Usually, I do restaurant reviews as a way to uphold the providence and wonder of L.A.’s best and brightest. My journey in culinary journalism leads me to aesthetically pleasing atmospheres and delicious–even eye-rolling morsels. I take pride in the sight of colorful Instagram pages displaying their niche delicacies. I thrive when I find a restaurant’s entrees and drinks to be provocative and true to the menu.
Rarely in the hub of Los Angeles’ epicurean might is there a chance to be disappointed. The industry is self-cleaning. The mouths that dine within sushi bars, BBQ fusion joints and Italian osterias are the mouths that also judge them. Bad reviews are the fear and demise of every restaurant owner, so when a sub-par menu option rears its head, it has a potent fury in the belly and the wallet. I finally experienced that recently and it was horrible enough to be today’s story.
I had no idea I would encounter a villainous shapeshifter who promises to turn your money into a delectable event, only to con you.
My name is Savannah Manhattan and I was catfished by El Pinchi Hot Dog.
Last weekend, I was bored with the typical dinner options and I wanted to try something new, yet casual. I save a lot of reels and photos on Instagram. I thought I would take advantage of my curiosity. I remember I saved one that served a Flaming Hot Cheeto-crusted hamburger. I had found it in the rows of drool-worthy videos. The juicy, topping-addled burger underneath the crown of the electrically crimson Cheeto-dusted bun was tantalizing. The ice-cold Pinchiladas and milkshakes were taunting. I knew I found my evening’s adventure.
It had to be good, right?
My gorgeous friend Dina and I drove a few miles down the road from where she and I met up initially. El Pinchi Hot Dog is located in an unassuming plaza on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in North Hollywood. It sits next to a corner market, a Thai sit-in and a Mexican restaurant. The sign of El Pinchi displayed a massively anthropomorphic weiner with sunglasses and a spiked haircut. It gave a thumbs-up and a smile to North Hollywood with all the candor of Guy Fieri.
El Pinchi describes itself as,”The new way to eat hot dogs. Street dogs in a restaurant.” It is quite important to innovate and find an angle where you can. If you never angle, you will never catch fish. Dina and I strolled in, excited to sink our teeth into the El Pinchi burger of legend.
The Seals of Apocalypse
The first sign of trouble was how long it took to be acknowledged. The owner and the cook were the only people working that night. Understandably, it’s been known that COVID and financial obstacles burden staffing, so you can’t be upset. But even by those standards, the wait was far too long. We waited about 10 minutes just to order when there was no line in front of us. The small gathering of other folks waited for their order too. This night was a test of patience. I excitedly ordered the El Pinchi burger. The next sign of trouble presented itself. The establishment was out of burgers. Hot dogs were available though. The El Pinchi burger must really be a hit. I pivoted and ordered the El Pinchi hot dog, which came with fries and a beverage.
The third seal opened; they ran out of fries too. I felt a disturbance and figured I should apologize and go next door for scrumptious dumplings. I am stubbornly adaptive however, and I gave the place a chance.
An El Pinchi hot dog, jalapeno poppers and a delightful El Pinchilada were the final order. We sat and anticipated our meal. We noticed it took 20 minutes for the other patrons to get their food to go, and the poor owner seemed scrambled. He delivered me the next piece of bad news: the four-piece jalapeno popper order I ordered only had three poppers. They didn’t have enough for a full order. My soul began to sink from the statement. Perhaps this was a trap or a punishment for a past life pettily played upon me. Either way, I bit my pride and accepted the free chicken nuggets he offered. I figured waiting another half hour for a refund wouldn’t be suitable and my experience could be a story.
You’re welcome for the sacrifice.
After half an hour of waiting, the lovely cook brought out our food, complete with dipping sauce and ketchup. She placed it down with a smile, and what transpired took our smile away.
The seals blew open. I wish I had pictures to show you but repression is nasty and I was too shocked to think to take a picture. Nothing the Instagram page showed us in its high-energy videos was anything like what laid on our tray.
The Flaming Hot Cheetos lay limp on a trickle of mayonnaise and liquid cheese. They used Velveeta-quality cheese on store-brand quality hot dogs. The hot dog wasn’t crispy or bursting, there were no jalapenos and barely any onions. The bun was soggy, the hot dog made me feel like I was a cannibal instead of a regular consumer, and the chicken nuggets were nuked in a microwave. The ketchup tasted sour and the ranch was what you would have dipped cafeteria pizza into in high school. Everything was sludge. Everything was mass-produced, processed sludge. The El Pinchilada was a watery disaster, accented by a sad, traffic-colored lollipop that fell into the drink and disappeared. Dina and I dissociated. Life was a lucid dream. The only redeemable food were the jalapeno poppers. They were a spicy and cheesy beacon in the dark sea of torment in front of us.
We sat in silence, digesting what we could as the patrons filed out. We left turgidly and I said goodbye to the owner. The final sign when I knew El Pinchi was doomed was when the owner didn’t even look up from his phone to say bye back. He texted while hunched over and didn’t turn around. He knew our pain as an empath would.
Dina and I trudged out into the dark parking lot, disturbed that we spent 40 dollars between the two of us on borderline inedible hot dogs. If Dante’s Inferno took place today, El Pinchi Hot Dog would be its own circle of hell. I have never been catfished before and the first cut is always the deepest. Do not go to El Pinchi Hot Dog unless you are a masochist in the mood for a ‘Flaming Hot’ fiasco.
They say they are street dogs in a restaurant, but those hot dogs are for the streets.