Chain Reaction: Lazy Dog
1202 Camino Del Rio North, San Diego CA 92108 (map)
12 locations in California, full list at lazydogrestaurants.com
The Schtick: This pup-themed restaurant has an extensive menu for people, along with a special menu just for dogs
The Burger: The wet, mushy, and under-salted beef patties have little to offer in terms of flavor
Want Fries With That? Fries come with the burger, but what you really want are the sweet potato tots and the potato hushpuppies
Setting: Dimly lit, comfortable, and dog friendly (on the patio)
Price: Cheeseburger, $9.50, Baja California burger, $10.25; loaded potato hushpuppies, $4.75 reg ($3 during happy hour); sweet potato tater tots, $4.95 ($4 during happy hour)
Lazy Dog recently expanded into San Diego, bringing a kitchen-sink menu with everything from spicy Moroccan chicken to carne asada to Mediterranean Mahi Mahi for human diners, along with a selection of grilled meat and rice dishes just for dogs. Pups are welcome on the patio, while inside, the large dining and bar area is decked out with dog-themed artwork, like paintings and statues of pooches. It's done tastefully, so it's not tacky.
I got my first glimpse at the menu at an official launch party where I ate my way through something like 15 different dishes spanning cocktails to dessert over several hours, including a perfectly executed and beautifully constructed cheeseburger. I was psyched to share my discovery with fellow AHT'ers, but I figured it would be best to wait until the corporate chefs had left town and the local crew was in charge to confirm Lazy Dog's burger achievements. Unfortunately, when I returned a few weeks later, the once-great burger was a shade of its former self.
Both burgers I sampled—a classic cheeseburger ($9.50) and the Baja California burger ($10.25)—suffered the same fatal flaws: the patties were woefully under-seasoned and mushy. The only flavor the charbroiled beef had came from the grill, so the bites with a decent amount of char were reasonably tasty, but that was about 20 percent of the patty, if I'm being generous.
Our canine companion (a friends' dog, The Doctor) got a burger patty with rice. It was cooked to medium-well and spent significantly longer on the grill, which gave it about twice as much char. In all honesty, in terms of the beef patties alone, it was the best-tasting burger of the bunch.
That's The Doctor in his dinner finery, making an appearance under the table after polishing off his meal in 5.67 seconds. Not pictured: The Doctor spilling his water, The Doctor sniffing my husband's crotch, and The Doctor not-so-stealthily licking burger juice off his napkin (while on his lap). Dogs: gotta love 'em.
As for the burgers for humans, a few important things did go right. Both patties (requested medium-rare) came out with a light pink center, the toppings were all fresh, and the burgers were thoughtfully constructed. Even with a glob of guac, the Baja burger stayed intact until the last bite, though the wet, mushy beef transformed the bun into a soggy mess by the halfway point.
Burgers come with coleslaw, sweet corn salad, or french fries, but if you want starch, there are much tastier options.
You definitely want these loaded potato hushpuppies ($4.75)—ping pong ball-sized rounds of breadcrumb-coated, deep-fried potato. The crunchy exterior of the spheres of starch drizzled with Tapatio ranch yields to a warm, whipped potato interior with jack and cheddar cheese, bacon bits, and diced green onion. In fact, you might want an order just for yourself.
Get the sweet potato tots ($4.95), too. The potato inside of these little golden nuggets is almost equally as fluffy as the hushpuppies, and they come with a ramekin of roasted jalapeño-lime aioli for dunking. It's great on the tots, and just about anything else that crosses its path, including the "Inside Out Cheese Quesadilla" ($6 during happy hour).
Yes, when it came to the burgers, Lazy Dog wasn't quite on their game, but for a happy hour full of cheap beer, girly drinks, and apps, it's a great option. Oh, and the butter cake? Insanely good.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her San Diego food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax