The hot dog was introduced to the United States more than 100 years ago, when German immigrants first brought over their frankfurters and started selling them on the cheap, at places like Coney Island’s Nathan's Famous, arguably ground zero for American hot dog consumption. But then, people began developing their own spice mixes and making their own hot dogs, and every region and group of people put its unique stamp on the snack. In Chicago they top all-beef dogs with mustard, fresh tomatoes, onions, sport peppers, bright green relish, dill pickles, and celery salt. Spicy Texas Red Hots are popular in New Jersey, but not in Texas, while Greek immigrants in Michigan concocted a cinnamon-rich beef chili that came to be known as Coney sauce, but it has nothing to do with Coney Island. The uncured, unsmoked White Hot is popular in upstate New York; the regional variations go on and on.
On our quest to find America’s best hot dogs, we kept an eye out for places with a definitive style of hot dog, one which embodies the region’s particular tastes and the culinary traditions of its people. We also made sure to take into account online reviews from locals as well as the dog's overall reputation among those in-the-know, and the quality of the ingredients – namely sourcing the franks from well-known local producers, was also important. Sadly, there were some renowned institutions that didn’t make the cut. While the original Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island very well might be the most well-known hot dog stand in America, it didn’t make our cut because the buns have been stale every time we’ve eaten there and it’s sadly resting on its laurels at this point (even though the fries are admittedly delicious). And while the pretzel dog at chain Auntie Anne’s has its loyal devotees, the experience isn’t exactly sublime.
Our list runs the gamut from ancient stands that have been serving the same exact product day in and day out for decades to gastropubs putting their unique stamp on the hot dog to a place where people wait in line for more than an hour for one topped with foie gras. There’s one constant thread between them, though: they’re our country’s best – and, as it turns out, two reside in Houston.
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 Island locations in and around Houston, serving burgers, sandwiches, tamales, and more, but the dogs remain the thing. At many hot dog joints, you can get your pup with chili or mustard, but James's definitive Texas dog gives you both, along with shredded cheddar and chopped onions. It's a big, Texas-size mouthful.
It’s so good, it snagged the #42 spot on our list, beating out the only other Houston hot dog to make it onto our list—the Ol’ Zapata Dog at Good Dog (#4)—which means that James Coney Island’s Texas hot dog wins the title of the best in H-Town.