With burgers, as in life, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

The Happy Hound, the Los Gatos landmark that has been serving up hamburgers and hot dogs since the days of bell bottoms and eight tracks, closed for three months earlier this year after an electrical fire. It reopened this month with a new interior but the same classic menu.

The basic hot dog, the Happy Hound ($3.25), is long, skinny and has just the slightest snap when you bite into it. It has a very mild flavor and comes in an unremarkable bun. It's basically a blank canvas for condiments, but because the flavor of the dog is so mild, it can easily get overwhelmed.

The Polish Hound ($4.75) is something else altogether.

Burgers are a big thing at the venerable Happy Hound in Los Gatos.Photo: Jason Bennert
Burgers are a big thing at the venerable Happy Hound in Los Gatos. Photo: Jason Bennert ( Jason Bennert )

It's a Polish sausage that is split lengthwise and grilled, and then placed inside a grilled French roll. The sausage has definite garlic and pepper flavors, and the grilling really brings out its smokiness. The roll is perfectly grilled to give it a crust with a slight crunch when you first bite into it, but it is still soft inside.

The real standout at The Happy Hound is the Happy Burger ($4.99). It is a big burger. They say it's a third of a pound, but it looks and feels like more. It is grilled just perfectly for my taste every time, cooked through but still pink inside. And there's just enough grease dripping onto the wrapper when you bite into it to let you know you're eating a made-to-order burger and not something that's been in a warmer.

It comes with iceberg lettuce, thick slices of tomato and red onion, a couple of pickle slices and special sauce (Thousand Island). I like to add on bacon ($1.35), which The Happy Hound is liberal with, and cheese (95 cents).

Another area where The Happy Hound is quite generous is with its fries. The small order ($1.39) contains enough matchstick fries for my wife and me to share with no fights over who gets the last few. The family size ($6.90) should really be called the soccer team size, because it is 2 pounds of the golden brown, slightly salty fries with the crisp exterior and fluffy interior.

The Happy Hound also shines with their too-thick-for-a-straw milkshakes ($3.24 for a small) made with soft serve ice cream. They do the basics well -- chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, but where they shine is in their other flavors, including boysenberry, root beer, banana, coffee and pumpkin.

Every order at The Happy Hound is made fresh in an open kitchen that's not much bigger than a bathtub. If you can snag one of the precious counter seats, I recommend you settle in and watch the people working performing "pas de deux" around a deep fryer.

The Happy Hound is always busy, with lines often stretching out the door, though the line at the outside window is usually shorter. That leads to the one real problem with the place: parking. There really isn't any.

So you either have to park on busy Los Gatos Boulevard and walk a little way or risk parking in the surrounding neighborhood, which might displease the residents.

But wherever you end up, parking won't matter once you get close to The Happy Hound and get that first whiff of the smoky goodness on their grill.

The Happy Hound

15899 Los Gatos Blvd.,
Los Gatos
408-358-2444

Hours: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Types of food: Burgers and hot dogs.
Average meal price: Around $10 including fries and soda.
Good choices: Happy Burger and the Polish Hound.
Attitude: Very friendly but busy, busy, busy.
Amenities: An outside
walk-up window
Vegetarian options: It's not a vegetarian kind of place, but they do have a salad on the menu.
Drinks: Soft drinks and eight different milkshakes.
Eat in car: Absolutely.
Next-day edibility: Naw.
Who goes there:
Generations of Los Gatos residents
Credit cards: All major ones
Parking: The Hound's Achilles' heel: There's no parking, and the neighbors get cranky if you park in front of their yard.

Restaurant reviews are
conducted anonymously.
The Mercury News pays for all meals.