As baseball’s ALCS and NLCS matchups have been set (alas, poor Bucs) and the end of the season nears, we can’t help incessantly thinking of ballpark food. And though everything from sushi to donut burgers and pulled pork parfaits are served at the stadium these days, there’s still nothing that compares with the simple pleasures of a ballpark dog. With the great American tubesteak on our minds, we’ve compiled a short list of some of our country’s best hot dog restaurants. From places steeped with tradition that have menus about three items long to new–school sausage sellers pushing the boundaries and breaking points of buns, these weineries are doing great things with one of our most iconic American foods.
Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs (Denver, CO)
Jim Pittenger (who indeed, does ride a Harley) quit his longtime gig repossessing cars to peddle exotic sausages on the streets of Denver. His wildly successful street carts eventually led to a brick-and-mortar store, featuring beyond-the-ordinary dog varieties such as elk with jalapeno cheddar, wild boar, rattlesnake and pheasant, and reindeer.
Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace (Columbus, OH)
Innovative dogs and slushy drinks (which they’ll happily spike at the bar) have proved a winning combo for this kitschy Columbus tribute to all things tubesteak. Creative dog treatments include The Ohioana (topped with spicy corn relish and celery salt), Sarva’s Totcho Dog (tater tots, cheese sauce, onion and jalapeno) and the Seoul Dog (kimchee, mayo and a drizzling of sriracha).
Fab Hot Dogs (Los Angeles, CA)
Chef/owner Joe Fabrocini, a Garden State native, brings a little taste of Jersey to the West Coast with his signature Ripper: a specialty deep fried dog that’s best when topped with their Bald Eagle Sauce — a tangy mustard relish. Fab's also pays homage to LA’s most prevalent hot dog style with the LA Street Dog, a bacon-wrapped dog with grilled peppers and onion, mayo, mustard, ketchup and jalapeno.
Gene & Jude’s (River Grove, IL)
“Relished since 1946,” this neon-lit throwback in the near west Chicago ‘burbs is almost as famous for their superb fresh-cut, fried-to-order spuds as they are for their no-frills Vienna Beef (what else?) dogs. The iconic Depression Dog comes topped with mustard, onions, relish, sport peppers and a handful of French fries.
Gus’s Hot Dogs (Birmingham, AL)
Opened in the late 1940s by Greek native Gus Alexander, the original downtown Gus's Hot Dog remains the archetype of the classic wonderful Birmingham dog: grilled with mustard, onions, and special sauce, the latter from Alexander's original recipe.
Gray’s Papaya (New York, NY)
Sometimes, amid all the hybrid pastry hysteria, $30 lobster rolls and aggressively sourced (and aggressively priced) farm-to-table fare that Manhattan's restaurants have to offer, a New Yorker just needs a hot dog. For those times, there's Gray's Papaya. A couple of perfectly grilled all-beef dogs with slightly crunchy casing on toasted buns accompanied by a non-alcoholic papaya drink won’t set you back much more than five bucks.
Hot Doug’s (Chicago, IL)
Get there early and prepare to wait in line at Doug Sohn's perennially popular lunchtime hot dog joint, Hot Doug's. And don't even dream about sending a member of your party to save seats. Their Chicago-style hot dog is textbook perfection with fresh tomato, sport peppers, a pickle spear and alarmingly bright green relish. Don't shy away from the sausages or the daily specials, though, such as a stellar wild boar sausage topped with crispy onions.
I Dream of Weenie (Nashville, TN)
Housed in an adorable yellow vintage VW van in the heart of East Nashville’s Five Points, I Dream of Weenie is damn near irresistible to passersby and peckish patrons of the bars across the street. The fiery Rebel Yelp displays local color, with Tennessee hot chow-chow, jalapeno and red onion, while Sunday brings their truly unique “Weenie Brunch,” featuring the Hashbrown Casserole Weenie and French Toast Weenie (a French-toasted bun with breakfast sausage, maple syrup and powdered sugar).
Lafayette Coney Island (Detroit, MI)
The story goes that the Coney Island - a hot dog covered in chili and onions - owes its existence to Greek immigrants Gust and William Keros, who opened American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island next door to one another in Detroit. At Lafayette, menu choices are simple: chili, fries, chili fries, loose hamburgers (burgers with the beef not packed into a patty, sometimes called a "loose") or the classic coney.
Po Dog (Seattle, WA)
Advertising “Hot wieners in sweet buns” — endless opportunities for bad puns are one of the many perks of the hot dog biz — Seattle’s Po Dogs serves up gourmet grilled dogs (Hebrew National beef, veggie or sausage) in brioche buns. A wide variety of toppings and an impressive lineup of specialty dogs include standouts such as the BLTA (the A for avocado) and the gut-busting, bacon-wrapped Deep Fried Danger Dog topped with sauteed onions and chili sauce.
Pulliams Barbeque (Winston-Salem, NC)
Though barbecue is in the name, Pulliams, open since 1910, is known foremost for its legendary hot dogs. The bright red hot dogs are topped with chili, creamy coleslaw, mustard and onions and placed in a bun toasted on the grill.
Zack’s Hot Dogs (Burlington, NC)
Zack's Hot Dogs has served up Carolina-style chili dogs to downtown Burlington since Zack Touloupas took over Alamance Hot Wienie Lunch in 1928. Could there be a more perfect lunch than a chili dog with slaw, wrapped in a slice of American cheese and washed down with a glass bottle of Cheerwine — sweet nectar of the Carolinas?