Pot Luck

Hodad's: Nation's Best Burger?

Some say Hodad's in San Diego has the best hamburger in the country. Just before I flew out to California, I was watching the Jay Leno show. That night Leno did a Top 10 list with Guy Fieri, the spiky-haired star of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Leno asked Fieri to name the No. 1 burger in the country. The first place Fieri mentioned was Hodad's in San Diego. Hodad's also made a recent CNN Top 5 burger list. So I put Hodad's burger on my list of things to eat in Southern California.

I have been told there is usually a long line out front, but on the night of my visit, the place was nearly empty. Our waiter was sporting a baseball cap with an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. His name was Martini Robles, and he said he grew up Texas. He recommended the onion rings, which was a good call. They were amazing. And so were the thick, hand-cut French fries. The beer was served in Mason jars.

The joint was decorated with surfboards and license plates. The original Hodad's in Ocean Beach wasn't very successful. It was purchased in 1973 by a couple from Louisiana named Bryon and Virginia Hardin for $600. The Hardins built it up into a popular beachfront hangout. Today, the restaurant is run by their son Mike Hardin, who has turned it into a nationally famous burger joint. The restaurant currently sells around 7,500 burgers a week and goes through two tons of bacon a month.

We got two burgers, a regular bacon cheeseburger and a double-meat double-cheese bacon cheeseburger. The regular comes with a third-pound patty and lots of lettuce, tomato and onions. In fact the vegetables overwhelm the slender beef patty. But it's the bacon that makes Hodad's burgers special. The bacon is boiled to render out much of the fat. Then the bacon meat is formed into a patty and cooked until crispy. Thanks to the bacon patty, every bite of a Hodad's burgers has a wonderful crunchy texture.

The best move at Hodad's, if you ask me, is for two people to order the double meat double cheese bacon cheeseburger and cut it in half. The double thickness of meat is better proportioned to the vegetables.

Is this the best burger in the country? I don't think so. Maybe the best bacon cheeseburger, or something. But without the bacon, Hodad's standard burgers are kind of skimpy. And as a Texan, I am prone to base my judgments about hamburgers on the flavor of the beef -- not the excellence of the condiments.