Flickr/ Dave L.
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.
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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 expats what they’re homesick for, and Skeenies will inevitably come up.
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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. Offerings include Chicago-style, with chili and cheese, and even a dog 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.
Located on the Jersey Shore and going strong since 1999, this hot dog shack is packed on nearly every summer afternoon. Why? Because its hot dogs are delicious and insanely creative. Just take the Italian, for example. While most places would just top an Italian dog with peppers and onions, Maui’s kicks it up a notch with onions, peppers, potatoes, and garlic, all sautéed in white wine. A mound of extra-sharp provolone completes the dish. Their number one seller is topped with mustard, onions, chili, cheese, and bacon, and diners can choose from nearly 30 toppings.
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This legendary roadside restaurant (no relation to the chain) 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.
Cupid’s Hot Dogs via Yelp
Cupid’s has been in business since 1946, and the three locations are still owned and operated by the founding Walsh family. 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 of not only the limited menu, but also the fact that it’s everything you’ll need for a world-class dog.
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Located smack-dab in the middle of nowhere, this quirky and colorful hot dog stand serves a perfect rendition of a West Virginia regional specialty: the slaw dog. Steamed, squishy buns get topped with a smoky grilled-to-order all-beef dog, a ladle of meaty chili, and a big helping of creamy, crunchy coleslaw. When you’re eating a hot dog like this, every bite is a party, and it’s easy to see why Martie’s has become a West Virginia hometown favorite.
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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, were only indirectly 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' definitive Texas dog gives you both, along with shredded Cheddar and chopped onions. It's a big, Texas-sized mouthful.
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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 it’s unlike anything else that’s out there, to say the least. 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.
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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.
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Located off of I-95 in Stratford, Connecticut, this local landmark has been serving its deep-fried hot dogs for 82 years, starting its nine-inch Hummel Bros. franks on the griddle and then crisping them up with a trip to the hot oil. The buns are nicely toasted, and the house specialty is the Bull Dog, topped with fried onions and a locally renowned super-spicy sauce called Kuhn’s Chili. The menu is huge, so don’t miss the opportunity to sample the burger, which is just as famous as the hot dog.
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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 Dan 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. Go in, order a Chicago dog, sit down at the concrete-ring picnic table, and dig into a great dog in a classic setting.
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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 SpaghettiO’s 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.
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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 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.
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Hank’s has 20 different varieties of hot dogs and sausages on the menu, and while their creativity knows no bounds, their dedication to turning out classic renditions of famous styles is also pretty stunning. Their Chicago dog, for example, is made with a Vienna beef hot dog and all the fixings, and is far and away the best version on the islands, and their chili dog is made with delicious homemade chili. Their non-frank sausages really shine, too: Try the Hawaiian (Portuguese sausage, mango mustard, pineapple relish); Andouille (andouille sausage, Cajun mustard, grilled onions); or the Lobster Fat Boy (deep-fried bacon-wrapped sausage made with lobster, shrimp, and fish, garlic aïoli, lettuce, and tomato).
This landmark on the shores of Lake Erie has been serving classic summer fare to generations of travelers to Ohio’s oldest summer resort town since 1950. And visiting today is like taking a trip back in time, with jukeboxes on the tables, swiveling stools at the counter, fresh-squeezed lemonade, great milkshakes, root beer straight from the barrel, and perfect burgers and footlong hot dogs. Order a hot dog and chili that’s based on a nearly 100-year-old recipe, and you’ll definitely feel like you’ve got this summer thing down.
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In central and western New York, you’ll find two primary types of hot dogs: white hots, made with uncured and unsmoked meat; and red hots, which are closer to traditional hot dogs, but smaller. In Buffalo, when you’re in the mood for red hots, you go to Louie’s, which has six locations in the region and has been a destination since 1967. For $2.29, do as the locals do and get your red hot, from Buffalo-based Sahlen’s, on a steamed bun with mustard onions, and Louie’s Special Greek Sauce, a thin, spiced beef chili. You’ll probably want to order at least two.
