The dog days are far from over.

By David Landsel
October 19, 2020
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One of the best hot dogs I tried all year was the unexpected highlight of a two-month visit to France, back when Americans were allowed in other countries. This hot dog, served at a tiny sidewalk cafe in Aix-en-Provence, was a thing of beauty: a snappy, Alsatian-style foot-long, looking like a whole snack in the sort of soft, sumptuous bun you’d expect to be offered at a French hot dog joint—custom-baked, fresh from the boulangerie.

There were all sorts of ways that I could have gone, but for my dog I chose rich, caramelized onions, a thick blanket of melty cheddar, and crispy onions on top. At Aux Petit Oignons, this is is known as "Le British."

Credit: Claudia Totir / Getty Images

Americans tend to think of the hot dog, the wiener, the frankfurter, as a terribly American thing, something fast-talking men in suits ate at brightly-lit counter joints in black and white movies, something you eat from a cart on the streets of New York City, by the side of the road in New England at century-old stands, at backyard picnics, at the dinner table when the kids are hungry and nothing else will do.

But like pretty much every thing America has ever done, good or bad, the origin story of the hot dog begins elsewhere—in this case, Europe.

At Texas Tavern in Roanoke, Virginia, the dogs are best ordered “all the way,” with the house chili sauce, onions, and a unique mustard-based relish that’s popular enough they sell it by the quart to go.
| Credit: Molly Bullington

There are those classic Viennese coffee houses where lanky franks are served on platters with two kinds of pungent mustard, bracing, freshly-shredded horseradish, and pots of gulasch sauce, a beautiful creation I like to think of as a classy, Old World ancestor to so much American meat sauce.

And then there are the dogs of Switzerland, and train stations in Germany. There's the frikandel of The Netherlands—deep-frying a hot dog wasn’t invented by us, either—and the street dogs of Copenhagen, where you’ll find more carts than in parts of Manhattan, serving up some of the world’s most creative hot dogs, often buried in blizzard-level drifts of crispy onions. How did the hot dog become one of America’s favorite foods? Just look back across the Atlantic. 

And, boy, did we grab the bull by the horns. We give ourselves enough credit, as a country, for how widespread we were able to send this lowbrow-brilliant European invention. When the world turned upside down in March, I returned to the United States with an entirely rekindled fascination with one of our most taken-for-granted culinary contributions. Now, I wanted rippers in New Jersey, sizzling from their oil baths and topped with spicy relish. I wanted bacon-wrapped Sonoran dogs in Tucson, Coney dogs dripping sauce that rich with suet and beef heart in Detroit, dogs topped with pimiento cheese in the Carolinas, and slaw dogs in West Virginia.

At Tucson, Arizona's El Guero Canelo, the hot dogs are bacon-wrapped and tucked into a soft, steamed, house-baked bolillo.
| Credit: El Guero Canelo

With this pandemic hanging around like a bad penny, my travel plans were somewhat curtailed, but I managed to eat and assess far more hot dogs than I’d initially expected, building on experiences from other years. I ended up eating Michigans in New York’s North Country; Italian dogs in Elizabeth, New Jersey, served in hollowed-out loafs with at least a pound of fried potatoes so you shouldn’t starve; baked beans and red snappers in Maine; and fried dogs topped with head-clearing pepper relish and rich, hot brown mustard in Connecticut, served with cooling cups of birch beer. On and on it went, all across the country, so many greats, and in many cases, very old ones, very nearly unchanged after a century or so in business. 

Not all Americans take the hot dog equally seriously. In some parts of the country, it never quite took hold, perhaps because there was so much else to eat. In some places it is considered little more than a snack, an entry-level food, something to eat on the fly at Costco (don’t laugh—that’s a great, standard hot dog).

The Sonoran-style hot dog is the move at T-Loc's in Austin, Texas.
| Credit: Zulma Nataren

Then, in other pockets of America, the hot dog has the sort of staying power—and is treated with the sort of reverence—given to barbecue elsewhere. People will line up patiently, they’ll drive long distances, and then they’ll go home and think about the next time.

