There are some who say that hot dogs are a simple man's food. Those people are called traitors, and they need to be tried as the turncoats they are, because 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.
Tracking down the 21 best hot dogs in the country was not an easy task. 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. We're sure to have missed some, too, so let us know where we should be eating in the comments. Hold the ketchup.
Look, we could split hairs like everybody else and say that the best coney is from Lafayette and American, the two pioneering Detroit hot dog joints that operate next door to one another. But that’s a cop-out. And we could go with any number of great, lesser-known coney spots in what this writer believes to be the second-best hot dog city in America (sorry, Flint Town for life!) -- Duly’s, Leo's, Joe’s, you name ‘em -- but that would be denying the truth: Lafayette makes the best coneys in Detroit. Maybe it’s the Spanish onions on top of that sloppy chili. Or maybe it’s just everything about them, right down to the snap.
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? Is there a weird fetish about satanic nether regions? 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.
Pukas are not just those shells your bro Chad insisted on wearing throughout his college career; they’re also Hawaii’s contribution to hot dog culture. In an act of reverse engineering, a hunk of sweet bread is impaled on a hot stick, effectively toasting it from the inside while leaving the outside fluffy. It also leaves a hot dog-shaped hole in the bun. Luckily, it’s a hot dog place. In goes the Polish dog, on goes the fruit relish, and up goes your cholesterol. It's magnificent!
Look, 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. Get crammed in. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, loaded onto a grilled sesame bun. The kosher all-beef frank 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.
The Vienna Beef dog and the poppyseed bun at this Columbus place might make you think it's aping Chicago -- and, indeed, it does in fact have a Chicago dog on offer -- but Dirty Franks is like a national tour of styles, from coneys to Sonorans to Southern slaw dogs. But when this place gets frisky, it really goes off. The Cowgirl Carmen is like a cross between a Detroit dog and a Frito pie, while the Sarva’s comes covered in tot-chos, which are exactly what they sound like. There’s also the Glenn Beck, cleverly described as "a plain, old wiener.” Unlike its namesake, it’s also pretty great.
While trendier Floridian places are bastardizing the great American institution of the hot dog by trying to make it healthy with fish and tofu and other crap, Hot Dog Heaven’s been offering a taste of Chicago that has made it a classic. Nothing too fancy here. Just delicious Vienna Beef on a steamed poppyseed bun, dragged through the garden or hit with cheese, kraut, chili, or slaw. And lest the place’s dingy appearance and simplicity make you think it’s just a standard hot dog spot, take note: none other than Vienna Beef named it the first National Historic Vienna Hot Dog Stand in the country. Oh, and the burgers are good too. But get the hot dog.
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.
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.
Ever since 1928, The Varsity’s been an Atlanta icon, and one of its most popular spots. So thank God the drive-in can hold 800 people (with parking for 600 cars). For real. And each and every person will be faced with the same question: what’ll ya have? Easy. A chili dog, which’ll run you less than $2.50 and will become one of your all-time favorite examples of simple pleasures. Get two, a side of thick-cut onion rings, and the Frosted Orange drink. Then kick back in your car and try not to get any on the seat.
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.
Of course one of Dallas’ most beloved chefs makes hot dogs. And of course they’re absolutely incredible. We’re talking all-local meats, scratch-made dogs, homemade poppyseed buns, the whole shebang. The offerings -- which also include house brats, Italian sausages, and Polish monsters -- range from sport-peppered takes on red hots and depression dogs, to a very Texan chili-cheese dog with added corn chips. Even better, in direct opposition to Chicago tradition, this place won’t throw you out for asking for ketchup. These are dogs you’ll wish you could eat any time of day. And thanks to an egg-topped, breakfast sausage-based breakfast dog, you can.
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.
For the most part, New York hot dogs fall into three categories: dirty, free-with-a-drink, and vessel-for-piling-a-ton-of-stuff-on-top-of. And since the latter tends to offer up the best variation (sorry, entire city of New York, but it's true), you better make sure that stuff is spot on. At Asiadog -- its booths and its brick-and-mortar -- said toppings include Japanese curry with homemade kimchi apples, BBQ pork belly, or a straight-up hot dog-version of bánh mì, complete with pate, cucumbers, pickled carrots & daikon, cilantro, and jalapeño.
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.
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.
First off, there are 17 dogs on the menu, ranging from classic wieners to turducken dogs and 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, wasabi, and sour cream went so damn well together.
You must love a city that spans all class structures of tubed meats: Chicago's good for sating basic hot dog needs with a minimalist depression dog, and the demands of high-society hot dog hunters alike. Frank 'N' Dawgs meets the requirements of being a "gourmet" dog joint without jumping the shark. Your breakfast-for-lunch option is the brunch dog, made with Slagel Farm pork loin breakfast sausage that's ground in-house and comes with smoked bacon, a fried egg, and a drizzling of maple mayo. You'd also be wise to add the Krazy Kimchi and Muscles from Brussels to your to-eat list, and you'll even get to pick a different disgraced celebrity mugshot as your order placard each time (hold out for professional wiener-shower Brett Favre).
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Andy Kryza is a senior editor at Thrillist, a Michigan expat, and a current resident of Portland, OR, which is why he has a freezer full of Koegel's Viennas. Follow him to hoarded tubes of greatness: @apkryza.
