The 21 Best Hot Dog Joints in America
Don't forget: July 18th is National Hot Dog Day! Be sure to check out our story for all the best deals on dogs this year.
The hot dog is a true symbol of American ingenuity: hand-held, inexpensive, and basically stolen from another country and relabeled as American. And while not all hot dogs are created equal, there are some out there, hidden among the stadiums and food carts of the world, that are fit for a king (who may or may not be named Abe Froman).
Tracking down the 21 best hot dogs in the country was not an easy task, especially given the wealth of regional variations on the simple not-sandwich. But we traveled far and wide, consulted our in-house experts, and made endless wiener jokes in the pursuit of the nation's greatest tubed meat. Hold on to your buns… and if you're in Chicago, the ketchup. These are the 21 best hot dog joints in America:
Flint-style coneys differ drastically from their Detroit brethren. First, instead of the wet, gloopy Motor City chili, Flint’s got a dry, all-meat chili made from random offal and ground-up hot dogs (mustard and raw onions remain essential). Second, a true Flint Town coney is 100% local, thanks to the city’s Koegel Meat Company, a factory that makes, for my money, the best goddamned hot dogs in the country. And nobody knows how to treat a Kogel vienna quite like Angelo's, which makes its own sauce and grills the dogs to a snappy perfection 24/7. Flint has undergone a ton of changes over the past 70 years. The one constant is Downtown’s Angelo’s, where coneys and gravy fries are sometimes all the light you need. Ignore the aesthetics. These are best eaten with eyes closed in bliss anyway.
Chicago has Abe Froman, but Denver's Sausage King, Jim Pittenger has had quite the journey from food cart owner to icon with a fleet of carts and two brick-and-mortars. He's since become a fixture on TV, with Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern both stopping by for a bite of his signature dogs, which represent a veritable menagerie of meats, among them rattlesnake & pheasant, elk, boar, buffalo, and reindeer. (Oh, yes, there's also a regular ol' hot dog, and it's glorious.) They're exploding with flavor on their own, but amped up with toppings that range from a sonoran treatment to harissa roasted cactus/Malaysian curry gam, coney sauce, and green chile salsa, just in case you forgot you're in Denver. Honestly, a little mustard does the trick too, but where's the fun in that?
First off, there are more than a dozen specialty dogs on the menu, plus sausage, ranging from classic wieners to alligator sausage. The toppings are just as varied: everything from andouille sauce to crawfish étouffée and guac. While this entire set-up would be blasphemy in hot dog towns (looking at you, Chicago), go ahead and load everything you want onto that sourdough bun. Or just pick a sausage and ask for chef’s choice when you get overwhelmed. Either way, get the cheddar bacon ranch fries and then ponder why you never realized duck sausage and sour cream went so damn well together.
Especially back east and in the Midwest, hot dog lovers are generally a close-minded bunch, folks whose ideal of a hot dog is what they grew up on, thank you very much, and any deviation is a recipe for disgust. So the Seattle dog, with its cream cheese-covered bun and grilled onions, is a hard sell to many, despite its delicious simplicity. Diggity Dog makes the best, but it also pays homage to other regional classics, with nods to Detroit coneys and Chicago on the menu, plus an immaculate Atlanta-style slaw dog. There's even a kimchi-covered Korean dog, but if the thought of cream cheese on a hot dog concerns you, you probably didn't know that. You're also missing out. Your loss.
For outsiders (and, let's be honest, insiders), the Detroit coney conversation inevitably circles back to the rivalry between OGs American and Lafayette, which both make exceptional dogs. But Detroit Metro is rife with beanless chili-covered dogs, and at the moment our heart is with Duly's. Yeah, its status elevated a tad when the late, great Anthony Bourdain visited on Parts Unknown, but the joint's long been beloved for its chili-laden coneys, which hold their own against any other comers in the hot dog-rich city. They've also very likely kept a few dry cleaners in business over the years thanks to the mess that inevitably drips from the dogs to your shirt.
