Hold The Mustard and Opt For These Crazy Hot Dog Toppings This Summer

From candied jalapeños to whipped goat cheese, it turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks.

No matter where you are in New York City, you’re never too far from a hot dog. From old-school kosher delis that have been serving hot dogs for generations to carts parked on just about every street corner, there’s no shortage of spots to get a hot dog in the city—but none of them are quite like Crif Dogs.

Located in the lively East Village neighborhood, this hot dog shop is unassuming at first glance. But walk down to the basement level, and one look at the menu will prove you wrong. Crif Dogs serves up deep-fried, bacon-wrapped hot dogs with curated toppings that range from a fried egg atop a breakfast dog to diced pineapple, teriyaki sauce, and scallions.

This 20-year-old spot is now an institution for hot dog lovers wanting to try something a little different, but it’s far from the only spot turning ketchup, mustard, and relish in for hot dog toppings that are a little more eccentric. All around the country, hot dogs are getting the star treatment from shops focused on quality ingredients and out-there flavor combinations, turning a once-basic barbecue food into a true culinary experience.

While regional hot dogs styles are nothing new, Seattle serves up what could be considered the nexus between simply having a local favorite topping and throwing the rule book out the window when it comes to dressing a dog. Outside bars and nightclubs across the city, hot dog vendor Monster Dogs offers Seattle-style hot dogs topped with caramelized onions and smothered in cream cheese. Co-owner Shawna Morrison said out-of-towners are often taken by surprise when they see the menu, but “nine times out of 10, people love it and come back to say that it was life-changing.”

This trend goes beyond regional toppings, though, because down in New Orleans, a spot called Dat Dog is testing the limits for what can work on a hot dog. The shop has house specials like one dog that comes with bacon, grilled onions, tomatoes, and jalapeños all piled atop an alligator sausage with BBQ sauce and creole mustard, or you can select a la carte toppings like crawfish etouffee (a stew often found in both Cajun and Creole cuisine) pico de gallo, and ranch.

Some of the toppings may seem a little out there, but Laurie Fisher, the spot’s director of marketing, explained how each one can make up a delicious hot dog. “It seems weird, putting something sweet and fruity on a hot dog,” she said of the blackberry sauce option. “But the sweetness of the sauce and the smokiness of the sausage make a pretty stellar combination.”

Dat Dog
Photo courtesy of Dat Dog

Jesse Konig, the co-founder of Swizzler, a Washington, DC-based hot dog truck that expanded to a brick-and-mortar shop earlier this year, wanted to tap into the fun, nostalgic elements of this cookout classic while pushing the envelope of what a hot dog can be.

So when he and his co-founder, Ben Johnson, opened the first Swizzler food truck in 2014, they “landed on this idea of offering an old dog with new tricks,” he said. “For us, that meant we wanted to take this food, one of the oldest foods around, and really do it in a way that is unique and different.”

And they certainly did. Some of the shop’s signature items dress up hot dogs like other proven flavor combinations, like the Leonardo Dog Vinci, which recreates a caprese flavor with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, pesto, and balsamic glaze. Others, like the Feast Mode—which tops the hot dog with caramelized onions, whipped goat cheese, candied jalapeños, and black pepper honey—show that you really can get outside the box of what people expect from a hot dog, and find great success while doing it.

“We had this great base platform of really high-quality ingredients, and that’s when we started to have a lot of fun,” Konig said. “Hot dogs are a great blank canvas in a lot of ways.”

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Liz Provencher is an associate editor at Thrillist. You can follow her on Twitter or see what she eats on Instagram.