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.
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.
Bob’s Drive Inn serves locally made Wimmer’s natural-casing brand hot dogs, and are best enjoyed when topped with the restaurants signature "loosemeat." This chunky beef sauce is ladled on top along with pickles and cheese and piled into a fresh-baked bun from the local Casey’s Bakery. The offerings are called Bob Dogs, and each end of the frank comically resembles a human thumb. Bob’s Drive Inn has been around since 1949 as a family-owned and operated business, and it's a must-stop for any hot dog lover who finds themselves in Iowa.
The Good Dog truck rolls through Houston every day except for Monday, and the emphasis here is on quality, quality, quality. The natural-casing hot dogs are made locally using a proprietary recipe, and all the toppings are made in-truck. The Slow Dough Bread Co. makes the lightly buttered buns, and there are a slew of super-creative topping options, including the Guac-A-Dog (avocado, fresh jalapeño, tomatoes, diced onion, roasted garlic aioli, cilantro, cumin, and lime) or the Sunshine Dog (pickled red onions, fresh dill relish, cream cheese, and mayonnaise). The pièce de résistance, however, is the Ol’ Zapata Dog, a wonderfully satisfying mess of bacon, Muenster cheese, caramelized onions, tomatoes, jalapeño relish, house-made ketchup, and mayonnaise. It’s cheesy, bacon-y, sweet, spicy, and perfectly composed.
This sausage-centric restaurant is an Austin gem, serving sausages made in-house or by a local sausage-maker, with brilliantly creative toppings. While they also serve regional dogs, like Chicago dogs and Sonoran dogs, that are super-faithful to their forebears, it’s the custom creations where they really shine. Take the Carolina Pork It, for example: a 100% Vienna beef hot dog, stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, deep-fried and topped with grilled horseradish coleslaw and house-made pimento cheese. It’s cheesy, smoky, crunchy perfection, and you can have it wrapped up in a corn pancake instead of a bun if you prefer.
There’s a rather strict ordering system at the cash-only Yesterdog, which has been serving Grand Rapids’ best hot dogs since Bill Lewis opened it in 1976: You start at the far left end of the counter, where someone takes your hot dog order. Then moving to the right, you place your drink order, then your chips order. Then you pay, receive your full order, and find a place to sit. It can get a little complicated, but you’ll be amply rewarded with a dog that you’ll wish never ended. Opt for the Yesterdog, which is topped with chili, onion, mustard, ketchup, and diced pickles, and you’ll be craving another one as soon as you’re finished. At just $2.20, you can spring for it.
The beer garden at Philly’s Memphis Taproom is one of the most inviting spots in the city for outdoor drinking, but it’s also a world-class destination for serious hot dog lovers. The dogs here are made in an on-site truck, and start with long, skinny links from New Jersey cult favorite Best Provisions. The topping options here are mind-blowingly creative. There’s the Mackinac, which tops a chili cheese dog with macaroni salad; the Blue Hawaii, a bacon-wrapped dog with deep-fried banana, Dijon, and peanut butter powder; and the Popper, topped with jalapeño Cheddar spread, fried jalapeños, and jalapeño mustard. There are also brunch dogs, like the one that’s wrapped in bacon and topped with American cheese and scrambled eggs. But if you have to choose just one, go with the Polser. It’s their take on a Denmark-style hot dog, and it’s bacon-wrapped and topped with remoulade, Dijon, pickles, and crispy fried shallots. The toppings don’t overpower, the pickles and shallots add texture and crunch, and simply put, it’s a brilliant dog.
On the side of an unassuming road in the unassuming little New York town of Mamaroneck, sits an odd, pagoda-shaped hot dog stand. This is Walter’s, and the hot dogs here haven’t changed since Walter Warrington opened his first stand nearby in 1919. The copper-roofed pagoda was built in 1928, and is currently on the county's inventory of historic places. But it’s the hot dogs that have really made Walter’s so legendary. Warrington devised the recipe for these dogs himself, and to this day they’re still split down the middle, basted in a secret sauce as they grill, placed into a fluffy toasted bun, and topped with homemade mustard. There’s nothing else quite like Walter’s.