Yeah, everybody and their mother calls out Daniel Contreras’ hot dog stand for being possibly the best Sonoran dog in the country. But guess what? Mom’s sometimes right. The bacon-wrapped frankfurter is topped with chopped tomatoes, pinto beans, a pinch of onions, a line of basic yellow mustard, jalapeño sauce, and a squiggle of mayo. It’s basically a hot dog burrito, but with a Mexican bolillo roll instead of a tortilla. Every dog here is the same. No substitutions. No problem.
Oddly enough, the very best Chicago hot dog you can get doesn't technically reside in Chicago, as Gene & Jude's relocated to nearby River Grove in 1950 after four years in the Windy City. You'll find the rendition here blessedly simple for those who find the full-on salad atop many Chi dogs to be a bit much: just mustard, relish, some onion, and a few sport peppers atop a perfect, natural-casing Vienna Beef dog. Oh, there will also be a mound of delicious fries atop said dog. But there will be NO ketchup. Even for your fries. Seriously. You don't need it.
Simply offering up a shitload of weird toppings does not a great hot dog make. And make no mistake, Happy Dog has weird toppings in spades, from peanut butter to SpaghettiOs, Andy Capp’s Hot Fries, Froot Loops, and more. But the fact is, even without the weird factor, Happy Dog -- which is also a bar! -- just makes a damn fine dog. And while delicious offerings like the Seattle style with everything-bagel cream cheese or a bánh mì-inspired sausage are great, a simple dog with caramelized onions is just fine, too. You can take the Froot Loops to go for breakfast tomorrow.
Chicago lives in a sadly post-Hot Doug's world, but the spirit of the late, beloved Chicago institution lives in at Hot "G" Dogs, where a good number of HD's alums have kept the place's spirit alive in the form of many of the exact same dogs, right down to the signature Chicago-style that ingrained in the hearts (and probably embedded in a ventricle) of all who loved it. The menu is more or less identical, though the celeb names have been ditched. Still, we're still pretty sure Anna Kendrick would be pleased to see the Fire Dog is still here. So are the duck fat fries. Close your eyes and you might just believe you're eating the original.
Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina
The roadside hot doggery in a is a well-trod slice of Americana that beach towns have in spades. But Jack’s has something that no other can claim. Two things, actually. The first is a mind-blowing homemade sweet potato mustard. The second is a special slaw kicked up with a bit of blue cheese. And the two combine to make Jack’s arguably the best slaw dog in the region that made them famous. This thing is just an explosion of flavor, a dog that would be worth the trip even if it was served in a landfill. And while we won’t recommending skipping that namesake dog, we will recommend pairing it with another of the revelatory dogs here, or hitting it with chili and cheese sauce, a messy concoction known as the Blue Galactic Dog that will leave you covered in food. Just wait 30 minutes after eating before jumping in the ocean to clean off.
Hot wieners. Go ahead. Get it out of your system. Okay. Ready. Good. Because hot wieners -- STOP! -- are also called New York System dogs. But they're indigenous to Rhode Island (the intent was to get them confused with New York's famous meat tubes). Even weirder, their signature toppings are like a cross between Chicago's and Detroit's, with celery salt, thick meat sauce, mustard, and onions topping a thin, snappy dog. There are many like it, but the original at the classic Olneyville remains the best. Or hottest. Wiener.
Papaya King. Papaya Dog. Gray's Papaya. In New York City, the word "Papaya" and "slight-higher-quality-than-dirty-water" hot dogs go hand-in-hand. But for true weiner aficionados in Gotham, the Upper East Side's Papaya King reigns supreme. A New York institution since 1932 (it was the first of the "Papayas," the rest of which are unaffiliated), Papaya King started as a juice shop, and quickly adopted hot dogs to cater to the mainly Germanic-American immigrants who populated the UES sub-hood Yorkville in the 1930s. Now, their (insanely saccharine) "fruit" juice is clearly second fiddle to their chili-cheese dogs, served from a diminutive to-go counter. They aren't going to blow your mind with ingenuity, but they're the most satisfying New York snack this side of a $1 slice. If you need a second opinion, look no further than Anthony Bourdain, the classic downtown New Yorker archetype who begrudgingly relocated Uptown later in his life. In his mind, the area's culinary saving grace is Papaya Dog (skip to the 40 minute mark, here). Per usual, we're going to have to agree.