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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 wait staff 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.
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Puka Dog, a Hawaii institution 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, starfruit 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.
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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.
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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.
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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 $2.40, you can spring for it.
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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.
When Denmark’s superchef Klaus Meyer decided to open a hot dog stand inside bustling Grand Central Terminal in 2016 as an annex to his Great Northern Food Hall, people took notice. Widely regarded as the father of the New Nordic Cuisine philosophy that’s been sweeping the world lately, and the co-owner of the world-renowned Noma in Copenhagen, what kind of spin would he put on the humble tube steak? The verdict is in, and it’s good. Sausages (chicken, beef, and pork) are house-made, and buns come from Meyer’s own “bageri” in Williamsburg, and they’re topped with a wide variety of creative toppings and sauces including apple-horseradish ketchup, pickled turnips, and pork rinds. If you have to choose just one, go for the Great Dane, Meyer’s spin on the classic Danish dog: a beef and pork hot dog topped with spiced ketchup, mustard, Danish remoulade, red onion, pickled cucumber, and fried shallots.
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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 — house-made 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 burger baked in steamed onion broth, and creamy mac and cheese covered in Texas sauce.
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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 Rick’s Café, topped with roasted peppers, almonds, olives, raisins, and harissa mayo; and the popular PA Dutchie, with beer mustard, celery salt, chow-chow, red onion, pickles, and tomato. 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.
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“It’s the sauce” that keeps customers coming back to Deerhead Hot Dogs, which has been serving Delaware since 1935. Today there are locations in Wilmington and Newark (a third location in Bear shut down last year) 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).
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Founded by two brothers in 1959, Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe today has nine company-owned and three franchised locations in Pennsylvania and Ohio. All their hotdogs are made in a central commissary daily from an old family recipe, and these smallish hot dogs are nothing short of addictive. Chili sauce, cheese, onions, ketchup, mustard, and relish are available as toppings, and make sure you don’t pass on the fresh-cut, super-crispy fries.
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This is a vivid, dark red pork dog, on the small side, steamed, and 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.
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Once upon a time, Jim Pittenger repossessed 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, linguiça, duck cilantro, southwest buffalo, pheasant, and Louisiana red hots, but the elk, wild boar, and reindeer have specifically been attested to by none other than everyone’s favorite gastrogrouch, Anthony Bourdain.
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 racecar 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 a couple years ago, there was a major uproar, but even die-hards say they can’t tell the difference.
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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.
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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 five 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 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.
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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.
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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.
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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 Bob Schwartz, Vienna Beef senior vice president and author of Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog, says hearkens 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’s serves dogs. Char-broiling is more prominent here 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: the charbroiled foot-long red hot and the "Screamin' to Be Eaten Polish," Murphy’s one-third-pound charbroiled Polish sausage.
Facebook/Blue Ash Chili Original
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, of course, 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.
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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 trade barbs), the move is a double chardog with everything. The traditional Chicago hot dog is fairly represented at this Lincoln Park icon, with one crucial difference. 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.
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Vienna has been around for more than 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, 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.
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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.
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Gold Coast Dogs, which was founded in 1985 by Barry Potekin (who had washed out in the commodities 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 crazy, juicy, crunchy, hot-dog-end propellers.
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This West Virginia oddity is a certified head-scratcher, comprised of a couple small buildings as well as two converted school buses, with knickknacks, old signs, and rusty antiques covering every square inch. Sure, it might be slightly gimmicky, but it still serves some delicious hotdogs in nearly 30 different styles. They serve a mean rendition on the classic West Virginia slaw dog (mustard, onions, and creamy coleslaw), but the true claim to fame here is the Homewrecker, a 15-inch, one-pound dog topped with jalapeños, sautéed peppers and onions, nacho cheese, habaneros, chile sauce, mustard, slaw, lettuce, tomato, and shredded cheese. If you can eat one in under 12 minutes, you win a T-shirt.
