America’s 35 Best Hot Dogs

We searched hot dog stands high and low to track down the country’s top wiener

flickr/ Ralph Hockens
Gray's Papaya in New York City serves about as classic a hot dog as you'll find.

The hot dog is one of the few foods that’s nearly impossible to screw up. You heat it through, tuck it into a bun, squirt on some mustard, and call it lunch. But there’s a big difference between not screwing something up and turning it into a paradigm-shifting, transcendental dining experience. And there are lots of hot dog stands, restaurants, and drive-ins out there that have the power to change your life.

Click Here for the America’s 35 Best Hot Dogs Slideshow

The perennial grill mate to hamburgers, the hot dog sometimes gets the short end of the stick, charring at the back of the grill while juicy burgers are snatched up as soon as they hit the right temperature. But there’s a science, if not an art form, behind constructing the perfect hot-dog-eating experience.

That experience was introduced more than 100 years ago, when German immigrants first brought over their frankfurters and started selling them on the cheap at amusement centers like Coney Island, arguably ground zero for American hot dog consumption. Charles Feltman is widely considered to be the first person to have applied hot dog to bun, in order to avoid needing to supply plates and silverware to customers at his sprawling Coney Island restaurant. Employee Nathan Handwerker opened his own hot dog stand a few blocks away in 1916 and sold them for less than Feltman, and became wildly popular (and remains so to this day).

The hot dog diaspora then began to take on a life of its own, as people began developing their own spice mixes and making their own hot dogs, and every region and group of people soon put its unique stamp on the snack. Greek immigrants in Michigan concocted a cinnamon-rich beef chili that came to be known as Coney sauce, but it has nothing to do with Coney Island, while ‘michigans’ are big in Upstate New York but have nothing to do with the state. In Chicago they top all-beef dogs with mustard, fresh tomatoes, onions, sport peppers, bright green relish, dill pickles, and celery salt. Spicy Texas Red Hots are popular in New Jersey, but not in Texas, and the uncured, unsmoked White Hot is popular in upstate New York. And the regional variations go on and on.

According to a recent study by GrubHub, the country’s most popular hot dog topping is cheese, followed by chili, mustard, onion, and Chicago-style. Ketchup is further down on the list, and, surprisingly, sauerkraut is down towards the bottom.  

On our quest to find America’s best hot dogs, we kept an eye out for drive-ins, restaurants, and roadside stands with a definitive style of hot dog and topping, one which embodies not only the region’s quirks but the particular tastes and culinary traditions of its people. We judged these hot dogs based on several criteria: the quality of the ingredients (sourcing the franks from well-known regional producers and using fresh-chopped onions, for example), the entire hot dog-eating experience, from driving up to placing your order to taking that first bite, as well as reputation among professional critics and online reviewers.

In order to be included in our list, the vendor needed to have a trademark dog, with toppings that are unique and renowned. For example, Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C. doesn’t just have a trademark frank (the half-smoke), it has a trademark topping (chili), is well-regarded by locals and professional eaters alike, and eating there is a memorable experience unto itself. For those reasons, it’s high on our list. 

Sadly, there were some popular favorites that didn’t make the cut. While Lafayette Coney Island in Detroit ranks high, its modernized neighbor, American Coney Island, didn’t, because it lost much of its charm in the renovation. And while the pretzel dog at chain Auntie Anne’s has its loyal devotees, the experience isn’t exactly sublime.

Our list runs the gamut from ancient stands that have been serving the same exact product day in and day out for decades to gastropubs putting their unique stamp on the hot dog to a place where people wait in line for more than an hour for one topped with foie gras. There’s one constant thread between them, though: they’re the country’s best.

Did we miss your favorite hot dog joint? Tell us in comments!

#35: Gray’s Papaya, New York City: New York-Style
#34: Bob's Drive Inn, Le Mars, Iowa: Bob Dog
#33: Good Dog, Houston: Ol’ Zapata Dog
#32: Memphis Taproom Beer Garden, Philadelphia: The Polser
#31: Gus's, Birmingham, Ala.: Greek Dog
#30: Simone’s Hot Dog Stand, Lewiston, Maine: Red Snapper
#29: Coney I-Lander, Tulsa, Okla.: Coney
#28: Nathan’s Famous, Coney Island, N.Y.: Mustard and Sauerkraut
#27: Wiener’s Circle, Chicago: Double Chardog
#26: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles: Dodger Dog with Mustard, Ketchup, Onions, and Relish
#25: Martinsville Speedway, Ridgeway, Va.: Chili Dog
#24: Coney Island Lunch, Scranton, Pa.: Texas Wiener
#23: Clare & Carl's, Plattsburgh, N.Y.: Michigan Hot Dog
#22: Boston Super Dog, Roxbury, Mass.: Loaded
#21: Blue Ash Chili, Cincinnati: Cheese Coney
#20: Shake Shack, Multiple Locations: Shack-cago Dog
#19: El Guero Canelo, Tucson, Ariz.: Sonoran Dog
#18: Gene and Jude’s, Chicago: Hot Dog with Fries
#17: Bark Hot Dogs, Brooklyn, N.Y.: Bacon Cheddar Dog
#16: Pink’s, Los Angeles: Three Dog Night
#15: Walter's, Mamaroneck, N.Y.: With Homemade Mustard
#14: J. S. Pulliam Barbecue, Winston-Salem, N.C.: Chili Slaw Dog
#13: Senate Restaurant, Cincinnati: Croque Madame
#12: Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington, D.C.: The Half-Smoke
#11: Lafayette Coney Island, Detroit: Coney
#10: Dew Drop Inn, Mobile, Ala.: Dew Drop Dog
#9: Flo's, Cape Neddick, Maine: Hot Dog with Mayo, Celery Salt, Relish
#8: Katz’s Deli, New York City: Mustard and Sauerkraut
#7: Rawley’s Drive-In, Fairfield, Conn.: "The Works"
#6: Superdawg, Chicago: Superdawg
#5: Olneyville N.Y. System, North Providence, R.I.: NY System Dog
#4: Schaller’s Drive-In, Rochester, N.Y.: Meat Sauce, Mustard, Onions
#3: Hot Doug’s, Chicago: Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage
#2: Rutt’s Hut, Clifton, N.J.: The Ripper with Relish
#1: Fat Johnnie’s Famous Red Hots, Chicago: Mighty Dog

Dan Myers is the Eat/Dine Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @sirmyersAdditional reporting by Arthur Bovino, Colman Andrews, and Tyler Sullivan.


Be a Part of the Conversation

Have something to say?
Add a comment (or see what others think).

Comments 26
2.73684
Ratings114


Like this story? Get updates by email, facebook and twitter
Get daily food and wine coverage


Latest from The Daily Meal

The Daily Meal Video Network
Eat Like NBA Star Tim Duncan

26 Comments

tdm-35-icon.png

jjs in Newark,nj best ever!!!!!!!!!!!

tdm-35-icon.png

What about The Hot Grill in Clifton, NJ? I could go for 5 all the way. Sucks living 2.5 hours away.

tdm-35-icon.png

Retarded that Gray's Papaya, the IMITATION of Papaya King is listed and the world's best tasting hotdog from Papaya King is omitted. MORONS!

tdm-35-icon.png

Should check-out Destination Dogs in New Brunswick, NJ. Awesome place!!! Ask for the Big Mac dog!!!

tdm-35-icon.png

This list is utterly meaningless without Crif Dogs. For Shame.

tdm-35-icon.png

HillBilly Hot Dogs are the best! Get the 15" long Home Wrecker.

http://www.hillbillyhotdogs.com/homewrecker.php

tdm-35-icon.png

You know what? You guys are absolute ASSHOLES for leaving off American Coney in Detroit. This WHOLE LIST is faulty JUST FOR THAT? No American? Shut up. Just shut your stoopid faces.

tdm-35-icon.png

Nick Tahoe's in Rochester NY with meat sauce , onions and mustard. Schaller's meat sauce is a poor second or third.

tdm-35-icon.png

PUSH THE ENVELOPE

tdm-35-icon.png

Ted's in Buffalo. Custom cooked over real charcoal. Never found anything better!

tdm-35-icon.png

Martinsville Soeedway hotdogs hands down!!!! More are eaten in one day than in a year at the other "good" places.

tdm-35-icon.png

Toufies' in Roxboro, NC!
Been there for decades. And the Beef Stew is a Classic too!

tdm-35-icon.png

Hot Dog Johnnies, Buttzville, NJ

tdm-35-icon.png

Hot Dog Johnnies, buttzville, nj

tdm-35-icon.png

Ruts hut if you go get a ripper dog. Cheese burger dipped in gravy and fries with gravy and a tap miller. Been my order for 40 years. And a dog to go for the ride home.

tdm-35-icon.png

Bill's Hot Dogs in Ypsilanti, MI

tdm-35-icon.png

Rutts Rules!!!! I have eaten there for over 50 years!!!!

tdm-35-icon.png

Mr. Mac's Canteen in Milford, CT

tdm-35-icon.png

Rawley's serves the best hot dog with "the works" in the world.

tdm-35-icon.png

Seriously? Not having The Varsity on here discredits the entire list!!

tdm-35-icon.png

Yeah Rutts! Go Gus!

tdm-35-icon.png

Hey Dan! I'd like to invite you to check out www.jjsredhots.com in Charlotte, NC. Originally from Buffalo, Owner Jon Luther brought Sahlen's hot dogs to the south! Email us if interested...Brandy Newton at bnewton@jjsredhots.com

thanks!

tdm-35-icon.png

Sorry, but with Rutt's in #2 (THEY DON'T EVEN HAVE ALL THE WAY SAUCE!!) and no mention of Libby's Lunch or Johnny and Hange's in Patterson or Famous Lunch in Troy NY, I am highly suspicious of this list...

tdm-35-icon.png

Maui Dogs in North Wildwood NJ- Drunken Horsey

tdm-35-icon.png

Dat Dog in New Orleans deserves a spot on this list!! http://datdognola.com/menu/

tdm-35-icon.png

Be the first to Comment...

Add a Comment

Upload a picture of yourself no larger than 3MB, please see Terms for details
CAPTCHA
Please answer this Captcha to prove you are human
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
CAPTCHA
Please answer this Captcha to prove you are human