Back in 1923, a couple of Greek immigrant brothers, Tom and James Papadakis, opened a hot dog stand in the lobby of an office building in downtown Houston, serving sandwiches (even a goose liver and Roquefort combo) and the all-beef hot dogs known as coneys (which, incidentally, weren't named for Coney Island — but that's another story). Today there are 21 James Coney Islands in and around Houston, serving burgers, sandwiches, tamales, and more, but the dogs remain the thing. At many hot dog joints, you can get your pup with chili or mustard, but James's definitive Texas dog gives you both, along with shredded cheddar and chopped onions. It's a big, Texas-size mouthful.
Gus’s, in Birmingham, Ala., is home to the Greek Dog — "the lone surviving old-school Greek hot dog place in downtown Birmingham," according to Serious Eats. To make their Greek Dog, char-grilled Zeigler pink franks are topped with seasoned ground beef, sauerkraut, a few chopped onions, and a special sauce that was formulated by Gus Alexander himself when he opened the stand around 1940, and it’s a cross between barbecue sauce and New York-style stewed onions. The atmosphere has an unassuming air; it's small and quaint, with a TV in the corner, making it clear that, in here, it’s all about the dogs.
In 2008, five friends bought a 1940s-era neighborhood corner bar, built a stage for live music, brought in chef Eric Williams to design a menu of crazy-good hot dogs, and Happy Dog was born. Guests are encouraged to pencil in their choices from a list of around 50 toppings ranging from Greek feta and Spaghetti-O’s to Caribbean coleslaw and Froot Loops, but if you’re overwhelmed there are plenty of “Signature Weiners,” including the Mobile Home-Wrecker: an all-beef dog topped with Bourbon pork-n-beans, cheddar, caramelized onions, Andy Capp’s Hot Fries, and Alabama-style while barbecue sauce. You won’t know what hit you.
In business since 1947, over the years Rawley’s has become a local legend. Behind the small counter where legions of devoted fans place their order daily, plump Red Hots from Blue Ribbon take a trip to the deep-fryer and are then finished on the griddle next to toasting buns, where they develop a burnished, crusty skin. You have your choice of condiments, but regulars would recommend "the works": mustard, relish, sauerkraut, and chunks of crunchy bacon.
This is a vivid dark-red pork dog, on the small side, steamed, served on a warmed bun (grilled dogs are available on request). Cheese, sauerkraut, and chili are available here, but the traditional condiments are relish, onion, and ketchup. One unusual touch: a shaker of celery salt is offered along with the salt and pepper. Simone's has been selling dogs and other simple fare since 1908, and judging from the photos on the wall, every politician in or from New England has been here at one point or another.
This beloved Tulsa mini-chain got its start back in 1926, when Greek immigrant Christ Economou opened a small stand on West Fourth Street between South Boulder and South Cheyenne Avenues. It quickly outgrew its space and moved up to Main Street, and now there are locations all throughout the city. The small hot dogs are cooked on a griddle over low heat, and regulars take it Coney-style: smear a little mustard on a steamed bun, add the dog, and top it with a spicy, cinnamon-heavy all-beef chili sauce, some shredded American cheese, chopped onions, and a dash of paprika. Eat and smile.
Famous Lunch has been in business in Troy since 1932, and they’re still selling their legendary little Helmbold’s hot dogs, four inches long and full of spicy, garlicky flavor, cooked on a griddle that’s nearly as old as the restaurant. Grab a seat at the counter and order a few dogs (they won’t set you back much, just 60 cents apiece or four for $3), and make sure you get them topped with mustard, onions, and their classic Zippy sauce, filled with big chunks of beef and bursting with cumin and paprika.
Cupid’s, in business since 1946, claims to serve the best chili dogs in Los Angeles, and it would be hard to argue with that. The four locations are still owned and operated by the founding Walsh family, and the menu is still super-simple: hot dogs, chips, and a drink. The founder, Richard Walsh, flipped out when his son added ketchup and relish to the menu in the early 1980s. The reason? He was messing with perfection, which is exactly what their chili sauce is. The thick mixture is rich and hearty, brimming with flavor from garlic, chili powder, fennel, and apple cider vinegar. It’s delicious on its own, but even better when ladled onto a dog topped with mustard and onions. It’s called “everything” even though it’s just three toppings, a sign not only of the limited menu, but also of the fact that it’s everything you’ll need for a world-class dog.
