Hash House A Go Go, San Diego/Chicago/Las Vegas
I’ll be honest: if I hadn’t taken a look at their website, I never would have guessed that San Diego is the original home of Hash House A Go Go. It’s not that the city isn’t known for great food. On the contrary, San Diego is an excellent food city, one that I hope to get to sooner rather than later. However, when one thinks of San Diego’s cuisine, what usually comes to mind includes seafood, Mexican, Asian, tri-tip barbecue and possibly pizza.
Creative farm food that specializes in the unexpected, on the other hand, seems to fit much better with Las Vegas, a city that goes all-in on doing the unexpected in an attempt to bring in the tourists and get them to leave without their money. Sin City is where I first encountered Hash House A Go Go, which at the time was located inside Imperial Palace, which might have been the best bargain on the Las Vegas Strip back in 2010 when I stayed there for three nights…and spent $54 total. Yes, an $18 a night hotel, one of the best things about Las Vegas.
Unfortunately, Imperial Palace no longer exists (it now operates under the name The Linq), but Hash House has done nothing but thrive in the 15 years since Craig Beardslee and Johnny Rivera came together to create a menu that includes creativity, uniqueness and some of the largest, most fresh and highest quality brunch items there are. That was true five years ago when I experienced it for the first time in Vegas, which made it one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had when I experienced one of their scrambles in 2010. Ever since that, I’d wanted to get back to Hash House, and when I saw that its operations had expanded to Chicago, a mere three hours away from myself and Amy, I knew this was something that I needed to share with my lovely fiancee.
The first thing to know about Hash House is that they don’t do what’s expected here by any stretch of the imagination. Honestly, you wouldn’t expect the expected from a place that bills itself as “Twisted Farm Food”. For example, among their pancake roster, only the traditional buttermilk and apple cinnamon could be considered standard. The rest include options such as strawberry frosted flake, blueberry pecan, brown sugar banana, blackberry granola, butterscotch almond, mango coconut and Snickers. I can honestly say I’ve never seen any of those flavors with pancakes, even at the most creative breakfast places, which meant that these were a must-try.
However, the second thing to know about Hash House is that these portions are HUGE. We found out the hard way because as usual, we couldn’t decide between sweet and savory and decided to try both by each placing an order for an entree and sharing a Snickers pancake. Usually, this strategy has worked pretty well for us in the past. This time, however, the waiter laughed and said, “Are you sure about that order? That’s a lot of food.” Well, that’s quite a warning, but we decided that the idea was too good to pass up.
Turned out, he wasn’t kidding. Yeah, that pancake literally covers an entire plate that stretched from my spot to Amy’s beverage, and both of us immediately realized what we’d done as soon as the pancake came out. This thing is a meal in itself, which is why they charge $8 for it. You know, in retrospect, that was kind of a flashing neon warning sign that we were placing a breakfast order that might be enough to feed the state of Delaware.
But one bite told us that it was completely worth it, because this is one amazing pancake. The batter is light, fluffy and holds together beautifully, and the chunks of Snickers spread throughout put it over the top. I love the taste of chocolate and peanuts, and the combination basically turns this into a chocolate chip pancake with chunky peanut butter, which is something incredible. No, we didn’t come close to finishing because of how much we had in front of us, but we really, really wanted to, because this was incredible.
That said, it wasn’t even the best thing that we had, because this time, I knew that I had to try Hash House’s specialty: the sage fried chicken benedict. Yeah, there’s no part of that sentence that I didn’t like. What makes this thing special is pretty much everything, but it starts with what might be the best thing on the menu, the foundation of griddled mashed potatoes.
Yes, mashed potatoes placed on the griddle and cooked to perfection, giving them an extra crispiness while keeping the fluffy texture that always comes with good mashed potatoes. Plus, the flavors of the benedict soak into the potatoes, taking it to a higher level. With the potatoes in place, Hash House then adds biscuits, fresh spinach, bacon, tomato, eggs and fried chicken, the last of which is coated in corn flakes for a slightly sweet crunch. Griddled mozzarella is added, and then the whole thing is covered with a chipotle cream sauce.
Holy cow, this thing is awesome. The chicken is cooked perfectly and works beautifully with every ingredient, especially the chipotle cream sauce. The sauce penetrates every part of this dish, which creates both a creamy and spicy taste that creates the good kind of pain from start to finish. The bacon is cooked to Amy’s liking, hot and crispy, while the spinach, tomatoes and cheese help keep this dish from crossing the line from good pain to blistering regret. We’ve made two visits here now, with each of us going for this dish once because of how awesome it is. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the size of this meal, as this benedict is so gigantic that it needs a large steak knife to hold it all together. Pretty incredible.
