America’s 75 Best Hot Dogs
June 29, 2015
These hot dog stands and restaurants turn out some amazing tube steaks
America’s 75 Best Hot Dogs
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.
#75 Nathan’s Famous, Coney Island, N.Y.
Yelp / Mikey G.
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
Yelp/ Sal P
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.
#73 The Brick, Kansas City, Mo.
This place doesn’t just serve awesome hot dogs, it also happens to be one of Kansas City’s best dive bars and live music venues. Quarter-pound all-beef dogs come in eight styles that span the globe: Coney Island (chili, Cheddar, and onions); Jersey Boy (peppers, onions, garlic, and fried potatoes); Chicago (the usual); Kansas City Reuben (Swiss, Thousand Island, sauerkraut, pickle); Dixie (coleslaw, Dijon, pickle); Memphis (barbecue sauce, grilled onion, coleslaw, Cheddar); Houston Frito Pie (Fritos, chili, cheese, onions, jalapeños); and Oklahoma (beer-battered and bacon-wrapped, with onion and mustard). All are also available with veggie dogs; no matter which one you choose, you really can’t go wrong.
#72 Biker Jim's, Denver
Once upon a time, Jim Pittenger repoed cars. Now? He splits hot dogs right down the center, chars them on a gas grill, and tops them with Coca-Cola-soaked grilled onions and a "swizzle of cream cheese unloaded from the front end of a caulking gun." Some of the dogs on the menu at Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs include rattlesnake and pheasant, linguisa, duck cilantro, southwest buffalo, pheasant, and Louisiana red hots, but the elk, wild boar, and reindeer have been attested to by none other than everyone’s favorite gastrogrouch Anthony Bourdain.
#71 Cupid’s, Van Nuys, Calif.
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 three locations are still owned and operated by the founding Walsh family, and the menu is still super simple: hot dogs, chips, and drinks. 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.
#70 Tommy’s, Elizabeth, N.J.
Yelp/ Dan H
The traditional New Jersey Italian hot dog is notoriously difficult to perfect, but at the unassuming, order-at-the-window Tommy’s, 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.
#69 Shorty’s, Seattle
Yelp/ Ati B
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 wash down with 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.
#68 Martinsville Speedway, Ridgeway, Va.
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. When the speedway switched hot dog suppliers (for the first time in nearly 70 years) from Jesse Jones to Smithfield-owned Valleydale Foods earlier this year there was a major uproar, but even die-hards say they can’t tell the difference.
#67 Gus's, Birmingham, Ala.
Gus’s is home to the Greek Dog — in fact, it’s "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 — 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.
#66 DC-3, Washington, D.C.
Located on Capitol Hill, DC-3 is a vintage-inspired hot dog joint from the same folks who run Matchbox and Ted’s Bulletin. Just like you could tour the country with a ride on an old DC-3, you can tour the country’s regional hot dogs here. Options include a Sonoran dog topped with pinto beans, onions, tomato, white sauce, jalapeño relish, and mustard; a coney dog with chili, onion, and yellow mustard; a West Virginia-style sauce and slaw dog; a full-on Chicago-style dog; a bacon-wrapped Jersey “ripper”; and a Cincinnati-style dog with shredded Cheddar, chili, onions, and mustard. You can also get a homemade corn dog or a Boar’s Head half-smoke with relish, mustard, and onion. Oh, and all dogs are just $4.99. These aren’t just imitations of these regional styles; they do them all very, very well.
#65 Simone’s Hot Dog Stand, Lewiston, Maine
Foursquare/ Mike A
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.
#64 Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
The tasty, juicy Dodger Dog was apparently christened in honor of Los Angeles' Major League baseball team when it first moved west from Brooklyn. It's a beef–pork blend, 10 3/4 inches long (there is also an all-beef version), served on one of those bready, dryish buns that always seems to be cracking a little. The traditional condiments of mustard, ketchup, onions, and relish help moisten it nicely. At Dodger Stadium, the dogs are sold both grilled and steamed — there's a separate line for each — and more than two million of them are consumed in an average season, making them the No. 1 wiener in Major League ballparks. These days, these popular dogs are also sold in grocery stores, in Dodger Dog restaurants, and (can there be any greater compliment?) in other Major League venues around the country.
