It’s hard to think of a more all-American snack than the humble hot dog. Alongside the best burgers in America as well as our best fried chicken and best BBQ, franks are one of the most representative foods of the red, white and blue. It should come as no surprise, then, that most corners of the country are crowded with top-quality spots that make choosing America's best hot dogs a chalenge: from simple-but-satisfying griddled links with a simple swipe of mustard to custom-made wild game sausages loaded with house-pickled vegetables, hot dog aficionados from Seattle to New York can find satisfaction. Still, some stand out above the rest: These are the best hot dog restaurants in America. Follow Time Out USA on Facebook; sign up for the Time Out USA newsletter
Best hot dogs in America
Whether made in-house or custom-ordered from respected local suppliers Hudson Meats and Smokey Denmark, all Frank franks have a few things in common: they’re unusual, creative and downright delicious. You can go conservative (a beer-soaked brat slathered with mustard) or super-adventurous (the Jackalope, a smoked antelope, rabbit and pork sausage dressed with cranberry compote and sriracha aioli). The house-baked buns are soft, fluffy and not too sweet, but if you’re feeling feisty you can opt to corn dog-ify any sausage of your choosing for just 50 additional cents.
Jim Pittenger doesn’t exactly look the part of a gourmet chef: A former repo man who sports a goatee, a long gray ponytail and silver studs and hoops in his earlobes, “Biker Jim” would seem more at home on the back of a hog than behind a flat-top griddle. But the man is nothing short of a hot dog master, slinging wildly creative gourmet sausages that have earned him statewide adulation (and a coveted appearance on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations). Crafted, variously, from reindeer, wild boar, elk and rattlesnake, Jim’s links are available in a bevy of out-there but so-delicious styles. Try the Desert dog, topped with spicy harissa-roasted cactus, fragrant Malaysian curry jam and cilantro, or the El Diablo, lavished with bright tomatillo salsa, sriracha lime mayo and crispy smoked bacon bits.
The iconic eats at this legendary Lower East Side deli counter have always been of the no-frills sort, from the hulking piles of peppery pastrami to the Swiss-and-sauerkraut reuben. The hot dog is no exception: The all-beef frankfurter is seasoned deeply with garlic, salt and paprika beneath its firm, lightly charred natural casing. A traditional topper of zesty golden mustard and tangy kraut adds some bright acidity inside a soft, humble split bun.
Do not ask for ketchup when you order one of the legendary slender, snappy hot dogs that come topped with a fistful of fries at this standing-room-only institution that’s been serving ’em up since 1951. The surly types behind the counter don’t go for sissy stuff like that. Claim your place at the end of the perpetually long line and entertain yourself by watching potatoes being cut and fried into perfect greasy strips while you wait. Once it’s your turn, order your Depression Dog with everything, then count your blessings for the wax paper-wrapped bliss that lies before you.
Ask any native Detroiter what the local diet-buster of choice is, and you’ll get a resoundingly unanimous answer: a Coney dog. Named, of course, after the franks available on Brooklyn’s boardwalk, Coney dogs are such a thing in Detroit that elsewhere in the country they’re called Michigan-style dogs. An all-beef frank loaded with chili, raw onions and a squirt of mustard, Coney dogs are most notably slung downtown on West Lafayette Boulevard, where two neighboring—they’re literally next door to each other—rival institutions sell thousands of dogs daily. The call between Lafayette and neighbor American Coney Island is a tough one, but our loyalties lie with the former, whose chili is perfectly balanced and just a little spicy. Grab a pair and a side of fries and head to nearby Campus Martius Park to chow down alfresco.
Senate, Cincinnati, OH
Senate’s sleek, modern dining room—fitted out with exposed brick, bare wood and Edison bulb lighting—allows diners at this Over-the-Rhine favorite to focus on what’s really important: the killer, super-loaded dogs. Snappy beef hot dogs are gently laid inside a warm, griddled bun and then assaulted with rich, craveable toppings: the Croque Madame is lapped in béchamel and then crowned with Black Forest ham and a poached egg, while the cheekily named Lindsay Lohan gets a blanket of caramelized onions, a crumble of goat cheese, a shower of arugula and, per the menu, “tons of drama.” Down your dogs with a side of crisp duck-fat fries—and don’t tell your cardiologist.
This rollicking dive bar knows all too well what buzzed imbibers crave—indulgent junk food—and supplies it in ample and satisfying measure. Focusing on quality over quantity, Happy Dog’s menu presents just one frank option: classic all-beef, locally made by Cleveland purveyor Blue Ribbon Meats. The sky’s the limit when it comes to topping those dogs, though: choose from six categories (Meat, Cheese, Savory, Pickled, Fresh and Sauce) and load your link to abandon. Bourbon pork ’n’ beans, vodka sauerkraut, Brazilian chimichurri and sunnyside-up eggs are all standout options, and sides of tater tots and their dipping sauces are darn good, too.
BK Carne Asada & Hot Dogs, Tucson, AZ
Tucson’s famous Sonoran hot dogs—a beloved local snack sold across town by about 200 street vendors and several popular sit-down joints—take their name from the region just south of the border from Arizona, but flavor-wise, the influence is only marginal. Stuffed into a split-top roll called a bolillo, the perro caliente is wrapped in bacon, griddled until crispy and piled high with creamy pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, grilled and raw onions, mayo, mustard and picante jalapeño salsa. BK Carne Asada’s much-loved version is a juicy, crispy, porky marvel. Don’t neglect the roasted chile guero on the side: It’s a hot and smoky bite that perfectly complements the overloaded dog.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Jeanielle H.
Since 1998, this casual brew-and-dog spot has been satisfying locals’ cravings for excellent craft beers and even better franks. Choose a Vienna all-beef dog, a turkey dog, a cheesy bratwurst, a cheddar-jalapeño kielbasa, or a veggie option; your link then gets nestled in a fluffy poppyseed bun and dressed according to your whim. Twelve styles include a standout “dragged through the garden” Chicago-style dog, with all the fixings, and a sweet-salty Angry Tiki with pineapple, bacon and hoisin sauce. Beer lovers, take note: D’s pours more than 25 excellent brews on tap and boasts an incredible “beer cave” where can you choose from more than 1,000 bottles to enjoy with your meal.
This über-efficient local chain, begun in Villa Park in 1963, is mostly found in the suburbs. But at the one city Portillo's, in tourist-heavy River North, out-of-towners flock in search of an authentic Chicago dog. The thick, nicely juicy dog comes on poppyseed bun steamed to perfect softness and with a generous helping of thick-cut tomatoes, onions and a hefty pickle slice.
Though the Dog Haus menu reads like a drunken cookbook of street dogs and Denny’s breakfasts, the plump, flavorful hot dogs show more tact and restraint than their sloppy inspirations, thanks in part to the sweet, soft Hawaiian bread buns. Among the long list of dependably excellent dogs, burgers and brats, the Sooo Cali ($6) is the hot dog of choice, with its thick slices of avocado, crispy onions and spicy basil aioli. Out front, the picnic bench patio offers a charming alternative to the sports bar-like interior; in either case the delightfully cheesy ’80s touches are inescapable, from the loud soundtrack—think Toto—to the menu—The Abe Froman, Scott Baioli.
This slinger of gourmet franks, located inside downtown Atlanta’s foodie paradise, Curb Market, keeps things simple but delicious, offering diners a choice of all-beef dogs, Polish sausages, spicy chicken sausages, German brats and veggie hot dogs. All links are housemade with all natural ingredients, and boast a juiciness and snap that’s accentuated by a tumble on the flat-top grill. Once you choose your dog, load on the tasty toppings of your choice: Standout options include hearty homemade chili and tangy fresh coleslaw bolstered with plenty of celery seed. Fresh-from-the-fryer side dishes—shoestring fries, fresh-cut onion rings—are hot, crispy and nearly greaseless.
No dubious fillings here. Dogma serves all-natural, 100-percent beef hot dogs, which can be dressed up or down anyway you’d like. The grilled dog is served atop a toasted bun and you can cover it with everything from ketchup to bacon to chili, or choose a style from the specialty menu, which nods to most hot-dog-loving cities in the U.S. and beyond: including Atlanta (topped with baked beans and slaw), Chicago (hold the ketchup) and Colombia (a wiener concealed underneath a mound of potato chips, fresh white cheese and chopped pineapple). When a regular or jumbo dog just won’t cut it (yep, you get to pick from two sizes), there are spicy Italian sausage, Polish sausage and bratwurst options to choose from.
In any other city, a restaurant named “Dirt Dog” might be considered a poor marketing decision. But in L.A.? We live for dirt dogs, the bacon-wrapped street dogs grilled on a cart that seem particularly enjoyable at 2am. The brick-and-mortar Dirt Dog isn't open that late—and it costs a little more than our $3 street options—but the dogs here are just as delicious. Located down the street from USC, the small storefront offers a few signature options made with Nathan's beef 5/1 dog, from the classic House Dirt Dog with onions, bell peppers and housemade Thousand Island bacon sauce to the Red Dirt Dog with spicy tomato chili sauce and chipotle aioli spread. For non-meat eaters, a soy-based veggie dog is also on the menu. Choose from traditional, Portuguese or lobster buns, settle into a booth and get dirty.
Like most American foods, hot dog styles vary by region. In New York, a dirty-water dog gets a simple squirt of ketchup and yellow mustard, while a Chicago dog is a more complicated affair, loaded not only with mustard, relish and chopped onions, but also with dill pickles and sliced tomatoes. The lesser-known—but much-beloved—Seattle-style dog is an altogether wackier specimen, a split, griddled all-beef link showered with grilled onions and schmeared with—wait for it—tangy cream cheese. Much, much tastier than they sound, Seattle-style dogs reach their apex at this ever-thronged downtown cart. Add a little BBQ sauce and mustard for a surprisingly delicious creamy, sweet and spicy snack.
Beez Neez, Portland, OR
This downtown dog cart is a perennial favorite among gourmet sausage lovers, standing out in particular for its signature housemade Alaskan reindeer link. A quarter-pound blend of reindeer, pork and beef, the sausage is well seasoned and juicy, served griddled in a toasted bun and heaped with caramelized onions. Beez Neez’s creamy, creative sauces are just the thing for jazzing up an already delicious dog: Think creamy honey chipotle aioli, spicy chile de arbol hot sauce and German-style curry ketchup. Game not your thing? Dig into a chicken sausage, a German brat or even a vegan seitan dog.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Michael Andersen
Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace, Columbus, OH
When the question “where should we go tonight?” arises between friends spending an evening in downtown Columbus, the answer is often a resounding “Dirty Frank’s!” This low-key hangout is beloved for its cheerful service, its cold, cheap beers (PBRs are an astounding $1 during happy hour) and its menu of outrageous, decadent hot dogs. First, pick your sausage (steamed or grilled Vienna all-beef, bacon-wrapped, a tofu dog or a brat), then pick your style of choice from 40 options. It’s hard to go wrong with of the restaurant’s Top Dogs—the Seoul Dog, topped with Korean kimchi and sriracha, is a blockbuster—and for bacon lovers, there’s even a “Viva Baconia!” section of the menu.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Matt G.
Tourists and tube-steak zealots make the trek to this Brooklyn landmark for a taste of hot-dog history. Established in 1916, the former 5¢ stand still does a roaring trade. The bun is flimsy, but in the end, it's just a vehicle for the chain-spawning wiener, which has a tight casing that gives way to a juicy interior. Totally iconic.
Flo’s Hot Dogs, Cape Neddick, ME
Family-owned and -operated since 1959, this hot dog stand perched on the Maine coastline has been a beacon of hope for weary Route 1 travelers for more than five decades. Famed for its secret-recipe house relish, Flo’s serves its “Loaded” snappy steamed dogs heaped with the sweet and briny mix, plus mustard, green relish and chopped raw onions. For the true Mainer experience, wash your dogs down with Moxie, the state’s official soft drink—it’s a cola with notes of wintergreen and bitters that somehow perfectly complement a Flo’s dog.
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Brent C.