Driving down Hwy 12, Happy Dog is eponymous with vista - it's not the most glamorous façade in town, but perfect. The décor is straight out of a mid-eighties, a suburban roller skating rink - think plastic, yellow and red squeeze bottles on every faux-wood booth, with murals of ridiculously happy dogs on the walls doing (of course) happy things.
It's a great setting for a authentic burger: Happy Dog is located at the spot where Sonoma meets its grittier urban sibling, “the Springs." The simple menu consists of burgers and hot-dogs, every way you could want them - all with BBQ sauce.
Sorry vegetarians, this is not an ideal lunch spot (but if you're stuck in the traffic, the shakes and fries are pretty good).
The service is quick, simple and systematic. Their two employees produce the output of a small army.
After my first “happy” bite of my happy dog burger, I immediately think of Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack in New York City. Meyer, a very successful restaurateur, has written endlessly on simplicity and service for success in a restaurant and Happy Dog is unknowingly textbook. The only thing Happy Dog is missing from the Shake Shack is Opus One half bottles on the menu, and I don’t think us Sonoman‘s would want to spend $175 on a half bottle anyways.
A few tips: keep the burger in its paper sack, or it gets messy. Also, beware of their fryer hood, you will leave feeling greasy. But, as the menu proves, a little grease never hurt anyone.
Happy Dog, 18962 Sonoma Hwy. Open 11 a.m. - 8 p.m., Tuesday - Sunday. Cash only.