New York City is known for many things, and many of those things are culinary. Somewhere on the long list of iconic New York foods is the humble hot dog. It won’t be the first thing on anyone’s list of great NYC foods, I imagine, but I doubt anyone would dismiss the idea that it rightfully belongs there.
I lived in New York City ages ago. And in my early and mid 20s, I had my share of late-night Katz’s hot dogs. Yes, the pastrami sandwich is amazing, but sometimes you just need a hot dog, and they make a hell of a hot dog. I also partook in the occasional recession special at Grays’ Papaya: two delectable hot dogs and a papaya drink (now $4.95; I honestly can’t say what it was when I last lived there). I left NYC and took a somewhat circuitous path that ultimately led to Los Angeles, also a great hot dog city. Having spent well over a decade there, I hit all the hot dog highlights at some point (or many points): Pink’s, Dodger dogs, Carney’s, street dogs wrapped in bacon.
I’ve been back on the east coast for a while now, reasonably close to the city. I hatched a plan with a cousin who lives on the Upper West Side to make our way through a list of the best hot dogs in the city from Gothamist. My husband, our (then) four-year-old girl, and I headed into the city to meet him and start eating our way through the NYC’s hot dog highlights. On the first trip, which was last Fall (I really need to post things faster!!!), we tried Katz’s, Crif Dogs, and Feltman’s on St. Marks. [Sadly, that Feltman’s closed down in October because they outgrew the space. They are supposedly looking for a larger space around the East Village. In the meantime, you can get them in Coney Island at their main location by Luna Park; they are also served at Mikey’s Burgers on Ludlow Street and McSorley’s on E. 7th. And you can buy them at supermarkets nationwide.]
205 E Houston at Ludlow
This was my favorite going into this crawl, and rightfully so. They know how to grill a dog at Katz’s. You can add some simple and straightforward toppings—mustard, sauerkraut, and onions, which are cooked down to practically melting in a slightly sweet tomato base. But it’s the hot dog itself that sings…a crisp, snappy skin encasing an incredibly juicy all-beef dog, just the right amount of salty and savory. The bun is simple, and it does its job. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass to be in Katz’s when the crowds are there. We were there on a Sunday afternoon around 1:30—of course it was going to be crowded. And yes, when the smell of profoundly delicious pastrami infuses the air, it’s hard not to lured away from the grill line and into the vastly more crowded pastrami line. But trust me, the Katz’s hot dog is great. And anyhow, who said you can’t get a hot dog and pastrami?
113 St. Marks Place between First and Ave A
The Crif dog is a house-made smoked beef and pork dog that’s deep-fried and served with the toppings of your choice. It’s also available grilled (the New Yorker) and there are a number of specialty dogs with toppings ranging from the expected to the unusual. The Crif dog is amazing—the deep-fried skin takes on a bacon-like texture and taste. And then there’s the bacon-wrapped Crif dog—extra crispy bacon on top of that already bacon-like hot dog skin. The hot dog itself takes on an almost sweet taste against that salty crispy exterior. And that, my friend, is sublime. Ultimately, I’m quite grateful this place didn’t exist when I lived in NYC and drank regularly in the East Village. I would have been here a lot. Oh, and the speak-easy Please Don’t Tell is accessed through the phone booth. So, go there, of course…or grab a Crif dog if you’re already at PDT.
Feltman’s of Coney Island
Previously of 80 St. Mark’s Place between First and Second; you can find them at 1000 Surf Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11224
Feltman’s is widely considered one of the best hot dogs in the city. They use all-natural, uncured beef hot dogs with no nitrates or artificial ingredients. The two brothers behind Feltman’s were inspired by Charles Feltman, inventor of the Coney Island hot dog (Frankfurter sausages on a bun) in 1867. The original Feltman’s grew from just a cart to a Coney Island institution, which persisted until 1954. That original recipe for Frankfurters is used by today’s Feltman’s of Coney Island.
At Feltman’s on St. Marks, you order through a window outside the William Barnacle Tavern, a prohibition-era speakeasy with a gangster past, now an absinthe specialist. The spot is also home to Theater 80, a storied East Village theater. Oh, and also the Museum of American Gangster. You can order your dog outside, then grab a seat at the bar and a drink. They’ll bring the hot dog in to you. Who knows, maybe there will be a performance going on in the theater (which is open to the bar). When we were there, a neighborhood ballet school was having a series of performances by their young students, who traipsed through the bar in pink tutus (this is a true story, not an absinthe-fueled reverie). Now that’s one eclectic little slice of NYC.