Shorty’s really has it all: A bar, a full pinball arcade, a bizarre-circus atmosphere, and insanely delicious hot dogs. They start simply enough, with wieners from Vienna Beef (special sausages include a German-style sausage and a delicious veggie dog), and come in Chicago-style, with chili and cheese, and even with tomatoes, cream cheese, and peppers. But you’d be hard-pressed to find something to wask down your beer that’s better than their classic Shorty Dog, simply topped with onions, relish, and sauerkraut. One of these, a couple beers, and some pinball? That’s what we call a good time.
If you thought that a hot dog served at a racetrack had no shot at making this list, think again. Eating a chili dog at the Martinsville Speedway is a rite of passage for race car drivers and fans alike, and this iconic hot dog also happens to be really tasty. Over one weekend, more than 50,000 of the hot dogs are sold, and at just two bucks a pop, they’re a steal. These dogs have been served for more than 60 years, in the same way: a soft bun, slaw, cheese, hand-chopped onions, and a secret-recipe chili, wrapped in waxed paper. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has claimed to eat three or four a day on race weekends.
This cash-only hot dog joint (with three New Orleans locations) is quickly becoming a Crescent City institution, thanks to owner Skip Murray’s commitment to serving the highest-quality hot dogs and sausages possible as well as a killer sense of humor. Menu standouts include a brilliant pairing of duck sausage with blackberry preserves as well as crawfish sausage, alligator sausage, and bratwurst, but make sure you save room to try their hot sausage, custom-ground by a local butcher and tucked into a bun that’s steamed then toasted, to make it both soft and crispy. The sky’s the limit when it comes to toppings, but you can’t go wrong with their addictive beef stock-based Andouille sauce.
In Detroit, there’s an epic rivalry going back decades between two neighboring hot dog stands, American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island, and both belong on our list, serving legendary hot dogs. Family owned and operated since 1917, American’s claim to fame is the classic Coney-style dog. A custom-made natural casing hot dog gets placed into a warm steamed bun, then topped with a Greek-spiced chili sauce developed by founder Gust Keros, topped with a heap of diced onions and a squirt of mustard. No trip to Detroit is complete without a Coney dog.
Calling itself "downtown's oldest restaurant," Coney Island Lunch was founded (at another location) in 1923. The name of the place might suggest a Coney Island-style dog, but the specialty here is the Texas wiener. That's a variety of dog supposedly invented by a Greek diner owner in Altoona, Pa., in 1918, and considered an authentic regional hot dog style in the Altoona–Scranton–Philadelphia triangle today. What makes it "Texas?" A slathering of chili. At Coney Island Lunch, the meat is a half-sliced Berks all-beef wiener from Reading, south of Scranton, grilled and served on a steamed bun made by Scranton's own National Bakery. Düsseldorf mustard and onions diced on a 1928 Hobart chopper complete the package.
There’s a tiny little shack on Route 9 South in Plattsburgh, N.Y., with a big sign on it advertising Texas Red Hots. When you set foot inside the little building, which was built by founders Clare and Carl Warne in the 1940s, you’re going to want to order a "michigan," a steamed little hot dog, made just for the stand, on a special-made bun, topped with a secret meat sauce (aka michigan sauce) and chopped onions. The origin of the name is the stuff of legend, and plenty of secrets are housed within these walls, namely the ingredients in the sauce and the providers of the dogs and buns. But you don’t really need to know any of that. All you need to know is that this is a darn good hot dog, the best example out there of the style that’s unique to the region (and happens to have nothing to do with either Texas or Michigan).
New York may be the home of Nathan’s and Gray’s Papaya, but anyone who has sought out the nation’s best hot dogs knows the unfortunate truth: New York City, for all its sidewalk hot dog carts, is not a hot dog town. They’re just not all that good. So it is that one of Gotham’s best hot dogs is Shake Shack’s Chicago-style Shack-cago dog. "A hot dog from a burger joint?!" Actually, as Shake Shack’s own site notes, the burgeoning burger empire "began as a humble hot dog cart." This dog is "split and dragged through the garden with Rick’s Picks Shack relish, onion, cucumber, pickle, tomato, sport peppers, celery salt, and mustard." The bun is even soft, just like in Chicago. Take that, New York.
