Originally, I thought Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives was a guy thing. It’s hosted by Guy Fieri, the loud, spiky-haired dude who drips food on his beard. I wasn’t a fan at first. And a year ago, on our way to Whistler, I had to be coerced into stopping at a Vancouver restaurant featured on the show. It was terrible. Dry roast beef and boring vegetables. I thought Guy was a fraud.
In October, however, I heard a bunch of people at work not only talking about Guy’s restaurants but quoting him. He must be catching on. So last week in San Diego, I went on my latest quest: to see if a Spirited Woman could love Guy’s dives.
Based on his Ocean Beach show, we started at the OB Noodle House, opened by two brothers from China. It qualified as a dive: cement floor, graffiti-art walls, scruffy waiters. Yet, on a week day in the fall, the lunch line formed at 11:30 with as many women as men. The waiter told us that every time the Food Network rebroadcasts the show, the place gets packed. Good for them, bad for the regulars.
We tried everything Guy recommended. The phở, (pron. fah) and the chicken wings were wonderful. But my favorite was their house fried rice. It was a huge portion that this small nibbler couldn’t stop eating. Better than any rice I consumed during my two years in Southeast Asia. To drink I tried the melon sake served by the carafe. It was cool and creative. Afterwards we were so full that we walked to the beach.
Ocean Beach puts the F in funky. It’s a little town that loves dogs. Straight down from the restaurant was a motel with a huge sign that read, “Dogs welcome.” Behind it was a dog beach. On the way, we saw people sitting in bars with dogs under their stools.
Back to the food—at the end of the day, Guy’s score in my book was one-to-one. I had to give him a chance to break the tie. So two days later we went to Hodad’s. This is a burger joint named for people from the 70’s who dressed and talked like surfers, carried a board, but never actually surfed. (posers) Hodad’s was great also—all in the sauce. What I liked the most were the small hamburgers for people like me with small appetites.
I asked the waiter how being featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives had affected business. He said, “We blew up!” (dive-talk for “we did very well”!). “We had to open three more locations.”
Now that the tie was broken, I searched through Guy’s cookbooks to find his winning formula. To appear on his show a dive must be “creative, fresh and interesting.” He aims to honor and preserve the culinary tradition of the mom-and-pop restaurant, where you get “real food cooked by real people.” He reminds readers that a lot of big chains started out as small family restaurants.
So there you have it. My latest quest, “a trip to Flavortown.” The result: diners, drive-ins, and dives aren’t just for men anymore.