America’s 50 Best Hot Dogs

These are the country’s top tube steaks

Senate Restaurant serves some of the best hot dogs in America.
Senate
One of America's best hot dogs is the Croque Madame dog served at at Cincinnati's Senate Restaurant: a béchamel-slathered dog, topped with Black Forest ham and a poached egg, in a toasted brioche bun.

The hot dog is one of those foods that’s nearly impossible to screw up. You heat it through, plop it on a bun, squirt on some mustard, and call it dinner. 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 dogs out there that have the power to change your life.

America’s 50 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 places like Coney Island’s Nathan's, arguably ground zero for American hot dog consumption. But then something interesting happened. People began developing their own spice mixes and making their own hot dogs, and every region and group of people put its unique stamp on the snack. 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, while 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. The uncured, unsmoked White Hot is popular in upstate New York. And the regional variations go on and on.

On our quest to find America’s best hot dogs, we kept an eye out for places with a definitive style of hot dog, one which embodies not only the region’s quirks but the particular tastes and culinary traditions of its people. We also made sure to take into account online reviews from locals as well as the dog's overall reputation among those in-the-know, and the quality of the ingredients, namely sourcing the franks from well-known local producers, was also important. These hot dogs aren’t being eaten in a void, either, so we took into account the entire experience, from driving up to the restaurant or stand to placing your order to taking that first bite.

We sorted through dozens of hot dog stands and restaurants in search of the best in America. In order to be included, the vendor needed to have a trademark dog, with toppings that add a certain extra something. 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 renowned institutions that didn’t make the cut. While the original Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island very well might be the most well-known hot dog stand in America, it didn’t make our cut because the buns have been stale every time we’ve eaten there and it’s sadly resting on its laurels at this point (even though the fries are admittedly delicious). 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.

50) Gray’s Papaya, New York City: New York-Style
Gray's Papaya serves one of America's best hot dogs.
The classic New York hot dog comes in many forms, but they’re almost always made by one company: Sabrett. Gray’s Papaya is now down to just one New York location, on the Upper West Side, and this colorful purveyor of old-school New York character grills their natural-casing Sabrett dogs on a flat top, nestles them inside a lightly toasted bun, and tops them with mustard, sauerkraut, or the classic "onions in sauce," also made by Sabrett. Lean up against the ledge, wash down a couple with some papaya drink, and be on your merry way, full, content, and out only a few bucks. 

49) Moe’s Hot Dog House, Philadelphia: Moe’s Dog
Moe's Hot Dog House serves one of America's best hot dogs.
At this South Philly gem, hot dogs are “done juuuust right!,” according to the motto on the creative and ample menu. At Moe’s hot dogs are all-beef variations produced by Levis (established locally in 1895), and they’re joined on the menu by some outstanding breakfast sandwiches, hand-carved roast beef, and classic Philly fare including cheese steaks, scrapple, and pork rolls. They’ll deep-fry your dog if you ask (to three degrees of doneness), and their corn dog is awesome, but the quality of the dog is so high that you should just go with the standard griddled dog. A kosher hot dog’s best friends are sauerkraut and spicy mustard, and the folks behind Moe’s know that: they’ve made that style their flagship offering, called the Moe’s Dog. Save the one topped with macaroni and cheese for your second visit.

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


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25 Comments

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What about Tony Packo's in Toledo, Ohio??? What would Corporal Max Klinger say?!?!?!?

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Simple but elegant. Red hot fried in lard topped with secret white bean chili sauce, mustard and onion. People line up for 'em.
<a href="https://www.facebook.com/billshotdog" title="https://www.facebook.com/billshotdog">https://www.facebook.com/billshotdog</a>

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You guys need to get more into the heartland.. I agree with an earlier comment.. Not ONE mention of any hot dog place in St. Louis, MO.. but you have one from RI? Seriously?!? Woofies in St. Louis should be listed here. And for those of us in sunny Colorado, its crazy you didn't list Snappin Steve's on Colfax in Denver. Its an institution here.

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Clays Curbside in North Kansas City, Missouri. Rueben Dog.

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No list of the best hot dogs is complete without including Woofies in St Louis, MO. "Serving the hot dog with dignity" for over 40 yrs, Woofies is an institution in STL.

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This list is incomplete without a shout-out to Puka Dogs - Hawaiian style hot dogs in Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii. These dogs are ONO !!!!!

