We're not sure who really came up with the idea of taking a processed tube of (potentially cancerous) mystery meat, then pouring a thick stew of heavily cooked-down meat on top of it -- but they should probably be congratulated, or yelled at, or both. Now you can order chili dogs almost everywhere, topped with onions and cheese, and all precariously contained within a bun that you can press down to the size of a golf ball. Two local restaurants take great pride in their versions, with one, Pink's, sporting perhaps the most consistently long lines in local food purveyor history.
We began there, trying to beat those lines by arriving painfully early, at 10:15 a.m., and barely succeeding. The menu is surprisingly large, mainly due to the numerous possible topping and dog combinations. Celebrity head shots line the walls, and there are even some celebrity hot dogs too: Martha Stewart, Huell Howser, and Patt Morrison have their own, yet thankfully, Michael Vick does not.
The Pink's chili cheese dog, despite its success, remains fairly affordable at $3.75. It is an exercise in simplicity compared to the rest of the menu, and not too difficult to handle. The best part of the dog is that much-loved "snap" when you bite down. In a surprising twist, the slice of cheese may be the most dominant flavor, as the hot dog itself gets a bit lost in the shuffle.
At Carney's, the train car-turned restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, their titular dog with cheese ($3.95) is actually quite different, despite the many similar ingredients. The primary difference, and the one most immediately apparent, is that there are two thick, half slices of tomato placed right on top. When you try to lift the hot dog, you'll find a surprising weight to it, half-expecting the entire thing to rip through the middle of the bun like a cup of sand through a wet paper towel. Is it a knife-and-fork chili cheese dog? Does such a thing even exist?
You'll find a little less "snap" than at Pink's, but the dog actually keeps its texture as you continue eating it. You can taste the hot dog too, which is juicier, and stands out despite the strong, fresh taste of tomato. You will also leave a debris of tomato, bun, and chili.
If eating the Pink's chili cheese dog is like working out against a punching bag, Carney's is like stepping into the ring with a sparring partner. For us, Carney's is the superior chili dog, with the taste of the hot dog itself pushing it into the winner's circle. But if it's the messiness that puts you off, well, you probably shouldn't be eating a chili dog in the first place.