#63 Clare & Carl's, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
There’s a tiny shack on Route 9 South in Plattsburgh, New York, 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 not a Texas but 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).
#62 Deerhead Hot Dogs, Delaware
Yelp/ Rich M
“It’s the sauce” that keeps customers coming back to Deerhead Hot Dogs, which has been serving Delaware since 1935. Today there are three locations, in Wilmington, Newark, and Bear, and the sauce in question is a rich, thick meat sauce with a top-secret recipe that tops their “Everything” dog along with onions and mustard. It doesn’t stop there, though: don’t miss the DiNardo (with Old Bay, ketchup and fries), the pulled pork dog (with fried onions, barbecue sauce, and provolone), or the breakfast dog (with a fried egg and American cheese).
#61 Jimmy's Red Hots, Chicago
You have to admire the ardor and passion at this Chicago West Side icon; it takes the "no ketchup" position very seriously. There are signs on the wall and a vehement explanation of their position on their site that makes everything very clear: "There is absolutely, positively, without question NO FREAKING KETCHUP AT JIMMY’S! No means no. It doesn’t mean maybe on the side, in the bottles, or even in packs. Placing that foul condiment on a Chicago-style Depression Dog or Polish is like violating a tradition. So when you come to Jimmy’s, remember ketchup is outlawed. NO MEANS NO!" Admirable, appreciated, and fair enough. But with no disrespect to history (and going back more than 55 years, there is history at Jimmy’s Red Hots), the profound love for Jimmy’s really has to be attributed to the anti-ketchup crusade and their uniquely delicious hot dogs. Put simply: they’re a mess. Crushed and rolled up with soft, soggy fries like something you’d toss into the trash, Jimmy’s gets points for keeping what you’d have to imagine was a packaging tradition that originated as an everyman practicality, and while it shouldn’t work it does: the steamed bun gets a bit manhandled, there are few if any poppy seeds to speak of, and the peppers are darker and more crimped than any others in Chicago, but when added together, the whole is a lot more than the sum of its parts.
#60 Gold Coast Dogs, Chicago
Gold Coast Dogs, which was founded in 1985 by Barry Potekin (who had washed out in the commodity business), is said to have produced good food at a time when that wasn't typical at stands (especially in the downtown Loop). There are now five Gold Coast locations (including two at O’Hare and one at Midway), but Potekin and his partner Paul Michaels have been gone for more than a decade, and there’s little left of the charm and personal touch that used to characterize the place, at least according to Bob Schwartz’s 2010 book Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog. What Gold Coast may lack in charm, though, it makes up in char. These are some juicy red tomato-laden, chargrilled dogs with split ends that flay open in quarters on either end of the bun like some crazy, juicy-crunchy hot-dog-end propellers.
#59 Jimmy Buff's Italian Hot Dogs, West Orange and Kenilworth, N.J.
The no-frills, counter-service Jimmy Buff’s, with locations in West Orange and Kenilworth, is a New Jersey legend. Since 1932, they’ve been serving a distinct, somewhat bizarre creation called the Italian hot dog. Hot dogs, onions, peppers, and sliced potato coins are all tossed into the deep-fryer together, and the whole mess is piled into half-moon shaped “pizza bread” (think thick pita); most people opt for the Double, with two dogs. It’s then topped with your choice of ketchup, mustard, or relish. It’s one of the unhealthiest, greasiest foods you can eat, but it’s undoubtedly delicious, and undoubtedly Jersey.
#58 Bob's Drive Inn, Le Mars, Iowa
Foursquare/ Evan Bu
Bob’s Drive Inn serves locally made Wimmer’s natural-casing brand hot dogs, best enjoyed when topped with the restaurant's 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. Each end of the frank — the offerings here are called Bob Dogs — comically resembles a human thumb. Bob’s Drive Inn, which has been around since 1949 as a family-owned and -operated business, is a must-stop for any hot dog lover who finds him- or herself in this part of Iowa.
#57 Otto's Sausage Kitchen, Portland, Ore.
This family-run German deli has been a Portland staple for more than 80 years, and their hot dogs and other sausages are still made by hand the old-fashioned way: They’re smoked in-house, and ridiculously delicious. While it’s primarily a meat market inside, their outdoor grill serves many different varieties of sausages with all the fixins. Their “world famous old fashioned wieners” are definitely what you want to order, and keep it simple: a little mustard should be all you need. Let the link speak for itself.
#56 Dew Drop Inn, Mobile, Ala.
Yelp/ Alex G
If you’re from Mobile, you know about the comfortable, wood-paneled Dew Drop Inn. 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.
#55 Senate Restaurant, Cincinnati
Senate is one of Cincinnati's hottest restaurants, and while some restaurants relegate hot dogs 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.
#54 Skeenies, Charleston, W.V.
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-pats what they’re homesick for, and Skeenies will inevitably come up.
#53 Flo's, Cape Neddick, Maine
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.
#52 Frank, Austin, Texas
Yelp/ Emily K
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 percent 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.
#51 Texas Hot Dogs, Altoona, Pa.
The small town of Altoona, Pennsylvania, is said to be the birthplace of the Texas wiener-style hot dog, and there are two spots left in town that have been serving them since 1918; confusingly, they’re both called Texas Hot Dogs. The one on the outskirts of town is certainly a legend in its own right, but the downtown stand is the one to visit first. It’s an old-fashioned lunch counter with its grill in the front window and birch beer from the barrel, and the dogs here are slowly roasted on a well-seasoned grill, the buns are steamed, and the requisite toppings — housemade chili-like “Texas sauce,” yellow mustard, and chopped onions — are applied by countermen who line them up on their arm. Save room for a tour of regional favorites: deep-fried cheese balls, a steer burger baked in steamed onion broth, and creamy mac and cheese covered in Texas sauce.
#50 J. S. Pulliam Barbeque, Winston-Salem, N.C.
Well, it's called a barbeque place, but what most people seem to rave about here isn't the 'que, 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, throw on a dose of Big Ed's Extremely Hot BBQ Sauce.
#49 Memphis Taproom Beer Garden, Philadelphia
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 prepared 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.
Photo Modified: Flickr / Erin Nekervis
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.
#47 Vienna Beef Factory, Chicago
Vienna has been around for 120 years, so you have to figure they know what they’re doing when it comes to making a Chicago-style hot dog. They’re predictably proud, and why shouldn’t they be? As they note, "From the moment Emil Reichel and Sam Ladany gave Chicago its first taste of Vienna, we've been making hot dog history." According to the company, the big debut was in 1893, when more than 27 million people flocked to the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago to witness the latest inventions, including the Vienna Beef hot dog, created by Austrian-Hungarian immigrants Reichel and Ladany. Their first store opened a year later, and their sausages spread across Chicago in 1908, went from horse to buggy in 1928, expanded beyond Chicago in 1950, and started regularly getting dragged through the garden in 1957. In 1972, Vienna made Chicago's North Side home, setting up headquarters where you can stop by for a hot dog when they’re open for the season. Don’t expect lots of love. And yes, it feels a bit like a cafeteria and the one-on-one exchange will not likely be the same as any you’ll experience (for good or evil) at the rest of the hot dog places on this list, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more exemplary version of the platonic ideal. And if you plan far enough ahead (as of publication, they're booked through October 2015), you can get a more personal touch through a guided tour. Steamed bun, juicy dog, all the right toppings and proportions... you’ve found the place that holds the Vienna Beef Hall of Fame. You can’t go wrong. Really, you can’t.
#46 Griddler's, Boston
This modern, low-key burger joint has locations in Beacon Hill and on Boston Common, and the owners are committed to sourcing all their ingredients as locally as possible. This means that their hot dogs come from Lynn, Massachusetts’ Old Neighborhood Foods, and man are they good. Quarter-pound all-beef franks come with a slew of option toppings; free ones include pickles, relish, onion, tomato, sauerkraut, onion sauce, and chipotle aïoli. For 50 cents you can get cheese, sautéed mushrooms, kimchi, truffle aïoli, or tomato-jalapeño marmalade, and a buck will get you guacamole, chili, a fried egg, bacon, Cajun ham, or sausage. Wash it down with an ice cream float and you’ll be in hot dog heaven.