While no one knows for sure where the Detroit coney dog originated, what's clear is that Lafayette is one of two establishments serving the premier version. Grab your own plate with a side of chili cheese fries, and ignore the sassy cooks and the dinginess of the space. You're here for the coney.
Established in 1919, this no-frills mainstay serves classic hot dogs topped with an almost century-old mustard recipe. Guests can opt for a single, double, or "puppy" sized dog, in addition to an variety of milkshakes and floats.
This Michigan diner has been around since the Roaring '20s, serving classic dogs (using local meat) with dollops of their decades-old secret sauce. The famous dogs are ungodly good, but the experience of this diner -- located smackdab in the middle of downtown Vehicle City, open 24 hours, and serving dogs with fries & gravy at any time -- is what makes it so magical.
This UC Berkeley favorite serves up cheap but damn-good dogs right on the edge of campus. The Smoked Chicken Apple dog with actual apple chunks and the go-to All Beef Frankfurter are great bets to snag for a mere $3.25 on your way to and from a show at the Greek Theater or a Cal football game. You'll also find international encased meats like kielbasa, bockwurst, and linguica.
Dirty Franks is like a national tour of styles, from coneys to Sonorans to southern slaw dogs. But when this place gets frisky, it really goes off. The Cowgirl Carmen is like a cross between a Detroit dog and a Frito pie, while the Sarva’s comes covered in Tot-chos, which are exactly what they sound like. To note is also a generous selection of vegan and vegetarian options.
The Hot Dog Heaven experience begins with a pure beef Vienna hot dog nestled in a steamed poppy seed bun. From there, you can drag it through the garden or hit it with cheese, chili, sauerkraut or slaw. Vienna Beef named it the first National Historic Vienna Hot Dog Stand in the country, so even though the burgers look tempting and are in fact delicious, get the dog.
Billed as "the world's largest drive-in," The Varsity in downtown Atlanta can accommodate up to 600 cars and 800 patrons. Each day, the drive-in sells more than two miles of hot dogs, 2,500 pounds of fresh-cut potatoes, 5,000 homemade fried pies, and a ton of onion rings (literally). The place was founded in 1928, was featured in Gone with the Wind, and has had been visited by three presidents (Carter, Bush, and Clinton). Basically, you need to go here just to say you did.
Off the beaten path, about ten minutes from the city center, Olneyville New York System is a dive spot with timeless charm. Awards and photos of famous food personalities deck the walls of this humble, comfortable restaurant, and the sit down service is incredibly fast—faster than take out. Dogs are cooked in a natural-casing, which makes them extra delicious. Try the tasty wieners with the state’s staple coffee milk for the full Rhode Island experience.
Deep Ellum’s Luscher’s Red Hots is slinging gourmet, Chicago-style dogs with a slight Texas twist. The Post Oak Red Hot is a tribute to Chicago’s dog scene, with a pork and beef frank, poppy seed bun, brown mustard, pickle relish, onions, tomatoes, and sport pepper. But Luscher’s doesn’t discriminate in its meat repertoire; sandwiches and burgers highlight attention to lamb, “eye-talian” beef, fish, chicken, and bratwurst. If you are one of those meat-free folks, give the Tex Cobb salad a shot. Counter service and a laidback atmosphere allow for some much-desired alone time between you and your feast.
Sausages will never go out of style in MKE, especially when Vanguard in Bay View reinvents the wheel with new versions all the time. Thai, Italian, German, and Jamaican meats are all represented, not to mention our neighbor to the north (which gets a nod with several variations on poutine). 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. There's a hidden patio out back, which we suggest retreating to so you can eat the second hot dog you'll likely order in peace.
Inspired by their own half-Asian-ness and a love of kimchi on their tubed meat, the couple behind this casual mashup's set up a small, wooden booth'd, Chinese takeout-steezed homebase from which to serve the enthusiastic following they built while slinging dogs all over the city, starting with Trophy Bar, then moving to the Brooklyn Flea, Summer Stage, and Terminal 5, which you can nickname your arteries if you start eating here every day.
Gene & Jude's is the most iconic hot dog stand in Chicago. From its founding in 1946, it's enforced four simple rules that most other stands have since tried to adopt: no seats, no ketchup, no pretense, no nonsense. That's right: not a drop of ketchup can be found here. On top of your Vienna Beef dog you'll find relish, onions, hot peppers, and mustard, plus a pile of fresh-cut French Fries. It's a tried-and-true formula that's brought this classic family-owned spot success for decades.
Right on Broadway in NE Mpls sits the unassuming little red building that you’ve probably driven by a thousand times, but make no mistake, these folks can bang out some serious dogs. The Coney comes smothered with beautiful beef chili, raw onions, yellow mustard, and then gets topped with melty cheese whiz. Say what you will, but there’s definitely a time and place for nuclear yellow processed cheese.
Founded as a UK doghouse by a NOLA native, Dat Dog's shed has since become one of the most popular eateries on Freret St. The pork-friendly menu here spans everything from a duck sausage dog served with blackberry sauce to alligator and crawfish dogs on the menu. Beer, wine, and cocktails await at the full bars both upstairs and downstairs, and the spacious floor plan, energized with a rainbow burst of paint spread over tables, walls, and lighting, establishes a casual, yet lively atmosphere.
Chef'd by a Blackbird/Sixteen alum, FND looks like an unassuming hot dog stand decked out in red, black, and steel and ornamented with photos of local graffiti (would also be American Graffiti, but shockingly Opie isn't anywhere).