Senate is one of Cincinnati's hottest restaurants, and while some restaurants relegate the hot dog to the children’s menu, here they’re front and center, in eight over-the-top varieties (including one that changes daily). Their custom dogs are made by Avril-Bleh butchers just down the street, and they go through 800 of them weekly. The real showstopper is the Croque Madame dog: a béchamel-slathered dog, topped with Black Forest ham and a poached egg, in a toasted brioche bun. It’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in one.
Boston Super Dog, also known as Boston Speed Dog, is a little truck that camps out in Boston’s off-the-beaten-path Newmarket Square for four days a week as well as at a couple of other locations throughout town. The 8-inch, half-pound kosher links are supplied by Pearl, a local company, and they get a marinade in apple cider and brown sugar before being grilled over charcoal and nestled into a toasted bun. Ask for it "loaded" and you’ll get to sample all of the toppings: onions, mustard, chili sauce, barbecue sauce, and relish, all homemade.
A trip to Wrigley Field in 1945 by Gene Mormino and friends turned into the inspiration for a Chicago institution, one that many people claim serves the best hot dog in a city known for great ones. "While at the game, the group ordered some hot dogs and drinks," notes Gene and Jude’s website. "Looking down at the food in his hands, he felt something was missing. The wheels started turning and by the time he got home the experiment had begun. He came up with an idea so good he used it to open a little stand in 1946 on Polk and Western Avenue, serving hot dogs and fries along with a few other items on the menu." Mormino supposedly lost the original stand in a card game, but opened another one in 1950 in River Grove where it’s run by his son Joe. The hot dogs are a mess — covered with and rolled up with sometimes surprisingly soft fries, but that introduction of saltiness and textural variation makes them more nuanced than many other Chicago dogs. And their 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. hours, when many other of Chicago’s iconic eateries are closed, makes them a Sunday hot dog savior.
Since opening on St. Marks Place in 2001, Crif Dogs has been the standard-bearer for unique and exciting hot dogs in New York, now with a second location in Brooklyn. No offering sums up their “kitchen sink” approach to the hot dog better than the Good Morning, which transforms a hot dog into one of the great breakfast sandwiches: it starts with a bacon-wrapped, deep-fried hot dog (Crif’s claim to fame), and adds a slice of melty American cheese and a fried egg. And breakfast was never the same again.
There are a couple of things you’re going to need to know if you’re planning on visiting one of Cincinnati’s ubiquitous "chili parlors." One, the chili is of the Greek style, rich with cumin, cinnamon, and chocolate, but unique from the other regional variations. Two, it goes really well on hot dogs (and spaghetti), with chopped onions and a heap of shredded cheese. Three, there’s a method of ordering: "Three ways" comes with chili and cheese, "four ways" adds beans or onions, "five ways" adds both beans and onions, and at a few places "six ways" adds garlic or jalapeños. Skyline Chili’s Coney dogs are a great introduction to the style, but the locals swear by Blue Ash, an institution since 1969. Go for the Cheese Coney: a medium-sized frank topped with chili, mustard, onions, and a giant mount of shredded Cheddar cheese.
Topped by what has to be considered some of America’s best signage — a flexing hot dog showing off his muscles to a winking wiener girl — Superdawg has been an institution on Milwaukee Avenue across from Caldwell Woods since Maurie Berman opened it in 1948. The recently returned G.I. designed the building and devised his own secret recipe and set up a drive-in at what was then the end of the streetcar line where he planned to sell $0.32 Superdawg sandwiches to "swimming families and cruisin’ teens" for a few months during the summer to help put him through school at Northwestern. In 1950, Maurie passed the CPA exam, but he and wife Flaurie decided to keep operating Superdawg and to open year-round. The family-owned, working drive-in still serves superior pure beef dogs, "the loveliest, juiciest creation of pure beef hot dog (no pork, no veal, no cereal, no filler) formally dressed with all the trimmings: golden mustard, tangy piccalilli, kosher dill pickle, chopped Spanish onions, and a memorable hot pepper."
The traditional New Jersey Italian hot dog is notoriously difficult to perfect, but at the unassuming, order-at-the-window, they’ve got it down to a science. It starts with a deep-fried skinless frank from the inimitable Best Provisions, tucked into a quarter of a light and crusty loaf made from pizza dough. Slow-cooked onions and peppers come next, and then the real standout: thin-cut, deep-fried potato slices that aren’t overwhelmingly crispy, but not soggy either. It’s surprisingly not greasy at all; just a perfectly balanced Italian hot dog, one you’ll be glad you discovered.
If you’re looking for a true West Virginia-style hot dog, look no further than Skeenies, which serves what very well might be a perfect variation. A steamed bun encasing a skinny frank, topped with chili, snow-white creamy slaw, and yellow mustard is the classic West Virginia style, but order yours with “everything” at Skeenies, and you’ll also get chopped onions and ketchup. Ask any West Virginia ex-pat what they’re homesick for, and Skeenies will inevitably come up.
Murphy’s is special. On the North Side of Chicago just blocks from Wrigley Field, off the corner of North Racine and West Belmont on the ground floor of a gray-vinyl-sided house, Murphy’s is a throwback joint. It’s what Vienna Beef senior vice president and author of Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog Bob Schwartz says harkens "another time when small storefront shops were set up on ground floors or in back of the restaurants or stores" and owners lived nearby, as Schwartz noted Murphy’s owner Bill Murphy does. One difference here is the fresh, crusty French roll Murphy serves dogs on. Char-broiling is more prominent than at most of Chicago’s notable hot dog joints, and that split, charred dog adds lots of texture and flavor to the Chicago icon. A char-broiled dog with all the Chicago fixings is more complex and interesting than most other dogs you’ll find, but if you feel the need to go big, Murphy’s offers two great options. There’s the charbroiled footlong red hot (in Japan, where Murphy’s has done a cameo, it’s called the "Big Murphy"), and the "Screamin' to be Eaten Polish," Murphy’s ⅓-pound charbroiled Polish sausage.
Next on our list is a hot dog that is completely unlike any other in the country: the Sonoran Dog, a shining example of international cooperation. John T. Edge first brought this hot dog into the spotlight in 2009, and even though it’s been around for more than 40 years, the Sonoran is having quite a moment in the sun. Here’s how it works: a hot dog is wrapped in bacon (good place to start), griddled until crispy, stuffed into a split-top bun that’s different from any other in the country, and topped with any of a slew of condiments that usually involve beans, diced tomatoes, mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise. There are stands all over Tucson selling Sonorans, but the most shining example is sold in the humble, ragtag El Guero Canelo, which got its start as a tiny cart run by Daniel and Blanca Contreras in 1993 and now has a semi-outdoor seating area, a massive array of toppings, and an ever-present jovial vibe.
Ted’s, with 8 locations in the Buffalo area and one more in Arizona, has been charcoal-broiling hot dogs since 1927 and serving them alongside great milkshakes and perfect onion rings, washed down with in ice-cold Loganberry. The cooked-to-order dogs (available regular-sized, foot-long, or jumbo all-beef) get a nice char from the charcoal, and you’ll be missing out if you don’t top it with Ted’s famous hot chili sauce, brought from Greece by founder Ted Liaros. It’s sweet and spicy, and they thankfully also sell it by the bottle.
It might tweak some Washingtonians to hear, but along with the Jumbo Slice, as bagels and pizza are to New York, so the half-smoke is one of the Capitol’s most iconic foods. The celebrity (and presidential) photos on the wall are clear indications of Ben's Chili Bowl's city landmark status, but the continuous lines out the door are evidence that the restaurant's chili cheese dogs are some of the best in the country. But those in the know don’t just order "dogs," they get the half-smokes, a half-pork, half-beef smoked sausage which is a native D.C. specialty supposedly invented by Ben Ali, the original proprietor, whose sons took over the restaurant after his death. As the U Street Corridor/Shaw neighborhood around it has gentrified and become trendy, it's a more than 50-year-old bastion of down-home D.C. where college kids, old-timers, and celebrities are all welcome as long as they're willing to stand in line like everybody else, though the President eats for free.