#45 Shake Shack, Multiple Locations
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 really a hot dog town. 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.
#44 Coney I-Lander, Tulsa, Okla.
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 them 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.
#43 The Varsity, Atlanta, Ga.
The Varsity is not included on this list because it claims to be the world’s largest drive-in, or because it’s one of the few restaurants in America that still employs carhops. No, neither is it The Varsity’s staying power (founder Frank Gordy launched it with a $2,000 nest egg and "million dollar taste buds" in 1928) and its expansion to some nine locations in the greater Atlanta and Athens areas. It’s because it sells some truly stellar hot dogs, delivered daily along with the ground beef used to make their legendary chili (which you can also buy by the can). Learn the lingo before ordering, but if in doubt, opt for the “Heavy Dog,” topped with chili and a thin stripe of mustard.
#42 Puka Dog, Multiple Locations, Hawaii
Yelp/ Angie S
Puka Dog, a Hawaii landmark with locations throughout the state, sells hot dogs unlike any others you’ll encounter. Tucked into a toasted whole loaf of bread, a puka dog is a grilled Polish sausage that’s accompanied by a wide selection of tropical toppings that includes pineapple sauce, guava mustard, star fruit relish, and garlic lemon sauce. Don’t be shy; you’ll be amazed at how well some of these unexpected toppings pair with the dog.
#41 Dog Haus, Pasadena, Calif.
The Dog Haus is a mecca for tube steak excess in all its multi-topping glory. With selections like the Grand Slam (an all-beef skinless dog topped with bacon, a fried egg, tater tots, and maple syrup sriracha), the Dog Haus has successfully convinced healthy, sensible Southern Californians that stuffing their faces with a Little Leaguer (chili, Fritos, shredded Cheddar, diced onions) is preferable to having a beach body. Grab a side of made-to-order tater tots, and get ready to enter hot dog heaven.
#40 I Dream of Weenie, Nashville, Tenn.
This Nashville gem is the definition of funky: It’s a decked-out VW bus with a front porch and a walk-up window, and to say the least, it’s unlike anything else that’s out there. But it’s not just a sight gag: The hot dogs here are spectacular, and insanely unique. All-beef, charcoal-grilled, and served on half of a soft Italian roll, you never know what kinds of crazy toppings will be on offer. Caramelized Vidalia onion marmalade with goat cheese? Sure. Fresh grilled corn salsa? Sounds delicious. Ginger hoisin sauce, Asian slaw, and crunchy chow mein noodles? Nothing wrong with that! How about mashed potatoes and gravy on an English banger, red beans and rice on andouille, or chorizo topped with tomatillo slaw, avocado, and sour cream? The possibilities at I Dream of Weenie really are endless.
#39 Hot Dog Heaven, Orlando, Fla.
Authentic Chicago-style hot dogs, in Orlando? Since 1987, that’s exactly what they’ve been turning out at Hot Dog Heaven: Natural-casing Vienna beef hot dogs in a steamed poppy seed bun, topped with mustard, relish, onion, tomato, pickle, and sport peppers. It’s every bit as good as what you’ll find in Chicago, and you can even complement it with another classic Chicago food: a pizza puff from Chicago-based Iltaco Foods.
#38 Good Dog, Houston
Good Dog got its start as a truck but has since gone brick and mortar, 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-house. 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 aïoli, cilantro, cumin, and lime) and 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.
#37 Wolfy’s Double Dog, Chicago
Wolfy’s has some serious Chicago hot dog heritage — Mickey Becker opened the stand with Phil Winnick, the brother-in-law of Abe "Fluky" Drexler, whose Chicago hot dog pedigree goes back to a stand opened in 1929 in Chicago’s famed Maxwell Street market. It’s been featured toward the top of Chicago’s best-of lists going back at least as far as the mid-'70s. The Fluky’s connection may have faded, but the reputation for great hot dogs continues, starting with the famous tong-pierced red hot sign planted outside. In the Double Dog, a thin, super-steamed, but still-not-soggy-bun is the foundation for two natural-casing dogs nestled with all the traditional Chicago fixings, a beautiful bun-long pickle spear, and thicker-than-normal slices of tomato. You want a quintessential Chicago hot dog done right? Stop by Wolfy’s.
