Summer is the perfect time for a hot dog, that ubiquitous all-American food staple. It was not always so. The world did not know about hot dogs until the sausages called “frankfurters” (named for Frankfurt, Germany) or “wieners” (named for Vienna, where they intermingle their W and their V), made their way to North America.
Claimants for the “first” in the USA are several, but we believe that the prize goes to the 1870s, and Charles Feltman and his Coney Island Dogs. The summertime beachside treat idea spread as quickly as ketchup and mustard and before long everyone was going to the (hot) dogs. You probably have a great hot dog stand or restaurant that serves a mean dog right near you. Lucky! But according to our subjective survey, here are some other dogs worth driving for:
Let’s be frank… Coney Island is where it all started – so why not head out to Coney and have… a Nathan’s Famous; so famous that they are sold nationwide in the grocery store, but this is where they began. Also out on Long Island you will want to try Bark’s in Brooklyn, and have the buttermilk milk shake and awesome onion rings, too; or go on out to Centereach and stop in at Johnny’s Burgers for that old malt shop feel, where the shakes are so thick you cannot sip them through a straw and fried Twinkies® are back on the menu.
Chicago is recognized as a hot dog town; among the leading contenders for best is Portillo’s (a sure fire pleaser which we featured in our Salad Month article). In the Windy City you will also find great hot dogs at: Superdawg Drive-In, Gene’s and Jude’s, or a Super Fat One at Fat Johnnies’. Try the lunch room at the Vienna Factory on Edison, for hot dogs served right where they are made; and take some home with you. Important Warning: Never under any circumstances put ketchup on a hot dog in Chicago, even if you insist it is “for the fries” you may end up in the river.
George Todoroff began using a special combination of toppings on his hot dogs in Jackson, Michigan, about a century ago. Today, you cannot go wrong at Virginia Coney Island in Jackson, where they a have been serving up “Detroit Style Dogs” since 1914. Voted one of the top five hot dog spots in Michigan, Virginia’s has the traditional counter and booths, and is run by a retired school teacher named “Muggsy”. Or visit Jackson Coney Island restaurant, where George Todoroff himself served up his special sauce until he retired in 1945.
St. Louis, where Antonoine Feuchtwanger started selling hot dogs on long buns which are the standard today, Woofies in Overland is a perennial favorite; with true hot dog stand décor and great eats. Folks in the know order their Big Herm, an 11 inch wiener.
The Varsity in and around Atlanta (the main location is the world’s largest drive-in) or in Athens are always on the tip of every southeasterner’s tongue when you mention hot dogs. They have been serving them up since 1928. Go for the chili cheese dog, accompanied by a frosted orange and some fried pie.
In Portland go for Bro-Dogs, and the “Dude!!” where it is all about the bacon, three cheeses, mushrooms and grilled onions, not one but two BBQ sauces on a homemade toasted bread bun. Scott does amazing things with dogs, which sometimes include cream cheese. Brother! They offer amazing options and if you ask, they will make a special creation, just for you. Bro-Dogs may just be the home of the best hot dog in the nation. If you crave variety, other good Portland options include: Beez Neez, Hoyt Dogs, and The Fried Onion (delicious and inexpensive).
If you go for oddball buildings, then head toward the Coney Island Hot Dog Stand in Bailey, Colorado, where you can have your dog and see it too, since the entire place is a giant hot dog bun, complete with the dog, green relish and bright yellow mustard sticking out the end, flags on “toothpicks” overhead, and a colorful red and white striped awning. Insiders say be sure to try their Raspberry or Blackberry Shake. Other contenders for spectacular Southwestern weenies worth the drive can be found at Steel City Dogs, or Woodie’s in Pueblo, or Cheffinis Hot Dogs, in Las Vegas.
Need we mention BurgerFi, which has numerous locations around the USA and despite its name, will serve you a New York Hot Dog complete with sauerkraut and be sure to ask for the neon green relish. Mmmmm doggie!
The great thing about the quest for the best hot dog in America is that, like the open road, there are more franks to be found, and more red hots to review, as you Drive the Nation!