The Little Caboose That Could — Dad’s Luncheonette

Hamburger Sandwich (top), and Mushroom Sandwich (bottom), at Dad's Luncheonette.
Hamburger Sandwich (top), and Mushroom Sandwich (bottom), at Dad’s Luncheonette.

It may be a train to nowhere, but it’s guaranteed to take your taste buds on a satisfying ride.

Dad’s Luncheonette opened two years ago in a historic caboose permanently parked on the edge of a shopping center in Half Moon Bay. Ever since then, it’s been drawing hordes to this unassuming spot.

After all, it’s not every day that a chef whose resume includes stints at uber upscale, Michelin three-starred Benu and Saison, decides to set up shop in such unusual and cramped quarters, all of 250 square feet.

Permanently parked on the side of Highway 1 in Half Moon Bay.
Permanently parked on the side of Highway 1 in Half Moon Bay.

But Chef Scott Clark and girlfriend Alexis Liu, owner of San Francisco’s Beacon Coffee & Pantry, were after a less hectic life after the birth of their daughter. When they spied the old caboose, it was love at first sight.

They financed it all themselves, putting in all the elbow grease to repaint the outside, tent the limited seating and install a heater to keep things cozy on those foggy coastal days.

It’s a compact menu. On weekends, there are additional specials, such as smoked pork belly, fried chicken and even udon bowls with homemade noodles.

My husband and I trekked there on a lazy Friday afternoon, paying our own tab at the end. You order at the counter, and wait for your name to be called to pick up your order. Tap water is available from a garden-like spigot cleverly built into the counter.

You’ll be asked if you want your sandwiches cut in half. Do say “yes,” because they will definitely be easier to eat — and share — that way.

The Hamburger Sandwich ($12) is like those diner classics of yesteryear — made anew again. It’s not a groaning modern burger stacked high on a potato or pretzel bun, but a grassfed beef patty crowned with pickles, red onion, melted cheese, “Dad’s Sauce,” and an organic farm egg, all tucked in between tender grilled white bread. The patty is juicy and deeply beefy tasting. It’s the runny yolk that ties it all together, saucing everything in a golden orange richness.

The Mushroom Sandwich ($12) is a similar affair, but with a big maitake mushroom in place of the beef patty. It’s earthy, smoky and so “meaty” in taste and heft, that it will satisfy carnivores and vegetarians alike.

These are sandwiches that evoke nostalgia and pure comfort.

The Homemade Potato Chips ($3.75) are crisp, delicate, and paper thin, so much so that they are prone to crumbling easily. So don’t be surprised if your bag has a lot of little pieces in it.

Home-made potato chips, "Today's Soup,'' and "Today's Sweet.''
Home-made potato chips, “Today’s Soup,” and “Today’s Sweet.”

“Today’s Soup” ($6.50) was “Smoked Mushroom & Pea.” I was expecting a pureed mushroom soup, as so many versions are. What I got was a pleasant surprise — a chunky soup brimming with maitakes, charred snap peas, and carrots in a flavorful broth that took on the lovely smokiness from the mushrooms. Each serving gets finished with a handful of fresh spinach leaves on top, so they don’t get cooked to smithereens otherwise but still maintain their vibrant minerality. This soup — with a wedge of artisan bread — would be my ideal lunch any day of the week.

Chock-full of mushrooms, snap peas and carrots.
Chock-full of mushrooms, snap peas and carrots.

“Today’s Sweet” ($6.50) was a deconstructed key lime pie with plenty of sharp citrus flavor. The bits of crumbled “crust” were crunchy, sweet and had just a hint of salt for balance.

Dad’s Luncheonette is a unique sweetheart of a place you can’t help but fall in love with.

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