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This tiny little walk-up hot dog stand with a small lunch counter in the building next door serves a unique regional variation on the hot dog: the mini dog. These measure just four inches in length, and while they were once far more ubiquitous, today only a handful of local shops sell them (including Troy’s Famous Lunch). The dogs at Gus’s are made by nearby Helmbold’s Provisions, with buns from nearby Bella Napoli Bakery (did we mention that these are a local specialty?), and they’re snappy, slightly charred from the grill, and are best topped with onions, yellow mustard, and a spicy beef chili sauce that’s for sale by the gallon. You’re going to want to order at least a few of these, by the way.
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Essie's Original Hot Dog Shop opened in 1960 just in time for the Pirates to win the World Series over the Yankees a block away at Forbes Field, and while the stadium is long gone, “The O,” as its lovingly known, is still going strong — a favorite of locals, in-the-know tourists, and University of Pittsburgh students. Essie’s long franks are made according to a proprietary recipe by nearby Silver Star Meats, and they get a nice crust on the flat top (griddled twice, including once right before serving) before making their way into the bun. They’re snappy and simply delicious. Make sure you stop by the back counter after getting your dog for some of their legendary fries.
Facebook/Tommy's Italian Sausage & Hot Dogs
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 a perfectly balanced Italian hot dog, one you’ll be glad you discovered.
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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.
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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 fixings. 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.
Dogs ‘n Frys
This hip Missouri dog destination has 25 different hot dog varieties on its menu, each wilder than the last. There’s the Peanut Butter Jelly Bacon Dog, which is topped with a strip of beef bacon as well as a healthy dose of peanut butter, jelly, and caramelized onions; the Sweet and Spicy Dog, with spicy raspberry sauce, Cheddar, seared jalapeños, and sweet barbecue sauce; The Dude, bacon wrapped and topped with brown gravy, onion straws, and green onions; and the classic Chili Dog, with is kicked up with house-made chili, cheese, diced onions, sour cream, and Fritos.
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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.
The Polish boy is a Cleveland classic, and few places do it better than Seti’s: a truck parked on the corner of 47th and Lorain. 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.
This hot dog joint with three New Orleans locations (and another inside Metairie’s Lakeside Mall) is quickly becoming a Crescent City institution, thanks to owner Constantine Georges' 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.
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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. “Super Doop” 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, the Cincinnatian, 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.
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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 in topping hot dogs with fries 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 now 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 hours — 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., when many of Chicago’s other iconic eateries are closed — make them a Sunday hot dog savior.
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 undeniably Jersey.
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It might irk some Washingtonians to hear, but as bagels and pizza are to New York, so the half-smoke is to the capital — it stands as one of the District’s most iconic foods along with the jumbo slice. 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, Ben’s remains 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.
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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.
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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-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 though 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.
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Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year since 1949, Angelo’s is a certified Michigan landmark, and nothing short of a household name in the state. The secret to its longevity is the quality of its ingredients: “Viennas” are made by local institution Koegel’s, buns are from nearby Balkin Bakery, and the house-made coney sauce is a rich, coarse-ground concoction that, when partnered with crisp diced onions and tangy mustard, is the perfect hot dog topper. Lucky for you, they ship.
This popular Milwaukee sausage shop has several regional-styled dogs on their menu (the Buffalo, for example, is topped with Red Hot gravy, blue cheese, and celery salt), and they’ve really gone overboard in inventing the “Milwaukee-style” dog: It’s a hot dog (or one of the several other types of sausage available) topped with not one, not two, but three different cheeses: shredded Cheddar, Cheez Whiz, and deep-fried cheese curds. Only in Wisconsin!
