Some days, the quest to find a cool place to eat (and a fun place to write about) involves getting in my car and driving directly to the next place on my "gotta try" list. Other times, things don't go according to the original plan and I find myself in the parking lot of a Home Depot and at The Dog House Diner (1001 N. El Camino Real, Encinitas).
I recently had one of those busy mornings when the first half of the day is fueled by no more than a cup of coffee. By 11:30 a.m., I needed breakfast, lunch and a snack, but my planned lunch destination was unexpectedly closed. A friend had mentioned a hot dog stand in the parking lot of the Encinitas Home Depot, and, hey, if it's good enough for my Christmas tree, why shouldn't that same parking lot be good enough for my lunch? My belly and I decided to check it out.
The Dog House Diner is more than just a hot dog stand—it's like one of the semi-permanent food trucks you see at the county fair each year. It's a family-run joint; Dad mans the window, brings the food and engages every patron with a kind of warmth and sincerity that can't be faked. One highlight involved overhearing a solid 15-minute conversation between Dad (a Yankees fan) and a patron (Red Sox) that had the requisite friendly tension and ball-busting those two clubs inspire. (It's such a relief being a lifelong supporter of a team that rarely threatens to stress me out by making it into the playoffs. Go Pads!)
Anyhoo, Dog House occupies the stretch of space between the sliding entrance and exit doors of The Home Depot, and it makes the most of its tiny patch of asphalt. Grab a seat at one of the little patio tables, or get your wiener to go. There's a huge selection, from the celery-salted Chicago-style dog to the classic New York style, as well as hot pork links, breakfast burritos, coffee and more.
I opted for Dog House's signature, trademarked creation, the Wiener Burger: ground sirloin shaped into a gnarled tube steak on a bun. I dug this wacky creation, served on a soft and warm French roll, along with a "secret" sauce. I think the secret's in the spicy kick—maybe it's some of the sriracha that's offered with the standard condiments. The creamy bit of heat goes well with fresh lettuce, a thick slab of tomato and a crunchy pickle.
You can opt for sort-of-healthy sweet-potato fries, but I'd encourage you to gild the artery-clogging lily and go for the classic. These are fries the way God intended them: piping hot with a crispy outside, a soft interior and lots of salt. They're perfect—no ketchup needed.
Be sure to grab a shake or a malt; the vintage rock and Motown blasting from the speakers will get you in a retro, soda-fountain mood. As I washed down my salty meal with a sweet, creamy chocolate shake, I'd never been so happy to be eating in a parking lot.