There are as many paths to the restaurant industry as there are people working in it. Some are born with a passion for food. Some can’t get hired anywhere else. Others find themselves in the kitchen through chance.
Sam Drouillard is of that latter breed. While living in Florida, Sam, who's also a registered nurse, owned a company that remodeled historical homes. Following 9/11, his business went under and he found himself doing the books for a friend who owned several local eateries.
Then came Hurricane Katrina. Sam packed up and headed to New Mexico—his home state—because, as he put it, he was “sick of repairing the stinkin’ house.”
His brother Steven, also a longtime Burqueño, talked him out of opening a custom motorcycle shop and steered him toward burgers and dogs. Inspired by the Food Network’s "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," Hot Diggity was launched. Part retro diner, part charming dive, this roadside attraction showcases the Drouillard brothers’ skills with meat on a bun.
Following the tradition of dives, Hot Diggity is located in the middle of nowhere—north on Edith near Osuna—in a dirt lot that backs up to rundown trailers and dilapidated shacks. Housed in a cherry-red-trimmed white stucco building that’s suspiciously shaped like its mobile neighbors, a single door opens to a black-and-white checkered floor, chrome-rimmed chairs and Formica tabletops stamped with a retro boomerang pattern. Hot dog- and hamburger-shaped shakers adorn each table along with all the needed condiments.
The menu is basic—hot dogs and hamburgers. But don’t be fooled by the simplicity of its offerings. New Mexicans, I fear, are painfully unaware of the complexity of a frankfurter, especially when it comes to the almighty Chicago dog ($5.25), which is at the top of Hot Diggity’s short list.
The Chicago-style hot dog, correctly assembled, competes with the Windy City’s finest cuisine. A big red in natural casings, gently cradled by a steamed poppy-seed bun, slathered in yellow mustard and “dragged through the garden” (topped with DayGlo-green sweet relish, chopped onions, fresh tomato wedges, a kosher dill pickle spear, spicy-sweet Sport peppers and a sprinkling of celery salt) is a culinary masterpiece.
It’s also a subject of controversy in Chicago, my hometown. Debates rage over the topping order, or if tomato slices can be substituted for wedges. A request for ketchup will result in angry glares—or, at worst, fisticuffs that give new meaning to the phrase “fighting like cats and dogs.”
Hot Diggity’s rendition brings tears to my eyes, and not just because the Sport peppers (aka pickled Serranos) got to me. Not since my last visit home have I had the pleasure of such a tasty wiener passing my lips.
I’ll let it slide that the all-beef link lacks the distinctive “snap” of natural casing and the bun isn’t steamed. Sam explains it’s next to impossible to get all-natural pups in the Zia state, and most of his customers prefer a grilled roll. Other than that, I’m at a loss for words. This weenie is as close to perfection as I’ve found outside of the 312. From the juicy quarter-pound sausage to its characteristic “salad” piled as high as the Sears Tower, Sam and Steven have this tricky treat pegged.
Not to be outdone, the cheeseburger with green chile ($5.90) makes me swoon and sweat. Homemade green chile sauce with just a hint of smoky cumin blankets this ground beef patty. Each bite causes meaty drippings to dribble down my chin.
Chile-cheese fries ($3.50) are equally stimulating, with nacho-style cheese and a chile sauce that brings to mind my grandma’s enchiladas. The Drouillards' chile is a meatless concoction made fresh from chile pods—no packaged powders here.
If fries aren’t your bag then try an order of onion rings ($2.95). Battered bangle-sized loops of sweet and crunchy onions compliment each menu item.
The service at Hot Diggity is tops. Whether it's Sam and Steve at the counter or brother-and-sister team Marisa (age 11) and Jimmy (age 9), children of family friend Jim Endicott (who also lends a hand), your order lands in front of you with lightning speed. Not only is the service fast but it’s personal. The kids are all smiles and Jim stops and chats for as long as you’ll have him. With such good eats and good people, there’s no reason not to stop by and cheat on your New Year’s diet.