Seven different sausages are available (including bratwurst, jalapeño Cheddar brat, and two different vegan options), and they’re served on a warm, freshly-baked roll and topped with your choice of onions, kraut, spicy kraut, hot giardiniera, relish, or short peppers. But if you want to go upscale, you can also choose from 15 different “styled sausages,” including the popular Bunkhouse: a bacon-wrapped cheddarwurst topped with fried jalapeños, Cheddar, barbecue sauce, and guacamole.
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Ted’s, with nine 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.
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If there was ever a temple to great hot dogs, this is it — quite literally. This quirky restaurant (with two Pittsburgh locations and a couple food trucks) got its start in a cathedral basement, and it still maintains a slightly ecclesiastical vibe. All hot dogs are made in-house and all ingredients are sustainably sourced (including from their own on-site gardens), with stellar results. Classic combos include New York (housemade sauerkraut, onion sauce, and mustard), Texan (grass-fed beef chili, sharp Cheddar, jalapeños), and Chicago-style, but the Signature Franks really shine: Try the Pittsburgh (potato and cheese pierogi, vinegar slaw), Bangkok (Thai peanut sauce, carrots, red cabbage, cilantro), or the Bogota (pineapple sauce, slaw, potato chips, pink sauce, yellow mustard). When you start with the finest ingredients possible, the end result is always worth it.
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. 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 six locations in the greater Atlanta and Athens areas (with two in the airport). 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.
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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 crazy-good Italian beef 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.
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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.
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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 topped 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).
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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.
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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 from Koegel’s gets placed into a warm steamed bun, then topped with a Greek-spiced beef heart-based 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.
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Allentown-based Yocco’s can trace its roots back to 1922, when a young Italian immigrant named Theodore Iacocca (auto executive Lee Iacocca’s uncle, coincidentally) started selling hot dogs at his Allentown convenience store. Being a Dutch neighborhood, the locals had trouble pronouncing his last name, so Yocco’s was born. Over the years it became a local landmark, serving pork and beef hot dogs specially made for them by nearby Hatfield meats, griddled until well-done and topped with mustard, white onions, and a tangy meat-based chili sauce whose secret recipe is nearly as old as the shop itself. Today there are six locations across the Lehigh Valley, and it’s run by Iacocca’s grandson Gary and his son Chris.
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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.
The namesake for this hot dog stand — which opened in the East Village in 2015 and added another location in Coney Island earlier this year — is one that’s rich with hot dog history. Charles Feltman is widely credited as having invented the first hot dog in Coney Island in 1869 (it was he who first thought to tuck the sausage into a bun), and by the 1920s, his humble stand had turned into a massive dining and entertainment complex (billed the world’s largest restaurant) until it closed down in 1954. (A bun slicer named Nathan Handwerker decided to strike out on his own in 1916 and open a stand a couple blocks away; you might have heard of it.)
But Feltman's commitment to history goes deeper than the name: The proprietary hot dogs, which were devised by owner (and Coney Island historian) Michael Quinn and his brother Joseph, are a close approximation of what Feltman himself may have served back in the day; they’re uncured, nitrate-free, with natural casing and no artificial ingredients, and are snappy and tasty enough to eat by themselves. Topped with mustard and sauerkraut and eaten on the Coney Island boardwalk, it gives that other place up the street a run for its money.
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Is there anything to say 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.
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One of the culinary world’s greatest rivalries is between two neighboring downtown Detroit hot dog stands: Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island. 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.
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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 8-year-old great-granddaughter recently worked her first shift there.
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Katz’s Deli, on New York’s Lower East Side, is a New York institution. Their corned beef and pastrami, made on site 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. It’s a perfect hot dog, from a perfect deli.
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Calling itself "downtown's oldest restaurant," Coney Island Lunch was founded (at a nearby 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 non-traditional bun made by Scranton's own National Bakery. Düsseldorf mustard and onions diced on a 1928 Hobart chopper complete the package.
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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 the country’s most delicious hot dog. 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.