Are some restaurant locations snake bitten, or can a bite into a zesty, juicy hot dog, paired with a refreshing sip of cold craft beer, turn things around for a downtown Bethesda spot whose former tenants never seemed to click with customers?
Based on positive online reviews, long lunch lines, and repeat visitors in the two weeks since Dog Haus’s grand opening on Friday, April 13, there is reason to think this new Woodmont Triangle fast-casual gourmet hot dog, sausage, burger and beer joint may get lucky.
The Woodmont Avenue eatery, the 31st location of a chain out of Pasadena, California, is owned by Ashburn-based local franchisee and first-time restaurateur Faizan Khan, who is a friend of the founders. Dog Haus is on a roll, with plans for more than 300 additional locations coast to coast.
I have a minor beef with the Dog Haus: it’s not technically a beirgarten, given that guests are indoors. But with large open windows catching the spring breezes and long communal picnic tables lining the small space, it feels like an airy tap room. And as I find fresh air preferable to air conditioning except on the most sweltering of D.C. summer days, I appreciate the open-air vibe that adds to the laid-back Southern California appeal.
As my dining companion and I waited for our dogs, burgers and beers, our attention was drawn to the throwback ’80s music videos on a large screen at one end of the restaurant. (The minimalist-style bar also has three TVs for those interested in watching sports.) The sense of nostalgia that the videos of Prince, Madonna and the J. Giles Band elicit is what founders Hagop Giragossian, Quasim Riaz and André Vener were seeking when they envisioned a gourmet hot dog concept that recalled their happy college days in the ’80s.
With counter ordering and food served in paper picnic baskets with plastic ware, Dog Haus is the spot for a quick, casual lunch or dinner. It’s not a place to impress your mom (unless your mom’s from Chicago and loves her kielbasa) or to linger over a meal. The bar offers an extensive beer list as well as cocktails, frosé (trendy sweet frozen rose wine) and frozen margaritas. Happy hour runs from 3 to 6 p.m. daily.
Food and drinks
On the culinary side, Dog Haus is all about the hot dogs, but the burgers and sides are worth a taste. Dog Haus features all-beef hot dogs without nitrates (including a decent vegan version), house-made sausages and burgers made of humanely raised beef, served on butter-brushed, grilled King's Hawaiian rolls and topped generously with house-made sauces such as spicy basil, garlic or chipotle aioli; pickled jalapenos; and/or “haus” chili or slaw.
We especially enjoyed the Sooo Cali HausDog (wild arugula, avocado, tomato, crispy onions and spicy basil aioli, $6.49), and Thai Fighter HausSausage (Spicy Thai currywurst, wild arugula, pickled jalapenos, spicy basil aioli, $7.49). We were less impressed with the Das Brat, which lacked the plump juiciness we would have expected from an outstanding bratwurst. We got a kick out of the menu item names such as Reservoir Hog, Cocky Balboa and Scott Baioli.
The Mensch HausBurger (white American cheese, pickles, pastrami, Haus slaw and 1001 island dressing, $7.99) was juicy and flavorful. Skip the HausChicken grilled chicken sandwich, which was overly chewy. However, the Bad Mutha Clucka fried chicken sandwich is freshly battered, fried and crispy ($8.49).
Dog Haus offers lettuce wraps as a gluten-free “bun” option and has a vegan sausage and bun available upon request. It will be expanding its plant-based menu in coming weeks.
French fries ($2.89), sweet potato fries ($3.49) and plump tater tots ($2.89) are crispy and flavorful and can be ordered straight up or topped with Cheddar cheese ($3.69) or chili and cheese ($4.99).
To quench your thirst, Dog Haus has an ample beer list including a generous selection of local brews that you can order by the pint or tulip glass ($6 to $9), liter ($13 to $15) or beer wheel (eight 10 oz. glasses for $32 to $37). Popular pours include Victory Golden Monkey Pilsner ($7 for a pint), DC Brau El Jefe Speaks Hefeweizen ($8 for a pint), and Jail Break Dust ‘til Dawn Imperial Stout ($7 for a 10.5-ounce tulip). As the beer selection rotates often, ask bar manager Jonny Chavarria for his latest recommendations.
Dog Haus has a friendly and enthusiastic staff that appears to enjoy working there and introducing customers to the new concept. When we engaged front-of-house manager Tess Beausoleil in conversation, she offered up an extra sandwich on the house. She said she has worked in a number of restaurants but finds the customers at Dog Haus seem particularly happy to be there, perhaps because “Who doesn’t love hot dogs and beer?”
Khan says his goal, and the company’s mission, is to build the restaurant’s customer base by fostering ties to the local community and giving back to schools, running clubs and other nonprofit organizations through sponsorships and fundraisers. Nationally, Dog Haus gives a portion of its proceeds to No Kid Hungry and espouses a commitment to being a good local citizen.
Go or skip
For a quick, affordable and casual meal with a feel-good atmosphere, grab a hot dog, sausage or burger and a beer at Dog Haus and enjoy the fresh air, friendly crowds and fun music while you wait.
Dog Haus Biergarten Bethesda, 7904 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-652-4287. Hours:
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday through Saturday. Happy Hour: 3 to 6 p.m. daily with $5 draft beers, $6 glasses of wine, $7 cocktails, $3.99 burgers and $1.99 fries and tots.
Aviva Goldfarb is a freelance food and travel writer who lives in Chevy Chase. Find her at AvivaGoldfarb.com or on Twitter and Instagram @AvivaGoldfarb.