Bernal Heights Once Had Its Very Own Doggie Diner, and It Looked Fabulous


Doggie Diner was a chain of fast food restaurants scattered around the Bay Area. The franchise enjoyed its heyday during a mid-1960s expansion, during which it installed rotating doggie-head mascots above each of its 30 or so restaurants. The doggie-heads became iconic in San Francisco, even after the Doggie Diner chain shut down for good in 1986.

The restaurants are gone, but a few of the giant fiberglass doggie mascots remain. There’s a lonely, restored one on a pole in the Sunset near the zoo, and there are three happy doggy diner heads mounted on a trailer that are often seen parked outside strange subculture spectacles around town:


But did you know that Bernal Heights once had its very own Doggie Diner? With its very own fiberglass doggie diner head? With its very own polkadot bow tie and chef’s hat?

We did. Our Doggie Diner stood at 3100 Mission, at the southwest corner of Army (Cesar Chavez). Here’s a zoom and enhance of the image from 1975 shown up above:


Here’s a closeup of Bernal’s Doggie as it looked in 1981:


Frankly, that just looks ridiculously awesome.

In fact, it’s so great that Bernal native and t-shirt design celebrity Amos Goldbaum gave the Bernal Doggie a cameo in his sexy new Bernal Hill shirt graphic:


Even better, Neighbor Amos also immortalized Bernal’s Lost Doggie Head in a special tribute illustration, which we are very pleased to debut for all Citizen of Bernalwood here:


PHOTOS: Top, Doggie Diner 1975 via Amos Goldblum. Middle: Doggies on trailer by Tony Huerta. Doggie Diner 1981 via Jim Hair

27 thoughts on “Bernal Heights Once Had Its Very Own Doggie Diner, and It Looked Fabulous

  1. My favorite part of this post is learning (from the first photo) that there was a brand of bourbon called “Old Grand-dad”

    • Was?? Still is my mom’s favorite to this very day. Not as easy to find as it once was, but it is still out there. Cheers!

  2. Doggie Diner FTW! Thanks for the great post. Did I miss when it was removed? Seems funny that the one I remember was across from the zoo and not a stone’s throw from where I grew up, but something tells me that had to do with the zoo. 🙂

  3. My father used to work the night shift, so one summer night, when I was about 12, he brought home hamburgers, fries and cokes from Doggie Diner at 2:30 in the morning. We rarely ate fast food in those days, so it was a big treat. As this was before vcr’s, if we wanted to see an old movie, we had to get up in the wee hours of morning and watch Movies ‘Til Dawn on Channel 36.

  4. There is a great shot of this diner in the Walter Matthau movie “The Laughing Policeman”

  5. Grew up in Bernal Heights, so I totally remember that Doggie Diner. Was a treat for my brother and I to be taken there – we loved it! There was also the one on Mission & Persia, which was down the block from my Grandmother’s house, where we’d go after seeing a matinee at the Granada Theater. And, the zoo and the Diner on Sloat went hand in hand. I love seeing the “dogs” – they bring back all of those memories. Thanks for the sharing the photo!

  6. Doggie Diner was started by a family friend, Al Ross. It was really one of the very first fast food restaurants, begun in 1949 in a wedge-shaped storefront at 19th & San Pablo in Oakland. Al saw a lot of late shift sailors hanging around downtown Oakland late at night, so he figured they’d want to eat. All Doggie Diners were 24-hours.

    Al prided himself on quality food. His mottoes were: “There is nothing finer than the Doggie Diner” and “We compete in quality, not price”. It was true. Their pastrami was excellent, their milkshakes and fries couldn’t be beat, and of course, their hot dogs were legendary. He’d make a big deal of buying the winning cow at the livestock show at the Cow Palace each year and have the cow butchered to make hot dogs. I don’t believe he ever used pork in his hot dogs.

    Al decided to retire and sold his chain (they were all owned by him, they were NOT franchises!) to an institutional restaurant company which had designs on expanding the chain, but through a number of missteps and mismanagement, the company went bankrupt. After the bankruptcy, Al said he wished they’d listened to his advice on how to run the company and that he was sad to lose his legacy.

    The 3 Doggie Diner heads on the trailer belong to John Law, founder of the Cacophony Society, and co-founder of Burning Man, etc. He acquired one and then people began to tell him where he could find others. Not all Doggie Diners had the heads. Also, while the diner was founded in 1949, the original logo was an exapanding/shrinking wiener dog neon sign. The rotating heads didn’t debut until the mid-60s.

    John Law’s doggie heads are now wrapped in colorful crocheted covers. When not on tour, they reside on Treasure Island.

    • Fascinating! Your post also explains why my Dad would forgo a burger for the hot dogs. While the rest of us feasted on the burgers, he always ordered a dog. Never made sense to me, as the burgers were so delicious. A dog was a dog, as far as I was concerned. Little did I know!

    • In 1970, I bought a house at 36 Elsie, 2nd street from the top, facing directly toward Twin Peaks. The lady in the house directly below mine had been born and lived in her house since the late 1890s. She claimed the entire hill was once known as “Nanny Goat Hill” and was owned by a retired military man, Colonel Bernal, who raised goats as his passion. She also stated that the Colonel willed the land to the city, stipulating that space at the top must remain undeveloped forever. I’ve never checked the truth, because it was such a good story…..She also said that during the ’07 Quake, since the entire hill was granite, the only damage to her house was that a few of her mother;s china plates shook off the shelf and broke. Again, such a good story that I never checked whether it was possibly true.

    • Bernal Heights starts at Cesar Chavez up and over the hill down to Alemany between Bayshore and Mission.

      • Sorry, but you’re wrong. So many people get this wrong. The western boundary of Bernal Heights is not Mission Street. It’s “San Jose Road”, aka “Old San Jose Road” or “San Jose Avenue” today. Here’s one of many historic maps that shows the true boundaries.

        The northern boundary was really Serpentine Avenue, but since that no longer exists (except for a part of a block next to the Palace Steak House), the northern boundary today is considered Cesar Chavez.

  7. San Francisco hates chain stores, apart from the chain stores it fondly remembers for their terrible food. Sort of like how we hate non-indiginous species of trees while planting Canary Island palms. Or how we care so much about the homeless that we refuse to build any homes of any kind for anyone. Or how Transit First and Muni co-exist.

  8. Yes.

    The building next to it was indeed a “Sears.” I use to go there with my mother and my father as a boy to purchase clothing and shoes for school. On the way out, we would stop next door at the iconic Doggie Diner to eat one of the greasiest burgers anyone could find on the planet at a bargain price of $1.25 for the works!

  9. My father used to take me there on Saturdays if I was out helping him maintain apartment buildings. The food was good enough that I looked forward to going there. Glad they kept a head alive on Sloat.

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