By nature, a hot dog joint is relatively easy to manifest, but the journey to indispensability is long and often difficult. The landscape is littered with the wreckage of failed establishments where the proprietor gambled on toppings, forgetting that this particular house is nothing, nothing at all, without a strong foundation—in this case, a quality dog and a well-crafted bun. Who could blame them for going the visual route, in this aggressively visual age. Many a wide-eyed entrepreneur has no doubt learned that the hot dog is not so easily suited to modern times, and that is precisely the point: hot dogs are not the most photogenic, and some of the finest can be downright unsightly.

In San Diego, California, Barrio Dogg serves a Tijuana-style dog and their most popular side dish, Mexican street corn.
| Credit: Courtesy of Barrio Dogg

It is the finest, no matter what they might look like on camera or our social media feeds, that we celebrate here today. So jump in the car and try the one nearest to you. The hot dog is, after all this time, a simple, affordable pleasure—the perfect little indulgence in times like these.

Alabama

Suppose you are new to town and do not already know this, and if you do not, don’t worry, you’ll learn—behind so many of Birmingham’s finest institutions, there is often a family of Greek immigrants, and the city’s favorite dog joint, an institution since 1940, is no exception. There were other Greek hot dog joints besides Gus’s at one time, but today, this bite-sized counter spot at the heart of the city’s cavernous downtown is the sole survivor, simply, we’d like to think, because it was the best. Fans of all ages come here for fat, pink, locally-made franks, chargrilled, sputtering, and topped with (among other things, and most importantly) Gus’s unique onion sauce, which has been around as long as the restaurant.

Alaska

Reindeer dogs from a cart are a lunchtime staple in downtown Anchorage, but the Polish-style regional favorites get all dressed up at the Talkeetna Roadhouse, a scenic few hours’ drive to the north, where the Rudy-in-a-Parka pairs well with any chilly day in one of Alaska’s most amiable small towns. Order a Chili-Rudy, and you’ll get the local answer to the pig-in-a-blanket, served with a healthy portion of reindeer chili.

Arizona

Tucson, with its thousands of years of documented food heritage, was not named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy for nothing, back in 2015. We’d like to think it had a great deal to do with the Sonoran dogs, which more often than not come from El Guero Canelo, which has been serving the city for nearly thirty years now. Bacon-wrapped and tucked into a soft, steamed, house-baked bolillo, we’d eat them just like that, but the joy of the Sonoran dog—popular on both sides of the border for generations—is that there’s so much more going on: think beans, onions (raw and fried), mustard, mayo, and the house jalapeño salsa.

Arkansas

All-beef dogs brought down from Chicago get the local treatment at the Original ScoopDog in North Little Rock, a popular year-round stop for thick frozen custard shakes and concretes with different styles from around the country. But this is Arkansas, so you’ll find us chowing down on the Sooie Dog, topped with bacon and barbecue sauce, or the Frito Pie dog, with queso (known around here as cheese dip), Fritos, chili, and a whisper of celery salt.

California

There’s always been plenty to eat in San Diego’s historic Barrio Logan, but lately, one of the city’s most interesting neighborhoods has become a full-blown food destination. On the to-do list, you’ll find Barrio Dogg, where 100% Angus beef franks and Sonoran-style bolillos are the bedrock for some of the most creative creations out there. Pablo Rios—artist, custom lowrider designer, chef, and owner—pays tribute to the carts found on the streets of neighboring Tijuana with the Xolito, topped with two kinds of onions, tomatoes, crema, salsa verde, Sriracha aioli, and cheddar cheese. This is the first dog he ever sold, from a makeshift cart set-up in the back of his Chevy Impala.

Colorado

Wild boar, ostrich, rattlesnake, rabbit—at Biker Jim’s in Denver, all game is fair game. One of the country’s most unusual hot dog joints serves relatively few classic hot dogs; fans are too busy getting creative with the sprawling menu of things you’ve probably never tried before. Choose your tubed adventure, and then go for a broad selection of topping choices—the house classic, which pairs surprisingly well with most of your options, is cream cheese and caramelized onions, a style cribbed from (and it’s totally fine) Seattle.

Connecticut

Brown mounds of fried clam bellies, mayo-dressed lobster, steamed hamburgers oozing white cheese, those curious squares of sweet-sauced beach pizza—New England is a land of iconic and delicious roadside favorites that do not always photograph well, its many and varied hot dogs chief among them. But while the lightly blistered (from their gentle oil bath) local franks served to you plain on rather pedestrian rolls at Blackie’s in Cheshire may not win any beauty prizes, since 1928, the locals have been turning up in very large numbers to eat them, in part because of what goes on top, if you’re doing it right: the one-two punch of flavorful and surprisingly hot house pepper relish, and a trail of even spicier coarse brown mustard. Unforgettable.

Delaware

Sometimes there’s grinding traffic, but on a good day, the I-95 long-hauler will spend so little time in Delaware, they might not even know they were there, and that’s a shame. In roughly twenty miles or so, we can think of all sorts of great roadside eats, just waiting beyond the exits. In the mood for hot dogs? Two legendary joints compete to serve the First State’s best chili dog—the half-century old Dog House in New Castle, which serves split foot-longs on hoagie rolls, and Deer Head Chili Dogs in Wilmington and Newark, where the spicy meat sauce has drawn a following since 1935. 

Florida

South American hot dog culture is a whole thing—take the crash course in Miami, where it’s less chili dog and more Chile Dog, as in Chile, the country, where hot dogs are a way of life. Colombia, Venezuela, it’s all here, but start with the delectable Cuban-style perros at El Mago de las Fritas, specifically the Mago Meaty Dog, which comes topped with ham croquetas, potato sticks, and frita meat—it’s a seasoned beef and pork blend, the bedrock of the Frita, otherwise known as a Cuban burger.

Georgia

You’ll have to look long and hard for a relish much like the century-old (or close to it) recipe served at Charlie Joseph’s, a humble haunt in little La Grange. For the perfect balance, order a dog topped with the spicy-hot pepper mixture, alongside that other house (and Southern) favorite, the slaw dog. Feeling wild, or just plain hung over? The Scrambled Dog is a delicious mess of chopped up wieners, topped with chili, oyster crackers, and pickles.

Hawaii

The sweet-tart passion fruit mustard from Aunty Lilikoi’s is one of our top tastes of Kauai without actually traveling to Kauai, and you can order as much as you want, online, so it makes perfect sense that it ended up being the signature topping at Puka Dog, Kauai’s favorite hot dog joint. Juicy Polish sausages are disappeared into freshly-baked blankets and daubed with garlic lemon aioli, your choice of relish (most people go for mango, but make sure to weigh all your options) and, of course, that famous mustard.

Idaho

America’s oldest ski resort is known as a glittering playground for the rich and famous, but Sun Valley has some delightful little quirks, one of them being Jill Rubin’s long-running Irving’s Red Hots, a year-round stand dating back to the 1970s, that has served up simple but satisfying Polish dogs on steamed buns with classic toppings to everyone from hard-working locals on a budget to Tom Hanks.

Illinois

Just like deep dish isn’t the only pizza, there’s more to Chicago hot dog culture than the famous dragged-through-the-garden extravaganza, not that there’s anything wrong with that. At Gene & Jude’s, a suburban River Grove institution since 1946, the slightly more minimal Depression Dog has ruled the menu since the very beginning—a standard Vienna Beef frank with mustard, relish, onions, and sport peppers on a plain roll, no seeds, topped with a handful of some of the best fresh cut French fries in town. Don’t even think about asking for ketchup.  

Indiana

The budding, pre-Nathan’s hot dog culture of New York’s premier beach destination in the very early 20th century must have left quite the impression on recent arrivals from Europe, who passed through Ellis Island on their way to settle in the Midwest. The first Coney Island hot dog joint appeared, courtesy of a group of Macedonian immigrants, in downtown Fort Wayne in 1913, and everything pretty much snowballed from there. To this day, neighboring Michigan gets most of the attention for their thriving Coney Island restaurant scene, but Fort Wayne’s Coney Island Wiener Stand, in the same spot for over a century, came first, if only by a hair. You’re here for grilled dogs on steamed buns, topped with mustard, the house version of the secretively-spiced coney meat sauce that makes a dog a Coney dog, and a miniature avalanche of chopped raw onion.

Iowa

Founded back in the 1930s by a recent immigrant from Austria, Wimmer’s still makes some of the best naturally-sheathed wieners in the country, and they’re part of what makes Bob’s Drive Inn in Le Mars such a winner—when you start with something this good, there’s a low likelihood of failure. Top it off with well-seasoned and textured loose meat (the same ground beef that goes into one of Iowa’s most famous sandwiches), cheese, and pickles, and you’ve got yourself an only-in-Iowa must-try. Stick around for the excellent soft serve.

Kansas

Four generations of family descended from a German master butcher is one of the secrets to success at Fritz’s, Kansas City’s oldest smokehouse, dating back to the 1920s. In-the-know grillers come from all over to sample the astounding selection of sausage styles from around the world—boudin blanc, butifarra, boerewors, the list goes on and on. Join them, and stick around for the superb all-beef frankfurters and spicy Polish sausages, served up simply (a dab of mustard will do you) at lunch time.

Kentucky

The century-old Camayo Arcade—one of the oldest surviving enclosed shopping centers in the country—would make a great stop in architecturally-blessed downtown Ashland even if it were completely empty, which it is not. The arcade is where you come to eat lunch at Jim’s Hot Dogs & Spaghetti, a modest spot known for hot dogs topped with a unique, Italian-spiced meat sauce, and if you’re up for it, a thwack of coleslaw. This is exactly the hot dog joint you’d expect to find along the Ohio River on the way from Coney-crazed Cincinnati to slaw dog-happy West Virginia. They even serve up homemade strawberry pie in season.

Louisiana

A classic Coney joint isn’t the first thing you’d go looking for this far south, but then again, Monroe is practically Yankee territory by Louisiana standards. The West Monroe Coney Island, open since 1962, is a cramped counter joint famous locally for two things: proper Coneys topped with the secret house chili, mustard, and onions, and—you’re on the edge of the Mississippi Delta here, after all—the house hot tamales. Don’t choose. Order both.

Maine

Beans and franks—served with Boston brown bread from a can—was for generations a Saturday night staple in this part of the world, and judging from the often impressive selection of all of the above at many local supermarkets, the tradition isn’t in danger of dying out any time soon. No need to wait for Saturdays for the classic local pairing of a bright red snapper dog and molasses and salt pork-cooked yellow-eye beans (Maine grown!) at Dysart’s, one of New England’s finest truck stops that’s also a diner and a bakery.

Maryland

With heavy hitters like crab cakes and pit beef on the menu, it’s no wonder the Baltimore-style hot dog remains all but unknown outside the region. There isn’t much to it—you take a kosher, all-beef dog, top it with (or wrap it in) fried bologna, and that’s it, that’s the hot dog, apart from the usual condiments, to your own personal preference. This simple tradition, going back to the 1940s, remains one of the most popular items on the menu at Attman’s, the brightest star along what remains of Baltimore’s famous Corned Beef Row. Try your dog straight up, maybe with a little mustard to start; you can add chili too, if you like. 

Massachusetts

There are at least two version of The Berkshires—the privileged, rural idyll, with some of the most beautiful countryside to be found within a short drive of New York City, and the post-industrial one, found in Pittsfield, as well as the extremely historic mill towns of Housatonic, and North Adams, where Jack’s Hot Dogs has been a fixture since 1917, operated today by the grandson of the original founder. The move here is chili dogs, wrapped in American cheese and topped with the house meat sauce. The franks are sourced from nearby Pittsfield, which incidentally claims a hot dog culture all its own. You know, in case you’re at Canyon Ranch or Kripalu, and find yourself in need a snack. (We’ll never tell.)

Michigan

You’ll find meat sauce-topped Coney dogs all over the Midwest, but Metro Detroit is very much the capital of the culture, a century after the fun started. Two of the most important hot dog joints in the country can be found on the same street corner in downtown Detroit, but it’s Lafayette Coney Island, the youngest of the two, open since 1924, that draws us in again and again, for its classic lunch counter atmosphere, efficient service, and perhaps the finest Coney sauce in existence, rich in the locally-requisite beef heart. Anyone raised on snappy East Coast dogs will find the supple beef-pork blend dogs (at last check made just down the road in Dearborn) a revelation—the perfect fit for that flavorful sauce. Complete the picture with mustard and chopped raw onion, and you’ve got the best hot dog not only in Michigan, but in a lot of other states, as well, whether they know it or not.

Minnesota

Let’s just have this out. The best hot dog in Minnesota comes from the Minnesota State Fair, where the classic battered-and-fried Pronto Pup (not quite a standard corn dog, we’d say it’s better, more delicate) has reigned supreme since the 1940s. So closely linked to local food culture, many Minnesotans won’t accept that the Pronto Pup was actually invented on the West Coast, but to be fair, that’s nearly a technicality at this point—no other state has sustained quite so serious an affair with the classic snack. In 2020, the fun was limited to a drive-thru state fair food pop-up event; here’s hoping things go back to normal in time for next year.

Mississippi

With more than 40 locations in the state and exactly zero anyplace else, Ward’s is Mississippi’s not-so-little fast food secret, and at the heart of its continued success is the Big One, one of the messiest, most grotesque looking, and most delicious classic chili cheeseburgers this side of the likes of Tommy’s in Los Angeles. The lighter, less messy pairing of a classic chili cheese dog, and frosty, brewed-on-premises root beer make for one of the state’s most iconic quick meals.

Missouri

One of the loveliest restaurant happy endings of 2020 happened just before the pandemic. After a decade of being loved by St. Louis, Steve Ewing, owner of Steve’s Hot Dogs, had to come clean—the city’s favorite hot dog joint wasn’t making ends meet, and they would have to close. That was January. The response was immense, the goodbye intense, and it didn’t end up lasting very long: a month before the country disappeared into our terrible new normal, an angel investor came forward with a cash infusion. Steve’s was safe, and it's been doing a brisk business ever since. Get the Backyard BBQ dog, a smoky frank topped with baked beans, potato salad, bacon, and barbecue sauce.

Montana

After half a century in the restaurant business, Buck Loomis—he must be close to 80 by now— doesn’t seem ready to slow down, at least not yet. For over a decade, he’s been the owner, operator, chief cook, and bottle washer at Mr. Hot Dogs, a Butte classic that Loomis has taken in a fascinating direction, drawing on years of experience running Italian restaurants to create a fun menu of knife-and-fork Italian hot dogs. (Hot dog parm, anyone?)

Nebraska

The menu board from 1933 still hangs behind the counter at the Coney Island Lunch Room in Grand Island: Mexican chili for 10 cents, Italian spaghetti for 15. The prices and the menu have changed somewhat since then. Today, the hot dog, with a garlicky meat sauce that goes back to the very beginning, is the star of the show, alongside hand-cut French fries and frosty chocolate malts. A fine stop on any I-80 road trip.

Nevada

With a diverse population hailing from all corners of the country and the world, Las Vegas has become something of a gold mine of regional hot dog styles; we’ll take the creative, Korean-style hot dogs at Buldogis, please, any day of the week, where house-made kimchi and spicy aioli are the new sauerkraut and mustard. 

New Hampshire

Portsmouth’s finest diner isn’t actually a diner at all, but rather the last remaining mobile lunch cart ever built by the Worcester Lunch Car Co.. Gilley’s PM Lunch hasn’t been mobile since 1974, but visitors are often surprised by just how small the place is—eight stools at the counter, from which to admire the gorgeous 1940s porcelain and oak interior. Lately, the dining room has been shuttered, with orders coming in and out of the small window leading to the kitchen, but the food is as good as ever. For a true taste of New England, order the Beans & Dogs—a generous helping of house-made beans, two high-quality franks, and slices of buttered bread for dipping, wrapped in wax paper. A classic pleasure of the highest order. Make room for the perfect hand-cut fries, too, made with Maine-grown potatoes.

New Jersey

Hot dog love runs deep in the Garden State, and there’s plenty to choose from, but when it comes to the best, there’s only one regional style so unique, so memorable, that ignoring it is almost impossible—we’re talking, of course, about the Italian dog. Created in Newark during a very different time, this isn’t so much your standard dog, but rather a nearly complete meal, served up in half a loaf of the locally favored pizza bread. In goes an all-beef dog or an Italian sausage (or one of each, that’s totally acceptable), plus an abundance of peppers and onions, plus a mound of thinly sliced fried potatoes. These days, the most memorable brush with this vastly underrated classic will be at Tommy’s Italian Sausage, a walk-up window in Elizabeth, just a few minutes from the Goethals Bridge.

New Mexico

Memorable appearances on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul have now made it famous, but Albuquerque locals have long known that when the craving strikes for hot dogs, it pretty much has to be the split and grilled foot longs—topped with the unique red chile sauce, cheese and onions, too, if you like—at the divey Dog House, a neon-adorned drive-in along the Route 66 strip. If your heart is set on a green chile dog, then have one—normally, that goes on the cheeseburgers, but they’ll sell you a cup on the side, no questions asked.

New York

From footlongs grilled over hot coals at Ted’s in Buffalo (1927) to meat-sauce topped Michigans at Clare & Carl’s in furthest Plattsburgh (1942) to Nathan’s, pride of Coney Island since 1916, there isn’t a corner of the state without a vital link to hot dog history. To this day, however, nobody has quite managed to top the magnificent combination of fresh tropical fruit drinks and hickory smoke-scented dogs at the Papaya King, which began life as the city’s first juice bar on the Upper East Side in the 1930s, spawned countless imitators, and outlasted nearly all of them. A giant papaya drink—fresh fruit purée with some sugar and powdered milk added in—and a grilled dog slathered in sweet onion sauce and mustard is a classic New York combination that too often goes overlooked.

North Carolina

You could certainly order a pork sandwich at the century-plus-old J. S. Pulliam Barbecue in Winston-Salem, but most people are here for the slaw-topped hot dogs, served in buttered, grill-toasted buns; onions, mustard and liberal amounts of the house hot sauce complete the beautiful picture. Well, that and a bottle of Cheerwine.

North Dakota

We might not drag our German friends to the Wurst Bier Hall in Fargo for the currywurst—this is North Dakota, not the streets of Berlin, and the locally-made bratwurst slathered in from-scratch curry ketchup is definitely an interpretation, not a recreation. Still, when there’s nobody around to nitpick, we’re very much there, and maybe even experimenting, too. You can choose whichever sausage you like, from a menu that goes from the classic (kielbasa) to the thoroughly adventurous (elk jalapeño cheddar).

Ohio

During the warmer months, one of the best lunches in downtown Cincinnati comes straight from the grill parked out in front of Avril Bleh Meat Market & Deli, one of the top butcher shops in the country since 1894. Take your pick of dogs and brats and sausages, often made from recipes going back more than a century, but for our money, that sturdy, smoky, beautifully-spiced cousin to the hot dog, the Mettwurst, maybe even one oozing melted cheddar, is the one to beat. With this much flavor, a squirt of mustard is all you need. 

Oklahoma

We tend to think of Coney dogs as more of a Rust Belt thing, but for generations, the Coney-I-Lander has been a Tulsa mainstay, inspiring so much loyalty that the restaurant—actually, it’s a mini-chain—now ships nationwide. The signature menu item is a delicious hybrid of regional styles—the dog is griddled for starters, and while there’s a house chili with the requisite secret spice blend, and mustard and onions (think Detroit), there’s a mound of finely shaved, bright orange cheddar cheese, too (hello, Cincinnati). The end result? One hundred percent Tulsa. They do a great Frito pie, as well.

Oregon

Made from the highest quality beef and pork and smoked over alder wood right on premises, the old-fashioned wieners at Otto’s Sausage Kitchen in Portland are some of the finest to be found this side of the Atlantic. Family-owned and at it for nearly a century now, Otto’s famously fires up their outdoor grill most afternoons, serving the house franks and sausages with an array of simple condiments.

Pennsylvania

The service is perfunctory on a good day, the vibe is pre-gentrification Fishtown, and the crowd is as down-by-the-docks as it gets around here these days. In other words, Johnny’s Hots is the perfect place to introduce the unsuspecting to the very best kind of Philadelphia, the no-bullshit kind, starring a reliable cast of characters that can be found lining up at strange hours, as early as five o’clock in the morning. After years of attrition, this is also one of the last best places in Philadelphia for one of the city’s more under-appreciated meals: the long hot (a sausage/dog combo type deal), topped with a cod and potato fish cake, and a bright, crispy pepper hash made with cabbage and apple cider vinegar, flecked with red peppers for color. Don’t fight it—just eat it. This was meant to be.

Rhode Island

Doughboys, stuffies, coffee cabinets—the extremely specific foodways of the smallest state are among its finest attributes. And while it certainly is something of a contest, this being hot dog-mad New England and all, it’s hard to think of a more entrenched and unique regional style than the New York System hot wiener: supple, little, locally-manufactured veal and pork beauties served up in steamed rolls, bathed in cumin-inflected meat sauce, and topped with onions, mustard, and celery salt. Do it right at the Olneyville New York System in Providence and Cranston, around since the wars, with an order of as many teeny weenies as you can handle, plus a coffee milk to go with.

South Carolina

We’re still mourning the passing of the pimento cheese dog at Sandy’s, a Columbia institution that disappeared from the landscape just a few years back, but (and don’t tell anyone we said this) Ripper’s, located inside Jake’s, a popular bar in the college nightlife-centric Five Points district, is healing the hole in our hearts with their menu of deep-fried, high-quality local tube steaks, specially the one served with loads of homemade pimento cheese on top.

South Dakota

Known primarily as an Iowa thing, the loose meat sandwich is the calling card not all that far past the state line at Yankton’s Tastee Treet Drive-In, where they’re called Tastee Beefs, and have been for well over half a century now. Apologies to the signature menu item, but it’s the Kwiki Dog, the house corn dog, that could lure us back any old time—that and a butterscotch milkshake, though you could make yours a chocolate malt. That’s more than fine too.

Tennessee

There is no discussion of Memphis barbecue without Payne’s, the stripped-down, family-owned institution where the star of the show is a chopped pork sandwich topped with bright yellow mustard slaw-relish and spicy sauce, to the point where you’d be forgiven if you thought that was the only thing served here. Like so many other local barbecue icons, however, Payne’s menu is full of surprises, and includes that other local favorite—the smoked sausage, crisped up with a quick trip to the fryer and topped with all the good stuff. The result: A quietly epic meal to rival the house specialty. 

Texas

Tucson may have popularized the Sonoran-style dog north of the border, but you can’t keep a good thing from going wide, which is how the bacon-wrapped beauties have rather recently become one of the most popular things to eat from a truck in Austin, a city already spoiled for choice in the street food category. Founded by a Le Cordon Bleu grad who once worked for Thomas Keller, T-Loc serves up one of the finest examples of the generously-topped genre we’ve found this far from their spiritual home.

Utah

Brigham Young grad Jayson Edwards saw a hole in the campus-adjacent food situation and filled it a few years back with J Dawgs, a literal shack selling delicious all-beef dogs, artfully slashed in criss-cross fashion, griddled, and topped with a secret, barbecue-esque sauce based on a recipe his grandmother clipped from a newspaper half a century earlier. These days, Edwards sits atop something of a mini-empire of brick and mortar shops, and a truck service that seems to pretty much cover the entire state. Toppings are very much on the Five Guys model—as many or as little as you like. Start simply, however, with that sauce, and maybe a sprinkling of raw onion, for crunch—there’s something about the combo of dog, char, and sauce that’s almost too good to cover up.

Vermont

Burlington loves to eat well, and at times you’ll forget that Vermont’s big city is actually quite small, given all the great restaurants and talented artisans that a modest population manages to support. Not that they’re snobs around here—most nights, Al’s French Frys, a classic diner out on the suburban fringe, has been one of the most happening places in town, going all the way back to the 1940s. The simple dog on a griddled split top roll (we’ll take ours with a side of the house cheese sauce, for dipping) and a mound of expert-level fresh-cut fries, served with rich gravy, won’t be the most sophisticated meal you’ll ever eat in Burlington, but it’ll probably be the one you want to eat again and again.

Virginia

Since the Great Depression, anybody with two nickels to rub together has found themselves welcome to one of ten counter seats at the Bullington family’s Texas Tavern in downtown Roanoke, where the hot dogs are still accessibly priced, and best ordered “all the way,” with the house chili sauce, onions, and a unique mustard-based relish that’s popular enough they sell it by the quart to go. For a real trip back in time, wash it all down with a glass of buttermilk.

Washington

“If you don’t like it, then Matt’s an idiot,” goes the house mantra at Matt’s Hot Dogs in Seattle’s largely industrial Georgetown neighborhood, mostly still a safe space away from the shiny new-style city that at least until this year seemed so intent on erasing the old. Since the early 1990s, this casual take-out joint has been pulling off the unusual trick of being quite competent at a variety of notable regional dog styles, each built on a firm, all-beef, house recipe, no fillers foundation. All pair well with the house cheese fries. 

Washington D.C.

Ben and Virginia Ali didn’t invent the half smoke when they opened Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street back in 1958, but there’s no disputing the work one of the most iconic restaurants in the nation’s capital has done over the decades to preserve this unique bit of District food heritage. The house version of these snappy, smoky, and spicy sausage-dog hybrids, made with both beef and pork, are custom-stuffed up in (shh, don’t tell) Baltimore, grilled and served with chili, mustard and onions.  

West Virginia

The state that loves local hot dog culture enough to throw it an annual festival is pretty clear on what it likes—around here, hot dogs very often are served with chili, onions, mustard, and a ribbon of coleslaw on top for contrast and texture. Wherever you find these beauties, they will typically be delicious, but a pilgrimage to the magnificent, slightly off-its-rocker Hillbilly Hot Dogs in rural Lesage should definitely be a part of the adventure. Here, chili comes on a great deal many things, but their quality West Virginia dog allows crunchy-cool slaw take center stage, along with mustard and onions.

Wisconsin

Like you had to be reminded, but America’s Dairyland runs on bratwurst, when it’s not running on cheese, not that you have to work too terribly hard to find a great all-beef dog—Chicago’s just over the state line, after all. With such proximity to greatness, don’t bother resorting to pale imitations. Instead, head to Benji’s, the Milwaukee area’s resident classic Jewish deli, where where you can get a great Reuben, a great hot dog, or you can have the Benji, which is essentially a Reuben—corned beef, kraut, Swiss, the works—on top of a Vienna Beef dog, boiled, grilled, or ripped. The 1000 Island dressing typically comes on the side, like a dare—ours doesn’t stay there for every long.

Wyoming

Known for hearty prime rib dinners in a casual, Western-style diner environment, The Albany in Cheyenne, which began life as a hotel back in 1905, is currently a restaurant, a bar, and a pretty great liquor store. At lunch, it’s also where you’ll find the city’s finest chili dog, served with a homemade sauce and plenty of onions and cheese on the side