#36 Yesterdog, Grand Rapids, Mich.
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.
#35 Famous Lunch, Troy, N.Y.
Yelp/ Marc M
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), 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.
#34 Mustard’s Last Stand, Evanston, Ill.
In Evanston on Central Street, less than a block from Northwestern’s Ryan Field, where the Wildcats play, and in a shack that’s barely 700 square feet, Mustard’s Last Stand serves hot dogs with a pedigree that few others have. Owner Danny Polovin grew up in Albany Park and apprenticed at Maury’s Red Hots, a red hot stalwart that sold hot dogs in a traditionally Jewish neighborhood of Chicago for more than 30 years (it closed in the summer of 1985 after its namesake Maury Andes passed away). Many, including Bob Schwartz of Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog, credit that Maury’s pedigree for Polovin’s 30 years of success in Evanston (and Boulder, and Denver, where he has also has hot dog spots). Go in, order a Chicago dog, sit down at the concrete-ring picnic table, and dig into a great dog in a classic setting.
#33 Happy Dog, Cleveland
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 SpaghettiOs to Caribbean coleslaw and Froot Loops, but if you’re overwhelmed, there are plenty of “Signature Wieners,” including the Mobile Home-Wrecker: an all-beef dog topped with bourbon pork and beans, Cheddar, caramelized onions, Andy Capp’s Hot Fries, and Alabama-style white barbecue sauce. You won’t know what hit you.
#32 James Coney Island, Houston
Yelp/ Linda N
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 (the name has also been tweaked to JCI Grill), 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.
#31 Blue Ash Chili, Cincinnati
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" gives you 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 mound of shredded Cheddar cheese.
#30 Texas Weiners, Philadelphia
Texas Weiners is one of those old-style hot dog stands that you can tell is legit from the moment you see it. Dating back to 1923, when then-recent Greek immigrant Stephanos Mandrohalos first opened its doors (or window), the stand has long been proudly serving up “The Works”: a split and grilled all-beef hot dog on a steamed club roll topped with mustard, onions, and a secret sauce whose recipe is still under lock and key. And if you still have some stomach space and want to try a true Philly classic, you won’t be disappointed by their egg and scrapple sandwich.
#29 Johnnie's Dog House, Wilmington, DE
A Wilmington institution, Johnnie’s is about as classic as it gets. Hot dogs here are available as 100 percent beef, veggie, turkey, Kobe, or 13-inch jumbo, and come in a dizzying array of varieties representing the entire country: Michigan (mustard, chili, and onions), Seattle (cream cheese and grilled onions), New Jersey (grilled potatoes, peppers, and onions), Sonoran (cheese, jalapeño, pinto beans, tomatoes, onions, salsa)… it’s truly astonishing. But they also sell some insane unique creations. The most legendary one of all is the Delaware Destroyer: two hot dogs on a six inch hoagie roll, topped with macaroni and cheese, chili, grilled onions, and hot sauce.
#28 El Güero Canelo, Tucson, Ariz.
Yelp/ Dan B
This hot dog 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 you won’t find outside of the region, 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 Güero 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.
#27 Devil Dawgs, Chicago
Just a few years ago, one of Chicago’s best hot dog stands was a place that focused on removing stains from shirts, not one whose food is so good you can’t help make a mess of yourself in your enthusiasm to scarf it down. The former Lincoln Park dry cleaner was replaced in 2010 by Devil Dawgs, a small brick-walled dive dedicated to devilishly good hot dogs. There are six different dogs on the menu: Polish sausage, slaw dog, Coney dog (with sweet Coney sauce, mustard, and onions), Cheddar dog, Chicago dog, and the namesake Devil Dawg (with onions, sweet relish, mustard, and sport peppers). These are all exemplary all-beef hot dogs, the quintessential Chicago dog among them. The bun is super steamed, the dog has a great snap, all the other elements are in great harmony — it’s a beautiful thing. And not that this hot dog’s ranking on this list is based on them, but Devil Dawg’s Coney cheese fries are some of the best you’ll ever have. They give you an incredible fry-to-cheese-to-Coney sauce ratio — you never have to seek out any one component.
