Hodad’s in Ocean Beach is arguably the most famous hamburger joint in San Diego. It has an international reputation since being featured as one of Guy Fieri’s favorite places on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. However, Hodad’s has been around since 1969. Personally I have been going since 1992 so I feel confident with my review of Hodad’s as one of San Diego’s best burgers.
When I first went to Hodad’s they had just opened in their new location on Newport Avenue. At this point, the restaurant was run by Mike Hardin, the son of the original owners. Sadly, Mike passed away in 2015 and Hodad’s is run by his children.
The best endorsement I can give for Hodad’s is the reaction of some of my family members. In 2002 I took my then wife to be to Hodad’s for lunch. It was her first time and it was a revelation. She liked it so much she had us go back for dinner the same day.
Flash forward to 2014 and I took my 8-year old son to Hodad’s. He loved it and when he found out they had opened a location at Petco Park he wanted to go early just to eat at Hodad’s. That was a memorable moment because owner Mike Hardin was at the Petco location. I got to introduce him to my son and tell him the story about my wife and my 20+ years of Hodad’s. Sadly he passed away a few months later.
I must admit I have not been to Hodad’s nearly as much as I used to in the past ten years. I blame this on Guy Fieri. In 2007 Fieri featured the restaurant on an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Later he did a story on Hodad’s for a segment of the Food Network show The Best Thing I Ever Ate (on the bacon). Fieri became close friends with Hardin and did multiple episodes featuring him and Hodad’s.
The problem with that kind of exposure is that it makes a place extremely popular. Lines for Hodad’s started stretching around the block. In 2011 a second downtown location was opened and it doesn’t have the crowds. However, the original Ocean Beach location is the one with the charm.
The décor and surroundings are an important part of the experience. Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach (OB in local speak) is one of San Diego’s hippest locations. Thrillist named Ocean Beach one of America’s coolest locations to spend a weekend. It is more of a Jerry Garcia, scruffy kind of cool, but OB is definitely a refreshment from the more polished trendy neighborhoods in San Diego.
Hodad’s definitely features the OB look. The place is decorated with license plates from all 50 states (we have checked). The long communal tables are shaped like surfboards and there are surfboards hanging from the ceiling. There is even the front end of a VW bus which acts as a table. It small, busy, and definitely informal.
Of course, the big deal here is the food. Hodad’s is known for its burgers. They have a chicken and veggie burger but that defeats the burger. This is all about the beef, preferably with bacon. The patties are only a third of a pound but they are massive because they come topped with healthy portions of pickles, tomatoes, onions and lettuce. I would say they add too many topping, but that is a lame complaint. It is easy to take off any extra. Of course, you can ask them to leave off any toppings or the de facto ketchup, mayo or mustard.
A single hamburger is a great deal at $6.25, cheese is only an extra $0.25. Where the price takes a big jump is when you add a bacon. A single with bacon is $8.50, with cheese it is $9.00. Making it a basket by adding fries is an additional $2.00. Onion rings add $2.75.
All I can say is you definitely want the bacon. The bacon actually comes as a patty. Guy Fieri has a recipe for it in his Diners, Drive-ins and Dives cookbook. The bacon is boiled in water, chopped, formed into a patty and grilled. It is worth the extra $2.
My wife absolutely loves the fries at Hodad’s. They are large steak fries, probably the best I have had of that variety. However, I will admit to being a thin shoestring type fry guy. The onion rings are also awesome. Milkshakes are said to be a specialty, but I have never tried one. My heart can only handle so much at once.
If you want to do a double burger it costs an extra $2.50. I haven’t done that in over 20 years. Other than that, I pretty much stick to a single bacon cheeseburger basket everytime. Guy Fieri inspired the Guido burger which has pastrami, swiss cheese, grilled onions and spicy mustard. The Blue Jay burger has blue cheese. There is also a BLT, Tuna, and Grilled Cheese sandwich. For kids there are mini burgers and chicken tenders.
Hodad’s is definitely one of San Diego’s best burgers. Of course, I will add a caveat. Since the crowds have grown and Mike Hardin has passed away I have not eaten here as often as I used to. Thus I can not necessarily vouch for the current consistency. However, at the time of this writing there are over 4,800 Yelp reviews for the OB location. With an average of 4 stars that speaks for itself. Many of the negative reviews focus on it not being worth the wait.
If you don’t want to fight the crowds there is always the downtown location. I have been here three times and as far as I can tell the food is just as good. One thing they had which the OB location doesn’t is chili. You can get a chili burger or chili cheese fries.
To burn off some extra calories after our meal you can walk down the street to Ocean Beach pier. If you are up for a longer stroll drive down along Sunset Cliffs Blvd a mile or so to our Sunset Cliffs walk.