This SoCal-NorCal rivalry thing is totally overblown. We're all Californians, and they've got some great stuff up there, like beer, book publishers, and hyphy rap. Who cares that they use obnoxious words like "hella," that they have their own stupid logo, or that they root for a baseball team full of scrawny skater kids and wannabe lumber jacks? Wait a minute, maybe we do care - the more you look at it, the more NorCal sucks.
In that context, this week's food fight takes on an even greater importance. L.A.'s signature dog, the bacon-wrapped hot dog AKA danger dog AKA street dog AKA heart-attack dog takes on its antithesis, the San Francisco native grass-fed sustainable organic locally sourced Let's Be Frank hot dog truck. We're getting ready to go all Madden 2012 cover athlete runner-up on these carts, but in case you're worried, our only real rooting interest in this fight is for the best dog to win.Stumbling out of a bar in Hollywood, or out of a game at Staples (though it'll be a while before you can do that again), the powerful smell of grilled onions and bacon is one of the first things you notice. That glorious odor is coming from a dozen nearly identical carts, each selling the same one item: a hot dog wrapped in bacon. When you select a vendor and approach him or her, the transaction is simple and pure. How many? One, because any more would be suicide. Everything? Of course, throw it all on there, grilled onions and peppers, mayo, mustard, ketchup, relish, and anything else in that cart. And all for two dollars.
But the real question is, does the taste live up to the otherworldly smell? Unfortunately, not quite. The onions are good but more fragrant than flavorful. The dog itself is totally acceptable, but clearly missing that special snap and ends up almost indistinguishable from the ones you buy at Ralph's. And the greatest misfortune of all, the bacon actually manages to get almost entirely lost amongst all of the other toppings. Still, though it may not be all it could be, the bacon wrapped hot dog is tasty and filling, a solid value and a great L.A. experience.
The Let's Be Frank experience could not be more different. Its most consistent location is in the parking lot of the distinctly clean, pleasant, and rather upscale Helms Bakery complex, just across the way from Father's Office and Lukshon, though you can also often find the truck outside of wine tastings and other classy events. It is an afternoon truck, meant to be enjoyed out in the sun on a bench instead of late at night in a drunken haze, and it shows in the product. The Let's Be Frank dog is pretty, with a nice reddish hue and a picturesque bun. The texture is right too, the casing snaps, the bun gives just enough, and the grilled onions and relish provide some interesting contrast.
For all of its grass-fed beauty and sustainable wholesomeness, though, it does not really transcend its genre. Yes, it is delicious, but it is in most respects not a whole lot better than any other high-end dog you'll find, at Whole Foods or elsewhere. Similarly, the Indian-inspired Devil Sauce is tasty but not in any way earth-shattering. The other toppings are fine, but once again nothing particularly special. And at $5.50 for one less than filling hot dog, the price seems a little exorbitant.
In the end, though, both iconic dogs are good in their own way. Nothing will ever beat the smell of those bacon-wrapped hot dogs after (or during) a night of heavy drinking, but the gourmet Let's Be Frank dog has serious advantages in appearance and quality (and also scores points for leaving us without post-dog guilt or indigestion). Though the cost may be a little high and the experience not as memorable, for its beauty and its flavor we award the crown to Let's Be Frank.