Flo’s Hot Dogs in Cape Neddick, Maine, is a family-owned and operated establishment that has been in business since 1959. They specialize in steamed hot dogs that only need a sprinkle of celery salt, relish, and mayo. The relish is famous, although the recipe is secret, and is sold separately in jars both on location and online. The classic joint is open year-round, with the exception of Wednesdays, but it only operates from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pro tip: ketchup isn’t available, so don’t ask for it. The hot dogs have a spicy natural casing, and the secret relish is at once spicy and sweet. Know what you want to order by the time you get to the front of the line, and look for a spot at the six-seat counter inside, but if it's full (as it normally is), don't worry — picnic tables are provided outside.
If you’re not too intimidated to order (the infamously, ahem, rude environment can gets a little rowdy at night when employees and drunk customers share barbs), the move is a double chardog with everything. The traditional Chicago hot dog is fairly represented at this Lincoln Park icon with one exception. A Vienna Beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun gets all the iconic Chicago toppings (raw onions, neon-green relish, pickle spear, tomato slices, and celery salt). The departure from the purist version? Wiener's Circle char-grills its dogs rather than steaming them. A double char is simply two blackened dogs underneath all those veggies on one bun.
Well, it's called a barbecue place, but what most people seem to rave about here isn't the 'cue, it's the dogs — and any place that's able to advertise "Hot Dogs Since 1910" has got to be doing something right. These wieners are a fearsome dark red in color, nicely spiced, and bursting with juices. The buns are buttered and toasted, which adds a nice level of texture and flavor. Add chili and slaw (and mustard and onions, if you want it "all the way") and you've got what Reader's Digest once called "the best hot dogs in the South." To make them really good, add a dose of Big Ed's Extremely Hot BBQ Sauce.
What started as a humble hot dog truck is now a full-blown Fairfield institution, with good reason: these are some insanely delicious hot dogs. Owner Gary Zemola makes all the chili and condiments from scratch, and they go atop a hot dog that’s split before it hits the griddle, allowing maximum flat-top exposure. Dogs are modeled after Zemola’s interpretations of regional styles, including the Chicagoan, the Californian, and the New Yorker, but the true standout is the New Englander, an ode to the classic regional dog topped with sauerkraut, bacon, mustard, sweet relish, and raw onion. It’s indeed super-duper.
People who say "bigger isn’t always better" are often trying to make someone feel better. In the case of Byron’s, a tiny shop with a small counter inside where you may actually have to wait just to get in, bigger means more great juicy beef flavor, more classic Chicago toppings, more toppings, and more of a mess — all great things. Byron’s has been around since 1975, the brainchild of Byron Kouris, the famed Chicago restaurateur behind the Lunch Pail and the Art-Deco institution Zephyr’s. There aren’t as many Byron’s around anymore, but it’s worth seeking out one of the two remaining locations to take on Dogzilla, a 1/2-pound natural casing hot dog served with the traditional Chicago toppings, along with (if you like) cucumbers, green peppers, and lettuce (no, it’s not a gimmick). This is a dog you’re not going to want to put down once you pick it up — that steamed bun starts to fall apart — just eat it until you’re finished. Often in Chicago, the double dog is the way to go — all those extra toppings need the extra salty, beefy, juiciness of a second dog. Dogzilla solves that problem with that 1/2-pound beauty. Hot diggity.
One of the culinary world’s greatest rivalries is between two neighboring Downtown Detroit hot dog stands, Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island (#31). While the battle over which hot dog tastes better is on par with the fight between Pat’s and Gino’s cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, most locals will tell you that it’s Lafayette all the way, for several reasons. The hot dog has a juicy, salty, smoky snap, the Coney sauce is spot-on, and the fries are crispy, but it’s the experience that puts it over the top in our book: While American is shiny and a little charmless, Lafayette is a divey, weathered, eccentric sort of place that hasn’t been renovated in many years, but the charm is palpable, especially in the staff, who’ll most likely bring you your order in less than 30 seconds. In short: the perfect hot dog stand.
