For a town whose cultural and culinary landmarks are two hot dogs -- Pink's, for better or worse, and the Dodger Dog, also for better or worse -- the hot dog nonetheless is greatly overshadowed by its other half, the hamburger. While there may not be as many great hot dogs as there are great hamburgers in Los Angeles, they are out there, scattered across town; you could give yourself a tour of the city, really, just trying to visit them all. From the classic hot dog stands that abound on the edges of L.A. proper to the newer joints creating a new breed of dog with their hefty toppings, here are 10 of the top dogs in L.A.
Tommy's chili is a flame-orange concoction that, no matter how many napkins you have at the ready, will inevitably leave its mark somewhere on your face, shirt or shoes. It's the chili standard by which others are judged; indeed, depending on whether it's 1 p.m. or 1 a.m., the hot dog may be considered just a vessel for the chili. Which is just fine, because though the hot dog itself is good, it's the chili ladled lovingly and dripped deliciously that makes this hot dog a city institution. 2575 W. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 389-9060.
All the dogs at Let's Be Frank are nitrite-, nitrate- and hormone-free, and all are sourced from sustainable farms. The Frank Dog, for example, is 100% California grass-fed beef, and the Brat Dog is a heritage pork bratwurst. That the dogs also are delicious is almost a bonus. Let's Be Frank serves hot dogs from a farmhouse red cart at Helms Bakery in Culver City, and makes weekly stops at Silver Lake Wine. For a complete experience, though, grab one at Golden State Cafe, where it's on the menu every day, as are the fat sweet-potato fries and nice, crisp craft pints to wash it all down. 426 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 782-8331.
On a balmy January weekend, there was a woman dressed as Xena, on a lunch break from a nearby fan convention, eating a chili cheese dog at Larry's. She got a bit of chili on her chakram, but no matter; she wiped it off, threw her trash away and got back in line to order another one. "They don't have any good food there," she explained. The man in line in front of her, who works on the Warner Bros. lot, nodded. "You did good with the chili dog." Xena nodded and thought for a second. "I'm going to bring one back for my Gabby," she decided, and ordered two dogs to go. The Warrior Princess, a true hero to the last. 3122 W. Burbank Blvd., Burbank, (818) 842-0244.
Jeff's has a large number of sausages on its menu, so it's easy to scan right past innocuous listings for hot dogs and instead get stuck on items like mergez and boerewors sausages. But you'd be remiss if you did miss the all-beef and jalapeno franks: these are simple, great hot dogs, both kosher and made on-site, like everything else at Jeff's. They are hidden in plain sight, but after you have one, you'll never look past them again. 8930 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 858-8590.
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If you didn't know any better, you'd look around at the ads plastered on the walls and the Lotto tickets for sale and think Earlez is just a little neighborhood mart that sells hot dogs. Until, that is, you overhear a cashier tell a customer that they make hot dogs like the ones you grill up in your backyard, "only a lot better." Ah, so it's not so much a convenience store that happens to sell hot dogs; it's a hot dog shop that sells convenience. And pretty good dogs these are: Earlez started as a hot dog cart some 20 years ago, in a spot that was then the Crenshaw Santa Barbara Plaza. The founding brothers, Duane and Cary, transitioned from cart wheels to their current brick-and-mortar a few years ago. While all the dogs are good, the veggie dogs might be the definitive best in town, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a better bean pie. 3630 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 295-8886.
Chronis bills itself as a "famous sandwich shop," but the giant spotted pup licking the hot dog suggests that something else is famous here, or ought to be. The stand has been around since the late 1950s, and while the neighborhood has changed, it doesn't seem that Chronis has. In fact, a trip to Chronis feels nostalgic even if you didn't grow up anywhere near its stand on Whittier Boulevard. You order at a giant open counter that might look like the junior high school counter where you picked up chimichangas and Slush Puppies, and grab bench seats at a giant red picnic table, as you might have done at lunchtime in the quad. The hot dog, too, feels like a throwback, squished into a soft steamed bun and topped simply with ketchup, mustard and onions. It has a light, definitive snap that's satisfying in any era. 5825 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 728-7806.
Of all the hot dog joints on this list, Vicious Dogs might have the best name and the longest menu: a panoply of different dogs with different toppings with different ways of cooking your meat, including charbroiled and grilled. At most other places that pile ingredients on their hot dogs like the pizzas they aren't, the franks would collapse under the weight of the accoutrements. Not so at Vicious Dogs, where such toppings are carefully considered, and where the regional dogs -- the Chicago dog, with its all-beef Vienna sausage, is particularly good -- are left alone so they can speak for themselves. If it's your first time, someone usually will recommend the sweet and spicy kielbasa on the seeded bun. That likely will be your first Vicious Dog, but it certainly won't be your last. 5231 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; (818) 985-3647.
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"You only want one?" is what you might hear if you order just one hot dog here, and the lady who just drove up in the T-150 and is now in line behind you may chime in and echo the question as if the answer is no. And they're both right: You really do want at least two, because the Cupid -- a very snappy dog with chili, mustard and onions with ketchup, cheese and relish optional -- is really that good, as is the meaty, soothing chili ladled atop of the dog, as is the wonderfully spongy steamed bun. There are a few franchise locations of Cupid's, but the original stands in Northridge, Winnetka and Simi Valley are the ones you want. You'll know where you stand based on the menu: The original locations offer only hot dogs, chips and soda. What more could you want? 9039 Lindley Ave., Northridge, (818) 898-4950; 20030 Vanowen St., Winnetka, (818) 347-1344; 2585 Cochran St., #G, Simi Valley, (805) 581-0902.
The specialty of the house at Fab's is the New Jersey-style ripper, a beef and pork hot dog with a natural casing flown in from the Garden State especially for deep frying. And when this hot dog is deep-fried, the casing bursts and tears just a little bit, resulting in a beautiful, wickedly crunchy and juicy dog. Fab Hot Dogs has earned quite a following; the "I ate it all wall," filled with happy mug shots of people who have eaten the entire menu within a year, is testament to as much. 19417 Victory Blvd., Reseda; (818) 344-4336.
Turn the page for our #1 pick...
1. The Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dog:
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You can wax on and on about steamed versus grilled, snap versus no snap, but at the end of a very long day, very few hot dogs in this city will beat out a hot dog wrapped in bacon, slathered with mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard and onions alongside a charred jalapeno. This is L.A.'s dog, found in almost all parts of the city, at almost always just the right time: right after a sweaty concert, say, or after drinking one too many at the neighborhood dive. Each hot dog lady or gent has their own slight spin on this hot dog; we're partial to the lady just half a block from Short Stop, who bravely waits in front of an eerily abandoned gas station with her bacon-wrapped creations that reliably hit the spot, sober or not.
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