#26 Franks 'n' Dawgs, Chicago
What is five-star dining? An exemplary dining experience? Nonpareil food and service? At Franks 'n' Dawgs in Lincoln Park, owner Alexander Brunacci and chef Joe Doren (a veteran of Blackbird) set some high expectations with their sign outside proclaiming "5-Star Dining on a Bun." That means hand-crafted artisan sausages (identified by chef hats on their menu), in-house-made accoutrements, and New England-style top-loading lobster roll buns made daily by a local bakery. There are pheasant, scallop, goat, salmon, lamb, lobster, and turkey sausages (among others) and toppings just as diverse and creative. But this is Chicago we’re talking about, and even one of the city’s most gourmet hot dog shops has to have an homage to the city’s icon. Frank 'n' Dawgs Chicagoesque isn’t your typical Chicago-style hot dog. It’s an all-natural (nitrate-free and uncured) 100 percent beef artisan ⅛-pound skinless frank topped with house pickles, cherry tomato relish, caramelized onions, and beer mustard. It’s a skinless link, so there’s not the traditional snappiness; the top-loading bun is butter-griddled; and the onions are caramelized, so you miss out on that raw onion flavor and crunch. It’s very much a different situation, a bit sweet, and everything just a step away from the mainstream Chicago dog, but the riffs all make for a worthwhile interpretation with a buttery crispness you’ll find nowhere else in Chicago.
#25 American Coney Island, Detroit
In Detroit, there’s an epic rivalry going back decades between two neighboring hot dog stands, American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island, but both belong on our list for 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, a heap of diced onions, and a squirt of mustard. No trip to Detroit is complete without a Coney dog.
#24 Portillo's, Chicago
It may have started as a "The Dog House" in 1963, but with more than 30 locations in Illinois and a menu that goes far beyond Chicago-style hot dogs — think ribs, salads, burgers, and beef and chicken sandwiches (among others) — Portillo’s seems more chain than hot dog stand. But given its iconic status, it wouldn’t be fair to exclude it, even if it can be found in Arizona, California, and Indiana (lucky them). The link is plump and juicy, there’s ample mustard and a perfectly respectable pickle spear, and it’s a mighty tasty dog.
#23 Schaller’s Drive-In, Rochester, N.Y.
Yelp/ Pete A
Folks come to this waterfront Rochester institution 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. Schaller’s specialty is the upstate hot dog variety known as White Hots: fat natural-casing dogs comprised of pork, beef, and veal that are made by local butcher 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 outpost is the one to visit.
#22 Coney Island Lunch, Scranton, Pa.
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, Pennsylvania, 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.
#21 Gene and Jude’s, River Grove, Illinois
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 that’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.
#20 Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington, D.C.
It might irk 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 capital’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, 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.
#19 Rawley’s Drive-In, Fairfield, Conn.
In business since 1947, 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 recommend "the works": mustard, relish, sauerkraut, and chunks of crunchy bacon.
#18 Byron’s Hot Dog Haus, Chicago, Ill
Yelp/ Eleazer C
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 outposts around anymore, but it’s worth seeking out one of the two remaining locations to take on Dogzilla, a half-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 half-pound beauty. Hot diggity.
#17 Superdawg, Wheeling, Illinois
Topped by what has to be 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, devised his own secret recipe, and set up a drive-in at what was then the end of the streetcar line. He planned to sell 32-cent 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." Sadly, Maurie passed away in May 2015 at age 89, but the family-run operation is still going strong: Maurie’s six-year-old great-granddaughter recently worked her first shift there.
#16 Murphy’s Red Hots, Chicago
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 to "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 on which Murphy serves dogs. 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 foot-long red hot, and the "Screamin' to Be Eaten Polish," Murphy’s third-pound charbroiled Polish sausage.
#15 Dat Dog, New Orleans
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 — with 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.
#14 Super Duper Weenie, Fairfield, Conn.