Is there anything about Pink’s that hasn’t been said? Hard to imagine. Even detractors define themselves by it. But you won’t find many of those — just check out the line at this family-owned hot dog stand that has been around since 1939. At our last count, owner Richard Pink said he sold 35 varieties of hot dogs and toppings and sells on average about 2,000 hot dogs a day. Credit much of Pink’s success to its chili — it once led then New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl to go dumpster-diving to figure out the recipe (true story). And while he wouldn’t divulge its ingredients, in an interview with The Daily Meal Pink did note "that it needs to be relatively smooth, but still have enough texture to make it stand up to hot dogs and hamburgers." For all the bacon, sour cream, guacamole, pastrami, and nacho cheese topped hot dogs, The Three Dog Night is the move. This "dog" (shouldn’t it really be called a meal?) features three hot dogs wrapped in a giant tortilla with three slices of cheese, three slices of bacon, chili, and onions. It’s a top-seller that was born the Laker Three-Peat Dog, was then renamed after Matrix Reloaded, and after the movie had its run, finally settled into a permanent homage to the '70s rock band.
Whereas some hot dog sellers are secretive about the origins of their product, the folks behind Bark, located in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood (with a second location opening in Greenwich Village in August), are more than happy to let you know where they source their hot dogs (and all the rest of their ingredients, right down to the cabbage used in the sauerkraut), because the ingredients are of such a high quality and they put so much work into crafting everything. Upstate New York’s Hartmann’s Old World Sausage worked with them to create a stellar hot dog, which gets a basting of lard butter as it’s browning on the flat top before being placed into a grilled, buttered split-top bun from Pepperidge Farm. Toppings stay fairly traditional, but one of our favorite guilty pleasures is their bacon Cheddar dog, which tops the dog with a sprinkling of diced Nueske’s bacon, a house-made Cheddar sauce, and diced pickled onions. All condiments are made in-house, except for the ketchup, mustard, and mayo. "Some things are just American classics," they explain on their menu.
If you’re from Mobile, Ala., you know about the comfortable, wood-paneled Dew Drop Inn. Not only is it one of the city’s oldest restaurants, having opened in 1924, it boasts a loyal clientele of regulars who don’t even need a menu and consider the waitstaff old friends. There’s a surprisingly expansive Southern-tinged menu with a handful of hidden gems (like the oyster loaf, a smaller-size oyster po’boy), but their hot dog, supposedly the first to reach this neck of the woods way back when, is a true standout. The bright red steamed dogs are stuffed into a squishy bun and topped with coarse-ground chili, sauerkraut, ketchup, mustard, and a bread-and-butter pickle. You can also order them "upside-down," with the dog sitting atop the condiments, but any way you slice it this is a very solid hot dog.
As a side note, their cheeseburgers are quite good as well; Jimmy Buffett grew up nearby and wrote a song about them.
Olneyville N.Y. System, with three locations in Providence, North Providence, and Cranston, R.I., claims to serve "Rhode Island’s Best Hot Wieners," and while that will always remain a point of contention, they’re certainly the most legendary. The New York System dog is a regional specialty: small franks (in this case, from Little Rhody) are steamed, placed atop a steamed bun, and topped with a cumin-heavy meat sauce, yellow mustard, diced onions, and celery salt. You’re going to want to order a few of these, because they’re small and addictive (see how many of them the counterman can balance on his arm). The "wiener sauce" is so popular that people have been requesting the recipe for years; you can purchase a packet of seasoning online and make it yourself at home.
A Rochester, N.Y., institution, folks come for the nostalgia and stay for the timeless fries, hamburgers, and hot dogs. It opened in 1956, so that distinct Happy Days atmosphere is in fact purely authentic. Located right on the water, Schaller’s specialty is the upstate hot dog variety known as White Hots, fat natural-casing dogs made from pork, beef, and veal, made by Zweigle’s. Top it with some of their meat-based "hot sauce," mustard, and onions, grab a handful of pickles, and you’re in summer vacation heaven. Two other locations have since opened, but the lakeside location is the one to visit.
When Hot Doug’s first opened at its original location in Roscoe Village in 2001 (it moved to its current spot in 2004 after a fire), there were people who doubted its owner Doug Sohn’s vision of a menu limited to hot dogs and sausages — even Sohn’s own family. "My brother told me, 'Don’t you think you’ll have to sell hamburgers?'" Sohn related in an interview, adding, "I have it on very good authority that the people at Vienna gave me a few months. They came in and they were like, 'Well, this isn’t gonna last.'" Now? Along with Doughnut Vault, Hot Doug’s is probably Chicago’s most famous line for food, and the entire city let out a collective audible gasp when word spread earlier this month that it would be closing its doors for good in October.
