic, cheese, and chili cheese), but the wiener burger was enough excitement for one morning, so I kept it simple with an order of plain french fries. It was a good call. The golden brown, lightly salted fries were a good compliment to a "burger" with a lot going on.
I'll admit I didn't have the highest expectations for the wiener burger, but what may look like a gimmick actually turned out to be a worthy reconstruction of an item I previously considered sacred. It's good as is, but with a few adjustments, it could easily be great. For now, it's definitely worth the drive to North County.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best cheap and tasty eats in San Diego, including all things sweet and sugary, for her dessert blog San Diego Sugar. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax