Hunting the humble hot dog in New York City
Any visitor to New York is pretty much obliged to dig in, while keeping flavour expectations to a minimum. At some of the larger halal street vendors, tastier grilled hot dogs basted in butter are offered alongside kebabs and falafel. Look for the carts with long lines during lunch and you may have stumbled upon a local treasure.
If you want to be guaranteed a classic New York hot dog that will keep you coming back time and again, make a beeline to Papaya King. Just as with Nathan’s, there is only one original, so forgo imposters and tuck into the eatery in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Papaya King is less a restaurant and more a white- and yellow-tiled storefront where in-the-know New Yorkers line up to order garlicky hot dogs topped with tart sauerkraut and washed down with papaya, mango or banana fruit juice. This now timeless combination traces back to 1932, when Greek immigrant Gus Poulus opened the shop Hawaiian Tropical Drinks. Though his fruit juices were not the success he hoped for, it was during this time that he met his German-American wife who introduced him to the frankfurter. Poulus soon began selling them alongside his tropical smoothies and 80 years later, they are still some of the best in the city. Hot dogs here are flavourful, rich and buttery with an extra kick of spice. The bun is lightly toasted, the frankfurter grilled and the casing all-natural, creating the perfect “snap” in your mouth with each bite.
Another local favourite will take you downtown to Manhattan’s Lower East Side neighbourhood. It is here at Katz’s Delicatessen that newly immigrant Jewish families would come together on Friday nights for “franks and beans” in the 1880s. It is here too that actors and comedians congregated after hours during the peak of the Yiddish theatre in the late 19th Century. And it is here that today, one can enjoy all-beef, kosher hot dogs, grilled, salty and spicy.
Not all New York hot dog joints date from the turn of the century, however. At Crif Dogs in Manhattan’s East Village, the naturally-smoked beef- and pork-mix frankfurters are deep fried and topped with an array of unexpected ingredients in modern interpretations of the classic. Try the Tsunami, a bacon-wrapped dog with teriyaki, pineapple and green onions. Or merge two New York institutions into one with the Jon-Jon Deragon, which is a hot dog topped with cream cheese, scallions and “everything bagel” seeds.
For a contemporary riff on the classic Jewish delicatessen, travel to Mile End in Brooklyn’s smart Boerum Hill neighbourhood. At this four-year-old Montreal-inspired hotspot, hot dogs are handmade with antibiotic and hormone-free beef sourced from a local butcher. To make the no-filler hot dogs, whole cut brisket is ground in-house, flavoured with spices and maple syrup, stuffed into sheep’s casing, cured for a day, smoked over white oak for six hours, then hung to dry for four days. The result is a delicious, traditional-style hot dog prepared on a griddle, served with a potato bun and topped with yellow mustard, sour relish or – for that Montreal touch – chopped white onion. For a New York classic, garnish yours with simple brown deli mustard and sauerkraut.
And pushing New York’s hotdog boundaries is Asia Dog. This one-time roving hot dog stand recently opened a brick-and-mortar spot in Manhattan’s fashionable Nolita neighbourhood. Despite their permanence, Asia Dog remain a fixture on New York’s street fair, flea market and farmers’ market scenes, where their hot dogs are topped with a smorgasbord of fresh Asian-inspired ingredients. Kimchi, Japanese curry, Chinese barbeque pork belly and seaweed flakes are a handful of what one can expect atop their beef, chicken or veggie dogs.