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.
#13 Walter's, Mamaroneck, N.Y.
On the side of an unassuming road, in the unassuming little town of Mamaroneck, in New York's Westchester County, 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.
#12 Rutt’s Hut, Clifton, N.J.
Even if Rutt’s Hut, located in blue-collar Clifton, 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.
#11 Olneyville N.Y. System, Providence, R.I.
Olneyville N.Y. System, with two locations in Providence, Rhode Island, 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 little 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.
#10 Jimmy John's Pipin' Hot Sandwiches, West Chester, Pa.
This legendary roadside restaurant has been welcoming guests with its charming yellow “FAMOUS FOR FRANKFURTERS” sign for decades. What started as a tiny stand has grown and grown over the years. Today it’s owned by Roger Steward, a former employee who started working there in 1974, and although it was gutted by a 2010 fire it was quickly rebuilt. Their thick, natural-casing “special frankfurters” are tucked into a short roll, and you can help yourself to all the toppings you want. Jimmy John’s is nothing short of an institution; have a couple dogs, check out the model trains, and don’t forget to pick up a box of franks and rolls to go.
#9 Seti's Polish Boys, Cleveland
The Polish Boy is a Cleveland classic, and few places do it better than Seti’s: a truck parked on the corner of 34th and Woodland. So what’s a Polish boy, exactly? It’s a hot dog (Seti’s are quarter-pound all-beef franks, slow-grilled then deep-fried), topped with slaw, fries, and barbecue sauce. It’s a wonder to behold, and if you want to supplement it with some chili or cheese for an extra buck, go for it. Renowned Cleveland chef Michael Symon approves; he sung Seti’s praises on Cooking Channel’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate.
#8 Ted’s, Buffalo, N.Y.
Ted’s, with eight locations in the Buffalo area and one more in Tempe, Arizona (of all places), has been charcoal-broiling hot dogs since 1927, serving them alongside great milkshakes and perfect onion rings, washed down with an ice-cold Crystal Beach Loganberry. The cooked-to-order dogs (available in regular-sized, foot-long, and jumbo all-beef varieties) 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, based on a recipe brought from Greece by founder Ted Liaros. It’s sweet and spicy, and they thankfully also sell it by the bottle.
#7 Bark Hot Dogs, Brooklyn, N.Y.
While 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 recently opened in Greenwich Village), 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). Upstate New York’s Hartmann’s Old World Sausage worked with them to create a stellar 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 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.
#6 Wiener’s Circle, Chicago
If you’re not too intimidated to order (the infamously, ahem, rude environment can get 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.
#5 Lafayette Coney Island, Detroit
One of the culinary world’s greatest rivalries is between two neighboring Downtown Detroit hot dog stands: Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island (No. 25). While the battle over which hot dog tastes better is on par with the fight between Pat’s and Geno’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.
#4 Crif Dogs and PDT, New York City
Since opening on St. Marks Place in 2001, Crif Dogs has been the standard-bearer for unique and exciting hot dogs in New York, and they now have 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. Other insane creations include the Garden State (wrapped in Taylor ham and sopped with chopped pepperoncini, American cheese, and mustard) and the Tsunami (bacon-wrapped and topped with teriyaki, pineapple, and green onions).
But if you’re looking for quite possibly the most elevated hot dog experience in the country, step into the phone booth at the East Village location, pick up the phone, and wait for the secret door to open. You’ll step into an intimate cocktail lounge called PDT (or Please Don’t Tell, one of the city’s best), with a menu of hot dogs created by some of the city’s leading chefs, including David Chang (bacon-wrapped and deep-fried, topped with Momofuku kimchi) and Wylie Dufresne (deep-fried and topped with battered and deep-fried mayo, tomato molasses, shredded lettuce, and dried onions).
#3 Fat Johnnie’s Famous Red Hots, Chicago
This hot dog shack is admittedly a bit of a sleeper. 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 amazingly 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.
#2 Pink’s, Los Angeles
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 offers 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 right 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 best-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.
#1 Katz’s Deli, New York City
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; the best in the country, in fact. 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. It’s a perfect hot dog, from a perfect deli.