The bar area was standing room only. Half the patio seats were filled on a brisk Wednesday night. And the friendly hostess informed walk-up patrons that the wait time would be 40 to 50 minutes.

Two couples and one family walked out. Everyone else stayed.

Consider that evidence of just how successful Lazy Dog has become since opening this fall in Concord's Willows Shopping Center.

With a dozen restaurants in Southern California, Lazy Dog has a well-established reputation for its comfort food, homemade dressings and dipping sauces, jampacked beverage menu and zany name. It's formulaic and a magnet for crowds, a lot like Cheesecake Factory, except with reasonable portion sizes and a far more cozy atmosphere.

Artwork decorated with license plates from across the United States decorates the dinning area of the Lazy Dog restaurant in Concord, Calif. on Monday,
Artwork decorated with license plates from across the United States decorates the dinning area of the Lazy Dog restaurant in Concord, Calif. on Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) (JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO)

You feel as if you're stepping into a mountain chalet: Tree branch installations hang from the entryway and behind the hostess station; wood beams accent the ceiling; stone work flanks walls and columns; flames crackle in the dining room's stone fireplace; and two giant metal dog sculptures stand guard over diners. On the wall above the kitchen, the bold words "Sit. Stay. Eat. Play." sum up the simple expectation for those who visit.

In a sense, it's the story of Lazy Dog. Founder Chris Simms was inspired during a ski trip to Jackson Hole, Wyo. After a day spent on the slopes, he noticed a dog resting by the fireplace at his lodge. He wanted everyone to "enjoy life as much as that 'lazy dog' by the fire."

If you can bear the wait -- or have the foresight to call ahead for a table -- Lazy Dog is well suited for at least a few hours of enjoyment.

Sip a cocktail or sample one of their craft beers while perusing a menu stuffed with everything from pasta and brick-oven pizza to hamburgers and wok-fried dishes.

Sundried tomato pesto penne served at the Lazy Dog restaurant in Concord, Calif. on Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Sundried tomato pesto penne served at the Lazy Dog restaurant in Concord, Calif. on Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) (JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO)

Cajun fries ($4.95) are a popular starter, crisped in Cajun seasonings and served with chipotle ranch sauce that packs just the right amount of heat. For a lighter, fresher taste, the chicken lettuce cups ($9.50) are an ideal size for sharing and feature a delicious blend of chicken, crushed peanuts, water chestnuts and onion with a side of lettuce and sesame-soy sauce with a subtle hoisin-style accent.

Sitting on a path from the kitchen offered up a steady view of seemingly endless dishes, which made selecting an entree all the more difficult.

The Hawaiian sticky ribs ($14.95) with fries drizzled in umami sauce and an Asian slaw were too visually appealing to pass up. The flash-frying of the ribs made them almost too crisp, but the sweetness of the Hawaiian BBQ sauce kept the meat from tasting dry. The fries with savory umami gave the dish a nice balance of tastes, but the slaw was too bland.

While our server brought moist towelettes after the lettuce cups, we had to request them -- and then wait almost 10 minutes -- after the ribs, which clearly called for extra cleanup.

The sun-dried tomato pesto penne ($12.95) was a bigger hit with chicken, mushrooms, broccoli and onions. A delicate but slightly tangy cream sauce blended sun-dried tomatoes and walnuts, complemented by a drizzle of pesto that made this dish pop with flavor.

The portion sizes are filling but not overwhelming, which was a relief, considering how the dessert menu beckons here.

Kahlua and coffee creme brulee sounded good, so did the homemade butter cake with strawberry compote, but the photo next to the white chocolate chip brownie ($4.95) sold me instantly. And the real deal surpassed the picture tenfold. White and semisweet chocolate chips melted exquisitely in a warm, moist brownie, set atop chocolate fudge and adorned with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream. We finished every last bite.

That dessert, and the overall dining experience, was the kind of enjoyment that I could easily get used to.

White chocolate brownie served at the Lazy Dog restaurant in Concord, Calif. on Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
White chocolate brownie served at the Lazy Dog restaurant in Concord, Calif. on Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) (JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO)

Lazy Dog

* * *

WHERE: 1961 Diamond Blvd., Concord
CONTACT: 925-849-1221; www.lazydogrestaurants.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to midnight Mondays through Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to midnight Sundays
CUISINE: American
PRICES: $$
VEGETARIAN: Choices include tofu and vegetable stir-fry, fettuccine Alfredo, pizzas and grilled cheese.
BEVERAGES: Full bar with domestic, international and craft beers; wine and cocktails, including mojitos, margaritas, martinis and sangria. Craft beer and wine samplers available.
RESERVATIONS: No, but you can call ahead.
NOISE LEVEL: High
PARKING: Shopping center parking lot
KIDS: Children's menu
available
PLUSES: Menu options to satisfy every eater, best bar menu around, cozy ambience (even with a crowd) and killer desserts.
MINUSES: Long waits for walk-ins and a few hiccups with service.
DATE OPENED: November

Policy

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Ratings

Restaurants are rated on a scale of one to four, with four representing a truly extraordinary experience for that type of restaurant.

Price code

$ Most entrees under $10
$$ Most entrees under $20
$$$ Most entrees under $30
$$$$ Most entrees under $40