There are a lot of things that don't fly at Roast Grill. Cheese? Nope. Mayo or kraut? Negative. Ketchup? F*$% you. Not even fries make the cut here. Roast sticks to what owner and grillman George Poniros loves, which is hot dogs and beer, and it does the former with relish. Wait, no, you can't get relish. We meant it the other way. Forget we used that word. Dogs here are grilled to a slight char, covered with chili or slaw (or both), and meant to be eaten in multiples, all served up in a tiny diner-style joint that's been unchanged since 1940. If you can, save room for Baklava or pound cake, which seem like strange things to have in lieu of fries or cheese, but hey, go with it.
The legendary rippers at this American classic look like they could have been the victim of a terrible crime. Tossed in the fryer, the meat inside the casing plumps up with such a vigor that the skins actually break, leaving the dogs looking half dead. But what they lose in snap they gain in crispy, frayed casing and tender meat, augmented by a mustard-based relish. They haven’t changed since 1928. This is a very good thing, since there are no dogs quite like these legends.
Why are Maine’s “red snapper” dogs bright red? Is it because, after so many lobster rolls, Mainers are confused by bunned foods of any other color? Some sort of Stephen King reference? Honestly, we don’t care why they dye the natural-casing bastards bright red. All we care about is how good they taste, especially when steamed up by Simones' (you can get them grilled too... don’t) and served with a little splat of chili and cheese. Like a lobster roll, they’re served on a split-top bun. Unlike a lobster roll, they'll cost you $4.
There’s a little bit of everything on this Berkeley institution’s menu, from Louisiana-style hot links to brats, linguiça, and an excellent smoked chicken sausage with apple. But the franks -- grilled just enough to keep the snap in tact -- are the draw here. The kosher all-beef frank loaded, onto a grilled sesame bun, is a thing of simple beauty, but our hearts are set on the German-style version, which throws a little pork and garlic into the mix for a little extra oomph.
Uncle Franky knows that sometimes you need to return from a meal covered in as much dairy and meat juice as possible, and to accomplish that goal he basically smashed a coney dog and a Philly cheesesteak together in a flurry of ground chuck, Vienna Beef, and enough Whiz to make Khalifa jealous. Ever the gregarious and kind entrepreneur, Franky also offers the option to get your dog grilled or deep-fried, though the default option, steamed, is the best bet here.
In a city that takes its sausages as seriously as Milwaukee, it takes a lot to get on a list of the 50 essential eats in the city. And while the Vanguard does great things with brats, its hot dogs steal the show by representing cities of tubed-meat lore, including a Pittsburgh dog dressed up like a Primanti sandwich and a cream cheese-covered Seattle dog. But you're in Milwaukee, so opt for the city's namesake dog, which comes with cheese curds, cheddar cheese, and Cheez Whiz for good measure.
Oh, sure, it’s on the National Registry of Historic Places. So are 90,000 other places, and most of them don’t have hot dogs. So what makes Walter’s -- housed in a Chinese-looking roadside pagoda since 1928 -- so special? Butter. That’s right. Walter’s pork, beef, and veal dogs are grilled and crisped in delicious butter before being split, hit with butter sauce, then grilled again... in butter. Go easy on the toppings here. A little mustard will do the trick.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t go to Ben’s Chili Bowl for a half smoke, the DC area’s big, fat, smoky take on the hot dog. Go. Brave the crowds. It’s worth it. But we are saying that you should also be hitting up Weenie Beanie, which claims to have invented the damn thing at its original (and now ony) location, and still makes perhaps the best, sans the hype. It’s a simple, old-school walk-up window that opens at 6am daily... the perfect time to top a half smoke with a runny egg.
Though the original location closed a couple years back, Yocco's is still making the same incredible hot dogs it has since 1922 at multiple locations around the Allentown area… and confusing the unknowing with its "well done dogs." They're not burnt, mind you, despite the char. They're designed to caramelize to bring out the snap and spices before being tossed in a steamed bun with the house chili, which remains just as perfect now as it was pre-Depression. Get them with a bucket of fries and some pierogis… and maybe a cheesesteak. Those are pretty great here too.
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