Whether we’re scarfing them down at backyard barbecues or watching them get inhaled at Coney Island’s annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, nothing says “U.S.A!” like a hot dog. What’s more, as befits the American melting pot, there are many regional variations on the classic treat. Celebrate our nation this summer by visiting one of these iconic joints.
Superdawg Drive-In’s two North Side locations—the first of which debuted in 1948—specialize in classic, dragged-through-the-garden Chicago Dogs, which consist of a boiled all-beef sausage buried under layers of mustard, relish, chopped onion, kosher pickle, pickled green tomatoes, and hot sport peppers. If there’s not enough nostalgia packed into that bun, Americana seekers might get misty looking at the drive-ins’ Prairie-style architecture, neon lights, and carhop servers.
American Coney Island owner Grace Keros claims her grandpa Gust, a Greek immigrant who came through Ellis Island before making his way to Motown, invented the Detroit Coney in 1917. (The name is a shout-out to Brooklyn’s Coney Island, although that appears to be the extent of the historical connection.) A century later, the downtown Detroit diner remains an institution (along with its neighbor and rival, Lafayette Coney Island), grilling franks and topping them with mustard, chopped Vidalia onion, and beef-heart chili.
The Seattle-style dog is a puppy, historically speaking. Dog in the Park owner Ramazan Senturk says he concocted it in 2005 to feed late-night bargoers, but today folks flock to his downtown Seattle stand all day for franks that are butterflied, cooked on a flat-top grill, and smothered with onions, cabbage, peppers, and the signature ingredient: cream cheese. Sound heavy? “It’s a meal,” Senturk confirms.
When Magdalena, Mexico, native Daniel Contreras opened his first El Güero Canelo stand in Tucson in 1993, he introduced America to the Sonoran dog. Bacon-wrapped and grilled, the Southwestern staple is topped with pinto beans, tomatoes, onions, mustard, mayo, jalapeño salsa, and a Caribe pepper. Nestled in a bun made at Contreras’s bakery in Magdalena, the cross-cultural treat helped El Güero Canelo (which now has three locations) win a James Beard Award in 2018.
The Half-Smoke (a spicy sausage that’s 50/50 beef and pork) reigns supreme in D.C., and the spot to get one is Ben’s Chili Bowl, a U Street institution since 1958. (There are now several other stands as well, including one at Reagan National Airport.) The standard order is an “all the way,” which comes with mustard, onions, and beef chili, but a bigger treat is the chance to chat with octogenarian owner Virginia Ali, who has welcomed everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Barack Obama. “We treat everybody like family,” she says.
Next Up: Louisville’s New Southern Cuisine