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Hot dogs — the quintessentially American snack — is having a renaissance, swept up in the nouveau gourmet enterprises of today’s innovative culinary talent. But just because chefs are teaching old dogs new tricks doesn’t mean the traditional tube steak has disappeared. In our quest for America’s top dogs, we found reasons to love both old-style and newfangled.
So next time you find yourself in a hot-dog hotbed, don’t settle for the nearest street cart; seek out one of these puppies instead. Unadorned or heavily garnished, they’re worth a detour.
“The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium” is how Doug’s describes itself, so you know it takes the item between the bun most seriously. The dogs’ names, however, are more playful, like The Elvis (smoked Polish sausage), The Paul Kelly (beer-soaked bratwurst), and The Salma Hayek (the “Mighty, mighty, mighty hot!” andouille). Every day—closing time is at 4 p.m.—brings a special or two, like a spicy Thai chicken or curry lamb sausage. Despite the wide range of links, The Dog—a Chicago-style sample with the quintessential trimmings—is de rigueur. On Fridays and Saturdays, insiders know to stop by for the deliciously decadent Duck Fat Fries.
Courtesy of The Red Hot
The Red Hot
At this Tacoma tavern, the experience is as much about the beefy bundles of joy as it is about the cold brews. It’s like Cheers, only better—a watering hole with some of the most delicious and inventive red hots (another name for your regulation wiener). Try pairing The Chicago (an all-beef dog with the usual garnishes) with Everybody’s Brewing Local Logger Lager, or The Coney (an all-beef dog with mustard, chopped onions, and chili) with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
Hot Dog Heaven
When charismatic Chicagoan Mike Feld moved to Florida more than 20 years ago, he found one thing sorely lacking—a legit hot-dog depot. So he opened his own at a gas station on Highway 50. His links are Vienna Beef and can be gussied up with everything from onions and baked beans to the Reuben triumvirate: Thousand Island dressing, Swiss cheese, and kraut. Try the Chicago Hot Dog; every morsel, down to the wax paper on which the authentic savory is served, comes from the city for which it’s named.
Ryan Farr has become the latest “it” chef (and artisan butcher) to San Francisco’s starstruck gourmands. And while his crunchy, porcine chicharrones are dangerously addictive, it’s the wieners he peddles at the Ferry Building’s Farmers Market (Fridays and Saturdays) that are truly special. What’s in them? Except for the bacon, Farr won’t say—it’s a secret blend. Just get to the Farmers Market before it closes (8 a.m.–2 p.m.) and try the ’ZillaDog, smothered in kimchi, “$$$ sauce,” scallions, and those chicharrones.
Sure, Danny Meyer has his multi-award-winning fine-dining establishments, but his fans’ most unabashed adoration has been reserved for his contemporary, urban rendition of the roadside pit stop. Shake Shack is an ode to two of his most beloved St. Louis locales—Ted Drewes, of frozen custard fame, and Steak ’n Shake, a burger (predominantly) and shake stand with curbside service. The New York and Shack-cago offerings—each featuring Vienna all-beef links—are best, but if you have to choose one, order the Shack-cago, which comes with relish, onion, cucumber, pickle, tomato, sport pepper, and celery salt.
Cape Neddick, Maine
For 50 years, the Stacy family has been serving up some of America’s best dogs from this ramshackle, cabin-like red shed in Maine. The franks come steamed and are served with some very special relish—in fact, it’s this now-famous condiment that keeps customers coming back. Ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard are said to enhance the effect. Like many a dog stand, the original Flo’s is open only for lunch (from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) every day except Wednesday; the newer outpost stays open until 4 p.m., but is closed Monday through Wednesday.
Travis Lynn Kelley/Flickr
Original New York System
A landmark, this humble shop has been standing since 1927 and continues to serve its trademark grilled tube steaks (also known as gaggers) to an adoring public. The dogs, distinguished by their squared-off edges, are doused with meat sauce; chopped, raw onions; mustard; and celery salt. For celebrity chef Chris Cosentino, who grew up in Rhode Island, the Original New York System dogs are the ones against which all others (excluding, of course, his own) are measured.
It stands to reason that the same town that gave us In-N-Out Burger would deliver a wiener equivalent. Enter Pink’s, whose franks are as worthy of a pre- or post-Oscar detour as that burger joint’s. In this case, the frank preceded the patty (Pink’s began as a pushcart in 1939, while In-N-Out opened in 1948). Seventy years in, the rosy stalwart has an extensive roster of wieners that covers the waterfront of toppers—guacamole, nacho cheese, onion rings, Polish pastrami, or Brooklyn pastrami. Don’t be distracted by the Martha Stewart or Rosie O’Donnell Long Island numbers. The Chili Dog—with mustard, chili, and onions—is all you need.
Ben’s Chili Bowl
Up until very recently, the only VIP deemed worthy of a free meal at the Ali family chili shrine was longtime devotee Bill Cosby, who made the venue a national destination when he held a press conference there in the 1980s. The latest inductee into the eat-for-free club is Barack Obama, who stopped by to inhale the must-order Chili Half-Smoke a few days before his inauguration (he paid—and added a generous tip). Invented in 1958, this signature snack comprises a smoked pork-and-beef sausage tucked into a toasty steamed bun and comes topped with mustard, onions, and (of course) spicy chili sauce.