The hot dog is one of those foods that’s nearly impossible to mess up. You heat it through, plop it on 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 and restaurants out there that are turning the humble hot dog into a work of art.
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 Nathan's on Coney Island, 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 — which has nothing to do with Coney Island. The uncured, unsmoked White Hot is popular in upstate New York. Confused yet? The regional variations go on and on.We called on food writers, bloggers, and journalists from around the country to take the survey, and asked hot dog experts to submit their favorite spots for survey inclusion.
On our quest to find America’s best hot dogs, we started by putting a list together of hot dog places with a definitive style of hot dog, one which embodies not only the region’s quirks but also the particular tastes and culinary traditions of its people. We 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 also made sure to build on our previous years' rankings (find rankings from 2013 here and 2014 here).
Once we had our list of more than 200 hot dog places from across the country finalized, we built them into a survey, divided by region. We called on food writers, bloggers, and journalists from around the country to take the survey, and asked hot dog experts to submit their favorite spots for survey inclusion. The 36 survey respondents included writer Patrick Evans-Hylton, Forbes’ Larry Olmsted, Food Network Star contestant and blogger Jay Ducote, and blogger Holly Moore of HollyEats.com.
The final tally includes hot dog stands as far north as Lewiston, Maine, and as far south as Houston, Texas. You never know where a great hot dog stand will pop up; we’ve included ones as far afield as Charleston, West Virginia; Le Mars, Iowa; and West Chester, Pennsylvania. While Chicago (arguably the best hot dog down in the country) is well-represented with 13 entrants, the sheer geographic diversity here makes it clear that there are few American foods more universally beloved than the hot dog. This year, we also said goodbye to three hot dog stands that were included in last year’s ranking: Moe’s Hotdog House in Philadelphia, food truck Boston Super Dog (whose owner, Gregg Gale, passed away unexpectedly), and Chicago’s Hot Doug’s, which was nothing short of legendary.
Our list runs the gamut from ancient stands that have been serving the same exact product for decades to gastropubs dedicated to putting their unique stamp on the hot dog. There’s one constant thread between them, though: they’re the country’s best.
#75 Nathan’s Famous, Coney Island, N.Y.
The most famous hot dog stand in the country, and still one of the best. Founded by Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker in 1916, Nathan’s didn’t just rely on a quality product (the hot dog recipe was his wife Ida’s); its founder was also a shrewd businessman. He sold his franks for just 5 cents, making them the cheapest around, and reportedly hired actors to dress as doctors and eat there in order to convince folks that they were safe to eat. The business took off, and today there are more than 40,000 outlets selling Nathan's hot dogs.
A trip to the original stand in Brooklyn’s Coney Island, however, is a pilgrimage that everyone should make at least once. Stand in the same line that millions of others have over the years, place your order, and snap into the perfect embodiment of a summer day: the sea, the boardwalk, and an original Nathan’s hot dog. There’s nothing else like it.
#74 Max's Famous Hot Dogs, Long Branch, NJ
A hot dog joint so legendary it has its own Wikipedia page, this Long Branch institution, dominated by a long counter, has been going strong since 1928. Max’s pork and beef quarter-pound dogs come from Jersey-based Schickhaus, and they spend some time developing a great well-done crust on a well-seasoned griddle before they’re tucked into a toasted bun that’s several inches too short. The toppings really run the gamut; you can opt for a simple squirt of mustard or choose from options including spicy or sweet relish, chili (the traditional beef-and-bean variety), cheese, sauerkraut, bacon, coleslaw, and chopped onions. Whatever you do, make sure you sample the onion rings and their super-crispy sweet potato fries.
Additional reporting by Arthur Bovino.
#75 Nathan’s Famous, Coney Island, N.Y.
#74 Max's Famous Hot Dogs, Long Branch, NJ
#73 The Brick, Kansas City, Mo.
#72 Biker Jim's, Denver
#71 Cupid’s, Van Nuys, Calif
#70 Tommy's, Elizabeth, NJ
#69 Shorty’s, Seattle
#68 Martinsville Speedway, Ridgeway, Va.
#67 Gus's, Birmingham, Ala.
#66 DC-3, Washington, DC
#65 Simone’s Hot Dog Stand, Lewiston, Maine
#64 Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
#63 Clare & Carl's, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
#62 Deerhead Hot Dogs, Bear, DE
#61 Jimmy's Red Hots, Chicago
#60 Gold Coast Dog, Chicago
#59 Jimmy Buff's Italian Hot Dogs, West Orange, NJ
#58 Bob's Drive Inn, Le Mars, Iowa
#57 Otto's Sausage Kitchen, Portland, Ore.
#56 Dew Drop Inn, Mobile, Ala.
#55 Senate Restaurant, Cincinnati
#54 Skeenies, Charleston, WV
#53 Flo's, Cape Neddick, Maine
#52 Frank, Austin, Texas
#51 Texas Hot Dogs, Altoona, Pa.
#50 J. S. Pulliam Barbecue, Winston-Salem, N.C.
#49 Memphis Taproom Beer Garden, Philadelphia
#48 Gray’s Papaya, New York City
#47 Vienna Beef Factory, Chicago
#46 Griddler's, Boston
#45 Shake Shack, Multiple Locations
#44 Coney I-Lander, Tulsa, Okla.
#43 The Varsity, Atlanta, Ga.
#42 Puka Dog, Multiple Locations, Hawaii
#41 Dog Haus, Pasadena, Calif.
#40 I Dream of Weenie, Nashville, Tenn.
#39 Hot Dog Heaven, Orlando, Fla.
#38 Good Dog, Houston
#37 Wolfy’s Double Dog, Chicago
#36 Yesterdog, Grand Rapids, Mich.
#35 Famous Lunch, Troy, NY
#34 Mustard’s Last Stand, Evanston, Ill.
#33 Happy Dog, Cleveland
#32 James Coney Island, Houston
#31 Blue Ash Chili, Cincinnati
#30 Texas Weiners, Philadelphia
#29 Johnnie's Dog House, Wilmington, DE
#28 El Guero Canelo, Tucson, Ariz.
#27 Devil Dawgs, Chicago
#26 Franks 'n' Dawgs, Chicago
#25 American Coney Island, Detroit
#24 Portillo's, Chicago
#23 Schaller’s Drive-In, Rochester, N.Y.
#22 Coney Island Lunch, Scranton, Pa.
#21 Gene and Jude’s, Chicago
#20 Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington, D.C.
#19 Rawley’s Drive-In, Fairfield, Conn.
#18 Byron’s Hot Dog Haus, Chicago, Ill
#17 Superdawg, Chicago
#16 Murphy’s Red Hot Joint, Chicago
#15 Dat Dog, New Orleans
#14 Super Duper Weenie, Fairfield, Conn.
#13 Walter's, Mamaroneck, N.Y.
#12 Rutt’s Hut, Clifton, N.J.
#11 Olneyville N.Y. System, Providence, R.I.
#10 Jimmy John's Pipin' Hot Sandwiches, West Chester, Pa.
#9 Seti's Polish Boys, Cleveland
#8 Ted’s, Buffalo, NY
#7 Bark Hot Dogs, Brooklyn, N.Y.
#6 Wiener’s Circle, Chicago
#5 Lafayette Coney Island, Detroit
#4 Crif Dogs, New York City
#3 Fat Johnnie’s Famous Red Hots, Chicago
#2 Pink’s, Los Angeles
#1 Katz’s Deli, New York City