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Dining With The Doggies

Rocky and Sophie at Fred's
Rocky and Sophie at Fred's
Photo by Wendy Lemlin

When I was a kid, I loved the scene in Disney's Lady and the Tramp where the two dogs share a candlelit spaghetti dinner at a romantic Italian restaurant. Anthropomorphic animated characters aside, in super-dog-friendly San Diego that’s not such a far-fetched idea.

Many area restaurants and cafes have canine-friendly patios, and some go all out to encourage patrons to bring along fur friends, using such incentives as canine cuisines, yappy hours (dogs drink free!), water bowls and treats, and special dog-themed events and fundraisers.

My dog, Sophie, LOVES to go to restaurants, and she long ago figured out that if she sat quietly in a chair, looking adorable, she might score some scraps from the kitchen. Now, however, she can have her very own meal while hobnobbing with others of her ilk.

On a recent Monday evening, Sophie donned her best collar for the weekly Doggie Date Night at Fred’s Mexican Café in Old Town. At the hostess stand, she greeted Llubia, a well-dressed Chihuahua recently rescued by manager Jessica Magers. Sophie’s dogfriend, Rocky, waited for her at our table, and while my friend Faith and I perused the menu, the two pups downed dog biscuit appetizers, and went on to devour--in about 30 seconds--the complimentary dog food served to them.

On February 14th, from 6-11 p.m., Fred’s in Old Town is hosting a Valentine’s Doggie Date Night to benefit the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA. Guests will enjoy raffles and giveaways; the dogs will put up with a costume contest, and gobble down free meals. Patrons are asked to donate items from the San Diego Humane Society “Wish List”.

After a good romp at Fiesta Island one day, Sophieand I stopped off at Bull’s Smokin’ BBQ, where a big sign proclaims the eatery to be “Dog Friendly!” She gnawed on a juicy rib bone from a barrel marked “Bones ‘n’ Thangs” while I enjoyed a plate of deliciously moist smoked salmon and some of the best cornbread around. Owner Tony Laquinta explains, “I just love dogs, but I can’t have one at my condo, so this is how I can enjoy them. In fact,” he adds with a grin, “the dogs here sometimes behave better than the people!” Bull’s has become a regular hangout for its dog-loving neighbors, and the patio is often packed, especially every six weeks or so when the restaurant holds a “Darling Dog” contest, with canine winners receiving gift baskets, and their owners scoring Bull’s Smokin’ BBQ gift certificates.

In Del Mar, PrepKitchen general manager Peter Mrvos always sees to it that the bowl of dried chicken treats at the hostess stand is well-stocked. “I tell people walking by with their dogs to just help themselves. We love having dogs join us on the patio”, he says, “and if I notice that customers have left their dog in the car, I really encourage them to bring them in.” On a balmy day last week, Sophie and I met my friend Tena and her French bulldog, Fiona, for a leisurely lunch at the casually gourmet restaurant. The dogs munched chicken treats and basked in all the attention lavished on them by the staff, while Tena and I relished such delectables as Warm White Bean and Arugula Salad and house-made Butternut Squash Ravioli.

Dogs rule the sunny patio at Shades Oceanfront Bistro in Ocean Beach, where Sophie hangs out with Nilla, the Bernese mountain dog, and Bean, the cocker spaniel, who personally greet all their pet pals and highly recommend the Fido Menu. This month, as part of the “Date Your Dog” promotion, pooches with (or without!) discerning palates can order human-grade food, prepared especially for them, with no seasoning or preservatives, for only $3.95 with any “people meal” item. Choices include diced boneless center-cut pork chop, grilled chicken breast, or thinly sliced chopped lean roast beef. “We started ‘Date Your Dog’ as a reaction to Valentine’s Day, but it’s already proven so popular, that we’ll probably continue it,” says owner Michelle Levitt, Nilla and Bean’s “mom”. “Really, who loves you more than your dog?” she smiles, “so why not take Fido out for a good meal in an atmosphere you can both enjoy?”

Pampered pooch parents can also order “Delectable Doggie Delights” for their fur buddies at Pacific Coast Grill in Solana Beach, including doggie burgers, turkey burgers, char-broiled chicken and rice, or filet of beef, for prices ranging from $5-10. All dogs get a complimentary bowl of water and munchy treat.

Valentine's Day hint to men: want to know a great way to meet women in a comfortable, social atmosphere, where a conversation is just a dog-pat away? Accompany your dog to any of the regularly scheduled "Yappy Hours" held at such places as the Hotel Indigo (sponsored by City Dog), Sally's Seafood on the Water, or La Jolla Brewhouse, who will be hosting a special Valentine's Day "Smooches & Pooches" event benefitting the Southern California German Shepherd Rescue on February 12, with Canine Cuisine, raffles, and food and beverage specials.