Whether youre a fan of hot dogs or not, frankly, my dear, we dont give a damn because today is National Hot Dog Day. Weve heard the arguments against the handheld lunch, chief among them their unhealthiness and questionable contents, but in this gluten-free, locally sourced, free-range world, theres something to be said for eating something without checking the label. And who doesnt remember their first hot dog at a baseball game with their dad? In honor of todays solemn occasion, we present to you our totally unscientific, totally biased list of our 10 favorite hot dogs.
Hot Dougs in Chicago has walked the line between traditional franks, like the Chicago dog, and modern fare, including hot dogs made from exotic game and even fois gras which it continued to serve after the Windy City banned the liver-derived provision in 2006. While the joint is Zagat rated and Bon Appetit named it one of the Top 50 Restaurants on the Planet, owner Doug Sohn announced in May that Hot Dougs will close for good on Oct. 3.
Starting in 1939 as a hot dog cart, Hollywoods Pinks touts itself as the ultimate Mom and Pop hot dog stand. Its swanky locale has made it a staple for A-listers ranging from Marlon Brando and Bill Cosby to Michael Jackson and Martha Stewart. The menu boasts 30 hot dog varieties, but Pinks isnt pushing out-there La La Land varieties, with most of the selections being variations on traditional options, like chili dogs and regional favorites from around the country.
Particularly close to my heart because my grandparents had their first date there in the 1920s is Scranton, Pa.s original Coney Island. For nearly a century, Coney Island has specialized in the Texas wiener, a split hot dog served on a hamburger bun or club roll and covered in chili. And Coney Islands chili is as good as it gets, with just enough bite to enhance but not overpower the dog. Last year, the owners put Coney Island up for sale for $500,000, which includes the secret chili recipe. Were thinking of starting a Kickstarter to snatch up this gem.
The venerable Ball Park recently introduced a line of premium beef dogs in specialty varieties. We were skeptical but quickly won over by the Cracked Dijon Mustard dog, which has a bit of a snap such an important and unique quality for a hot dog and bite, thanks to the mustard seeds. Ball Park also offers Signature Seasoned, Smokehouse Barbecue and Slow Smoked Hickory in its new kennel of dogs.
Philadelphias South Street dog spot is certainly on the hipper side of the spectrum, offering gourmet hot dogs served among frankfurter-inspired poster art. Like a great musician, Hot Diggity is inspired by classics, but does not copy them note for note. From The Bronx Bomber to The Cincinnati Skyline, Hot Diggity has a knack for honoring the past with a modern twist, and it does a damn good job of it.
New York City is arguably the hot dog capital of the world, and Papaya King has been a fixture of Gothams wiener scene since it opened shop on the Upper East Side in 1932. Papaya King has become a part of pop culture, with a Seinfeld episode finding Kramer leaving a movie ticket line to grab one of their dogs, and the chain even opened a concept store in the East Village last year. In 1976, the dogs of war were unleashed when Nathans Famous set up shop next door, and in 1973, former Papaya King partner Paul Gray opened Grays Papaya.
Frank traditionalists may balk at the stated goal of Los Perros Locos the perfect Colombian hot dog but the Lower East Side eatery, opened just last year, has found an audience for its bold takes on an old favorite. LPLs dog toppers include apple chipotle slaw, various salsas, chorizo, and in the case of the Pablo Escobar, a dusting of perico, a Columbian concoction (and a slang word for cocaine).
Another idea that might draw gasps from traditional dog lovers, Berks Fiesta Franks which I discovered at a Penn State vs. Notre Dame game where I was scolded for taking too many free samples offer a delightful zing thanks to embedded jalapeño peppers and cheese. These dogs dont really need a topping (although some spicy mustard works wonderfully) and have become my favorite house dog.
Like many family restaurants, Abes Hot Dogs has a convoluted history, with rivalries, spinoffs and public confusion over which family owns which restaurant. Located in and around Wilkes-Barre, Pa., the no-frills joints are still going strong, with cheaply priced dogs in a delightful chili that is my person favorite. Artisans need not apply.
Whats better than chowing down on a Chicago dog a Vienna beef dog in a poppy seed bun with a pickle spear, celery salt, mustard, sport peppers, chopped onions, mustard and neon-green relish? Why, that would be chowing down on a Chicago dog hammered out of your mind while sassy staffers shower you in obscenities. Whats more American than that? We’ve been frank with you about our favorite wieners, so be sure to share your picks in the comments below.
Michael Lello is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.