Review: Sun Dog Diner
I’m addicted even before I swallow the first forkful – it’s mac-n-cheese, but not as you know it. The thick, rich sauce – a buttery, creamy love child of 4 gourmet cheeses! – is the star of the suitably-titled The Greatest Show On Earth, which comes with a dangerously handy back-up jug should you feel you need more. Enveloping al dente elbow pasta, Sun Dog Diner’s famous sauce (a secret family recipe of owner Jess Lynch, she of Mamacita’s Mexican food truck fame) epitomises comfort food, and comes smothered in crispy fried onion ‘straws’.
Perched on the corner of one of the city’s busiest intersections, Sun Dog Diner effortlessly rocks retro Americana diner cool sans the pretension, offering serious home (on the range) cooking with a Mex leaning. It’s all served up in bodacious surrounds that include tile-topped tables, booth seating, funky pop art, an epic bar made from speakers, and an original Space Invaders machine, all set to one of the city’s finest soundtracks (think the Pixies, The Cure and Placebo et al.). We’re immediately led to our table, where a yellow plastic stegosaurus pings my nostalgia (I had a similar one as a kid) – it’s been keeping guard with a reserved card embedded in its back.
Totally nailing the American diner experience, the entire menu is all-day, with everything on it made from scratch in a showcase of local seasonal ingredients and free-range goodness. We start with killer cocktails – a Golden Monkey Margarita (sweet, sour and floral courtesy of honey, lemon and rosemary-infused tequila) and a mind-bending firecracker of a Bloody Mary (the menu warns: ‘Yeah, it’s spicy. Deal with it’), which thoughtfully comes with a selection of olives and pickles on the side for self-garnishing. We find the perfect partners for the mac-n-cheese in both the super-sized Elvis Burrito (a serving worthy of ‘The King’ himself) – where tender smoky grilled steak encased in a crispy, bursting-at-the-seams tortilla is lashed with tasty, tangy fixin’s – and the El Machete, a feisty flavour explosion pimped up with ‘Sloppy José’ beef mince. Served in a crispy taco bowl, it’s a game-changing fiesta of huge flavours and textures; the beef joins black beans, red rice, pickled radish and shredded greens, all topped off with a tangy lime and coriander vinaigrette and fresh pico de gallo, and tempered by guacamole, sour cream and smoky blackened corn kernels.
We round out the US gastronomic sojourn with Jess’ heavenly (and gluten-free) Kahlua Cheesecake, paired with The Dude – a jacked-up White Russian featuring a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and named after the classic character in the Coen brother’s cult hit The Big Lebowski. Also totally-worth-the-minimal wait is The Cookie Monster – a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie served oven-hot in the pan with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a maraschino cherry (natch), which we team up with the gin-based cherry bomb in a tumbler that is the Bat Country.
Over the speakers, the Pixies’ Black Francis asks ‘Where Is My Mind’ as dessert goes down; it’s totally blown, Francis. Totally blown.
Sun Dog Diner
7/2 Papanui Road
03 260 1166