While its main menu is delicious, its items can be replicated elsewhere. The specials’ flavors and ingredients, however, differentiate Hot Doug’s. The normal menu ranges in price from $2 to $4 per order and the special sausages are $6 to $10. It is the type of place where you extend yourself monetarily and calorically because you don’t know when the next time will be that you will be able to carve out hours for lunch on a weekday or Saturday to soak up the experience. The signature order here of course, is the foie gras and sauternes duck sausage with truffle aioli, which garnered quite a bit of press in 2006 following the banning of foie in Chicago. Defying the ban pushed by chef Charlie Trotter and Alderman Joe Moore, Sohn named the dog after Moore, was fined, but was ultimately victorious when the ban was repealed in 2008. It’s a brilliant pairing — the snap of the dog against the creaminess of the foie — a visionary move celebrated by gout-defying offal lovers everywhere. While we’ll miss Hot Doug’s, we’re sure that wherever Sohn ends up next, Chicagoans will be lining up behind him.
Even if Rutt’s Hut, located in blue-collar Clifton, N.J., served their trademark Ripper, a pork-and-beef Thumann’s link that’s deep-fried in beef fat until it rips apart, out of the back of a minivan, it would still be one of the country’s most delicious hot dogs. The fact that this roadside shack has not only a counter to end all counters amid its stand-up dining room, but also an adjoining tap room where you can drink cheap beer and chat with old-timers and fellow pilgrims, propels Rutt’s Hut to legendary status. Whether you order an "In-And-Outer," (just a quick dunk in the oil), a Ripper, a well-done "Weller," or the crunchy, porky, almost-overcooked "Cremator," make sure you get it "all the way," topped with mustard and a spicy, sweet, onion- and cabbage-based relish.
Katz’s Deli, on New York’s Lower East Side, is a New York institution. Their corned beef and pastrami, made on-premises and sliced to order, are legendary, and the simple act of taking your ticket, standing in line, bantering with the counterman while placing your order, and finding a table has become as New York an exercise as, well, eating a hot dog with a smear of mustard and a little sauerkraut. And it just so happens that the hot dogs here are very good. Made especially for the restaurant by Sabrett, these garlicky, natural-casing, jumbo-size all-beef dogs spend such a long time on the flat-top grill that the outside gets a nice char and snaps when you bite into it. A smear of mustard is all that’s needed, but a little sauerkraut or stewed onions certainly won’t hurt.
The number one hot dog spot on this list is admittedly a bit of a sleeper, one that some Chicagoans might even do a double-take at. It’s a small, ramshackle, white-paneled hut that’s just a bit taller and just a bit wider than a canoe, on an industrial stretch of Western Avenue, a 20-minute drive from The Loop. You order through a tiny window in wonderment at how someone can fit inside the shack, after looking over a menu that includes amazing named items like the "Mother-in-Law" (a tamale on a bun with chili), a "Father-in-Law" (tamale on a bun with chili and cheese), and a tamale sundae (a tamale in a bowl of chili). If you’re noticing the tamale trend here, you might see where this is going. As every Chicago hot dog lover knows, hot dogs and tamales go hand in hand at many of the city’s storied spots (though they’re frequently not the best thing on the menu). Not so at Fat Johnnie’s Famous Red Hots where John Pawlikowski serves the Mighty Dog — a hot dog and tamale on a bun with chili and cheese. Sounds like a monster, right? You’re right to be scared, it’s a mess. You want tomato, sport peppers, relish, and pickles on that? You bet you do. Soft steamed bun, moist tamale, fresh snap of the dog, chili, cheese, and a slice of cucumber sliced on the bias — it’s one of the best hot dogs you’ll ever have. Johnnie is celebrating 41 years this month. Go wash down a Mighty Dog with a Suicide (cola, fruit punch, grape soda, lemonade, orange, root beer, 7-UP, and strawberry soda) to celebrate.