The latest addition to my Not-So-Secret Shopper series throws us back about twenty five years to my toddler years. Although I have very few memories of my biological father, one memory I do have is crying my eyes out at a hot dog train. Fast forward to earlier this year, and when thinking about what I wanted to check out when I finally relocated to California, Carney’s Restaurant came to mind.
My friend, Holden, researched this memory for me and discovered that Carney’s was actually founded by a guy with the same name as me: John Wolfe. Granted, his last name has an ‘e’, and mine doesn’t, but it was still a pretty interesting coincidence. Naturally, I became insistent that this would be one of my first stops.
After explaining to my aunt that this was a place I wanted to visit, we made a trip down to LA. Although the exterior is not how I remember it (granted, I was two or three, so memory cannot be relied upon), the interior seemed to be exactly the same. Looking at the menu, they sold both hot dogs and burgers. Given how long it had been, I decided to go for both.
The atmosphere was incredibly lackluster given its highly original theme of being a hot dog train. Plain white walls, cheap looking tables. The people were not exactly the friendliest, but I’m from the south and therefore have a different standard than most Californians when it relates to customer service. The restroom was also confusing to find and not exactly the cleanest, though far from some of the shitty vandalized bathrooms so common throughout SoCal.
The food was not great. Don’t get me wrong, it was far from inedible. But one could easily reproduce the food that is made at this restaurant at home and pay far less, although the prices were completely fair. In fact, I was actually quite disappointed. I did not come into the restaurant with any preconceptions of the food: after all, it had been 25 years, and this was more about trying to reconnect to a lost childhood than anything. But would I eat here again? Probably not.
In trying to come up with a fair rating for this business, I look at the pros and cons. When deciding on a place to eat, I can sacrifice a lot if the food is great, or I can sacrifice good food if everything else is great. But this location does not satisfy either requirement. Once you get over the spectacle of the exterior, everything else is just common. If anything, the whole train exterior theme may actually set too high of an expectation and cause for even greater disappointment. Perhaps it’s just nostalgia that causes most to visit, but if you’ve never been, it may not be the best place to eat unless you’re looking to spend a low amount of money.
Official Rating: If You Have To…