On our first visit, Amy opted to go for the lunch side of brunch, opting for a salmon sandwich with chili mayonnaise, avocado and tomato. Sound simple? Maybe, but the taste is incredible. The salmon is wonderful with the cornmeal coating that they bread it with, and the chili mayonnaise works just as well with the salmon as it does with good sushi.
Throw in the wheat bread and the vegetables, and you’ve got a great experience that might actually be somewhat healthy at the same time, at least before you get to the mountain of fries that comes with it on what has to be described as an absolutely beautiful plate. That’s another sign of how they do things differently at Hash House, everything with the food is done perfectly to the last detail.
For our second visit, while Amy opted for the benedict, I decided that it was time to revisit the scramble I’d had five years earlier, opting for ham, cheddar and spinach along with my griddled mash. Honestly, that griddled mash is one of the best things I’ve ever had, with or without the benedict and the cream sauce. I’ve never once had one of the hashes here, mainly because those come with crispy potatoes instead of the griddled mash…and I’m actually someone who normally enjoys crispy potatoes/home fries over just about any other form of breakfast potatoes. These mashed potatoes are just that good.
So is the scramble, which is loaded with toppings from start to finish. The most important thing about a scramble is the balance between the eggs and the toppings. Too much of the eggs and the toppings get completely lost and might as well not be even there, while too many toppings cause it to be nothing more than a loose-jointed collection of toppings that lacks the eggs to hold them together. The proper scramble, therefore, features every element in the bite with the toppings each bringing something to the table. That’s exactly what happens here, as the fresh spinach and salty ham pairs well with the creaminess of the melted cheese and the flavor and texture of the eggs. It’s hard for breakfast to get better than this.
My one regret here is that unfortunately, in our two experiences here, the service simply has not matched the quality of the food. On both occasions, we’ve received a server who started off attentive, but eventually forgot we existed, forcing us to wait a while for drinks or ask other servers for help. That’s really sad for a restaurant of this quality to have issues with its servers like this, and it’s really the only flaw we’ve found here. Basically, we’ve yet to have a server that will be anywhere close to reaching the Jimmy Lopez Hall of Fame.
But when it comes to breakfast, Hash House knows what it’s doing for sure. From the griddled mash to the awesome scrambles to the sheer awesomeness that is the fried chicken benedict, there really isn’t anything here that’s going to be bad. No matter where it is, you can pretty much guarantee high quality food with a little creativity thrown in, and that’s a great way to start any day.
Time to go: Brunch. Although Hash House does stay open late in most locations and does have a dinner menu, it’s known for breakfast food. It does lunch well too, but breakfast is the star.
Wait during my visit: None. Sometimes you might have a wait, but we’ve been lucky so far.
Location: Hash House a Go Go’s original location is at 3628 Fifth Avenue in San Diego, while the location we’ve been to is at 1212 North State Street in Chicago. I’ve also been to the location inside what is now the Linq at 3535 Las Vegas Boulevard in Las Vegas, and Orlando and Uncasville, Conn., also have locations.
Cost: Expensive. The fried chicken benedict costs $15, and many other dishes check in at around $8-12. That’s high for breakfast, but it’s also very much worth it. Definitely plan on about $15-20 per person, though, and more if you care to partake in a mimosa or another of Hash House’s alcoholic beverages.
Parking: This will range from “available” to “don’t even think about it” depending on where you go. In Vegas, it’s definitely available but probably unnecessary. Here’s one thing to know about the strip: the casino wants you spending money on fun stuff, not boring stuff. That means games, shows, food, drinks, luxury accomodations and entertainment. It does not mean parking. I’m pretty sure that parking at Vegas casinos is always free on the Strip, and since the Linq is in the center, you can just park at your hotel and walk there if you’re not staying there.
In Chicago, there’s almost no parking to be had. Your best bet is to take the Red Line of CTA to the Clark/Division stop just north of the Loop, then walk two blocks east to State Street and head slightly north. Much more simple to do that than try for a spot on a Chicago street.
Seating arrangement: Tables, chairs and booths, depending on where you are in the restaurant.
Website: Hash House a Go Go
Specialty Items: Fried chicken benedict, scrambles