Saigon Fusion from Hot Diggity (Philadelphia, PA)
At the brand new Hot Diggity, this might be our favorite creation on the menu. It's the hot dog version of a banh mi. The larger bun really works in its favor too. Everything is fresh and the banh mi flavors are right on. If you closed your eyes you might not even know you were eating a hot dog.
Pimento Cheese Dog from Sandy's Famous (Lexington, SC)
Sandy's Famous is a small hot dog and gourmet ice cream chain with five locations in the Columbia, South Carolina, area that goes back to 1979. We didn't understand what all the pimento cheese fuss was about—until we ate this. You hear a lot about it being used on burgers (which Sandy's does also) but this should be the official hot dog of the South, or at least South Carolina. Fans of cream cheese dogs would be way into this one, although Sandy's is a much more delicately built hot dog, some of the best hot dog presentation in all the South.
The Tuscany Tony at Paesano's (Philadelphia, PA)
This Italian-American fusion dog is inspired by an assortment of classic Italian specialties. Instead of a classic hot dog bun, it begins with Sarcone Bakery's seeded bread. The all-beef hot dog inside is wrapped in sopressata and roasted long hot peppers then smothered with bolognese sauce.
El Completo at San Antonio Bakery #2 (Astoria, NY)
El Completo is Chile's hugely popular take on the hot dog. From fast-food chains to street vendors, the Completo seems to be everywhere in Chile. Starting with a wiener (known in Chile as "Vienesa") on a toasted roll with sauerkraut, the dog is then buried under a thick layer of mashed avocado, chopped tomatoes, and an insane amount of mayo. Other condiment options include mustard and red chili sauce.
This Completo at San Antonio Bakery #2 is a bit toned down, without the three-inch deep smear of mayo like the monsters on the streets of Chile, but what makes their dogs really special are the warm, slightly crusty house-baked buns and homemade salsa on the side.
3620 Astoria Blvd, Astoria NY 11103 (map)
Thanksgiving Dog at Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace (Columbus, OH)
This one's only available at Thanksgivingtime. It's basically a full Thanksgiving meal piled atop a dog, which in this case is a turkey frank. It gets a smothering of stuffing, mashed potatoes, creamy gravy, and even the cranberry sauce. We're pretty thankful that this exists.
Torta De Salchicha at Puebla Mini Mart (Brooklyn, NY)
This is a delicious cross between a hot dog and Mexican torta sandwich. Salchicha literally means "sausage" in Spanish but for Mexican sandwich menu purposes, it seems to imply a frankfurter, while "chorizo" will put you into sausage territory. The standard Torta De Salchicha here is a grilled and split dog (or two) topped with avocado, jalapenos, tomato, onion, and Mexican cheese. But the breakfast special here (pictured) is the "Espanola Doble," which adds ham, bacon, and a fried egg. It's unbelievable, and somehow not the heavy mess you might expect after hearing that list of ingredients.
3908 5th Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11232 (map)
Hard Shell Coney from Angelo's (Flint, MI)
Conceptually the hard shell Coney really brings the whole Greek-owned, chili-themed hot dog restaurant gimmick in Flint, Michigan (back in the 1920s) full circle. The Koegel's dogs fit perfectly in the shell, the snap of the natural casing combined with the crunch of the taco creates an awesome texture. Along with the sauce and plenty of freshly diced onions, it makes sense in a taco-night comfort food sort of way. The hard shell Coney is an interesting take, but don't leave without trying the classic on a soft, warm bun. Everything is cheap here, no reason not to try it all.
The "Mack" at Dapper Dog Cart (Philadelphia, PA)
The Dapper Dog cart comes out for lunch a few days a week in Philly, as well as every Friday and Saturday night on the bar-choked corner of 2nd and Poplar Streets. The menu is total drunk food. Case in point: the "Mack," which includes a big heap of mac and cheese piled onto a hot dog, a carb-on-carb stomach bomb. It actually sort of makes sense if you've ever had a trashy meal of cheap mac and cheese from a box next to a hot dog or two.
New Jersey Italian Hot Dog at Joe Joe's Italian Hot Dogs (Toms River, NJ)
The New Jersey Italian Hot Dog was born in Newark where big loaves of Pizza Bread, almost like Muffuletta bread but with a hole in the middle, are made by local Italian bakeries. The bread is cut into quarters, sliced down the middle, and stuffed with a deep fried hot dog or two. Then topped with onions and peppers and a giant heap of deep fried potatoes. The soft pizza bread is a perfect vehicle for the ingredients, holding everything together and soaking up some of the grease. It's actually a lot cleaner than expected. The dog is gently fried and the potatoes are crispy on the outside, soft in the middle, not greasy at all.
Coolidge Ave & Route 37 East; Toms River, NJ 08753; Joe Joe's website
The Veloz Special from Perro Veloz (Queens, NY)
A dog and some potato chips on the side = a great combination. But a dog topped with potato chips? It's something else entirely. Well, sorta. Then add to that: bacon, pineapple, ketchup, mustard, mayo, "pink sauce" and raspberry. What you have is the Veloz Special from Perro Veloz in Queens. This could be one of the wackiest on the list.
80-26 Northern Blvd, Queens New York 11372 (map)
Polish Boy from Freddie's Rib House (Cleveland, OH)
This one wins for messiest. The fries that cover the kiebasa are almost poutine-like, soaked in creamy slaw and barbecue sauce, and the soft bun starts to disintegrate after a few bites. It can't really be compared to anything else. You've got the real kielbasa, that awesome sauce, and the grill seasoned with years of ribs and chicken. Unfortunately you might not be able to replicate this one at home.
The Kabuki from Gourmet Dog Japon (Seattle, WA)
Of the several suggested topping combinations available at this odd-couple shop—like beef sausage, meatballs, chicken sausage, or Polish Kielbasa with a slew of Japanese toppings (around $5 apiece)—the most interesting was the Kabuki, which combines grilled cabbage, bonito flakes, pickled red ginger, Japanese Worcestershire, and a few squirts of Kewpie (the sweet, thick Japanese mayonnaise that should probably go on everything).
Biting into it, the initial impression is very similar to that of takoyaki, the Japanese street snack consisting of batter-dipped chunks of octopus cooked in spherical cast-iron molds. Like these dogs, you can get them with a diverse array of toppings, most of which combine sweetness in the form of teriyaki or Worcestershire, pickled elements, and intensely savory notes from bonito flakes or nori.
Pike Street and 2nd Avenue, Seattle WA 98101
Puka Dog (Honolulu, HI)
Who knew that Hawaii was a goldmine for obscure hot dog variations? Portuguese immigrants first came to Hawaii in the 19th century, bringing sausages and sweet bread buns. American-style hot dogs were introduced to Hawaii (along with Spam) by the United States military during World War II. Throw in Chinese and Japanese influence, plus local ingredients, and you get one of the wildest hot dog regions in the world.
Puka Dogs are dressed with any combination of secret sauces, tropical mustards, and sweet-but-spicy fruit relish (think habanero, lemon, mango, coconut, papaya, guava, and so on).
Puka Dog: 2301 Kuhio Avenue, Honolulu HI 96815; 2360 Kiahuna Plantation Drive, Koloa HI 96756; pukadog.com
Hank's Haute Dogs: 324 Coral Street, Honolulu HI 96813; hankshautedogs.com