Number of locations: Five in/near New York, one stand, one location in Portland, ME
Why it’s great: In the 1930s, a New York City deli worker named Constantine “Gus” Poulos went on vacation in Havana, Cuba, where he discovered the magic of tropical fruit drinks. Intent on bringing his discovery back to NYC, Poulos went on to open a juice bar. Then he opened another juice bar, then another. At some point, he decided to throw hot dogs on the menu -- because what better comestible to wash down a sticky fruit drink than a piece of processed meat compressed into a tube and wedged in a bun? With that, Papaya King was born.
Together, the juice-dog combo forms one of the most iconic meals an aspiring New Yorker can order -- locally sourced dogs made with a secret spice, washed down with something sweet. Papaya King’s Original Combo -- two franks with ‘kraut, onions, or relish, and a drink -- is still the ultimate late-night meal in New York.
Hot dogs became big business in the city, and in the 1970s, a rival named Nicholas Gray went on to open his own slightly modified version of the wildly popular stand, called Gray’s Papaya. Though these two have long been the main contenders, other offshoots were born, including Papaya Dog and Mike’s Papaya. While Gray’s and Papaya King in particular have enjoyed a vicious rivalry over the years, it seems King has the throne, after all: the city is down to just one Gray’s. Papaya King, on the other hand, is still going strong, with its fifth location having just opened in Brooklyn.