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J

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Anyone in the Spokane WA/Couer D Alene ID area owe it to yourselves to have a Chicago dog at Joey T's, in Rathdrum. Joey actually operates out of the local grocery store, but has AWESOME dogs. "The Heater" is my personal favorite, but he doesn't have any bad dogs. And the fries with the dogs are fantastic!

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Sheetz hotdogs (made to order)... Have to stop and pick up a dozen every time I travel through Pennsylvania

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The Varsity Chili Slaw Dog in Atlanta.

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Any hot dog with New York's Finest Meat Hot Sauce on it, is amazing! Check them out, you can now buy online! <a href="http://www.newyorksfinesthotsauce.com" title="www.newyorksfinesthotsauce.com">www.newyorksfinesthotsauce.com</a>

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What about Mels in Tampa, FL should be on the list

dbruce65's picture

When you are checking out the Dogs in the Midwest - please check out B & B Classic Dogs in Bellevue, NE!! Sizes range from a slider to 2 ft - choices in include Peanut Butter Bacon, Mac & Cheese & Bacon and a BBQ Smoked Hot Dog we call the DERF Dog--- This place will make the list next year!!!

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Fabs in Reseda California has a great hot dog, but personally I will take a Sabrett off a push cart any day.

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Weak!

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I don't care how you cook it or how you dress it up, if it's not a Smith's hot dog made in Erie, PA, all else isn't important!!!

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Wasse's Hots, coastal Maine.

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This list is ehh.... The Hot Dog Shoppe in Warren, Ohio is killer been there like 60 years or something. Is that place on the list nope not at all. But places that have been open a fraction of the time are on this list! What a joke!!!!

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Skeenies of WV has good hot dogs, but you should've went just a couple more miles out the road to Buddy B's Market. People choose them over Skeenies these days. The owners have a hard time keeping up with the demand for them and their homemade chili and slaw at times. All the organizations, churches and schools around buy it to use for fundraisers and concession stands. They were even voted best hotdog in WV once and didn't even know they were up for it until they let them know they won.

Robert Lanteigne's picture

R.I has the new york system or coney island system weiners,whatever you call it; it originated in R.I and still remain the best weiners any where.try new york lunch in woonsocket,you'll never remember another dog that you would want to eat.honorable mention;Spikes dogs.

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How could you not mentions Ward's chili dogs served with homemade rootbeer in a frosted mug? Ward's originated in hattiesburg MS by twin brothers Ed ( now deceased) and Richard Ward (now retired due to strokes). The corpration is now owned by a man who started as a fry cook at Ward's when he was 15 yrs old. He owns 15 of the Ward's restaurants and there is about 25 that are owned by franchisees. No better chili dog anywhere!

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I agree with the other comments. This list is garbage. Look, I LIVE in Chicago. And while I agree with the placement of a lot of places, there are striking misses that aren't on the list from other places that I know are better than the dog places in Chicago. The biggest omission is Dreamy Weenies in NOLA. Hands down the best hot dog place in the country, and it's not even close. To not even make the list is pretty damning to it's credibility. This is not a list of the 50 best hot dog places, it's a ranking of the 50 hot dog places the author decided to visit.

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You've lost all credibility. This list is a complete joke. How in the hell this was comprised is beyond me. I've been to 40 of the places on the list and how something like Skeenies beat out Dat Dog is ridiculous. How did Lafayette Coney Island beat out Gene & Jude's? How did Pink's make the top ten??? Just because it's popular doesn't mean it's good. No chance you guys ate at all these places and rated them. What was your grading scale? Hot Doug's is awesome but a Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck sausage is not a hot dog. How can you compare all these places when it's not even a fair comparison? I literally can't stop laughing looking at Fat Johnnies #1. Perhaps you got drunk and high and ate all these at 2 am but then again most aren't open that late. Please explain to your readers how you came to these and in this order, I really don't see how you wont lose many readers when you vomit up lists like this.

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you missed a fabulous dog in Marietta GA @Brandi's world famous hot dogs! Served with spicy chili, onions and mustard, they are not to be missed!

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Sorry, fellas. You missed the boat here by 5+ years. Speed's went down the Tubes with Ezra "Speed" Anderson. The dogs have been made (to Speed's recipe, lore has it) by different purveyors over the years, beginning with Mogen David Kosher Provisions (Bronx, NY), but as long as Speed was manning the multiple grills in his trailer, the results were life-changing. The successor operation was a profound disappointment unworthy of the "Speed's" name. R.I.P, Speed.

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