Altoona is a medium-sized central Pennsylvania town that's said to be the birthplace of the Texas Weiner style hot dog. Other claims point to Patterson, New Jersey, and even New York state. And while similar in name, these "Texas" dogs are very different from one region to the next, in terms of sauce and especially the type of frank served.
Altoona has two remaining Texas Hot Dog stands that claim a legacy going back to 1918. I finally made it there a few weeks ago, if not to solve the mystery of the Texas Weiner family tree, at least check out these two stands that have managed to survive for 90-plus years.
Texas Hot Dogs, Downtown Altoona
Texas Hot Dogs in downtown Altoona has been owned by the same family since 1918, now a block or so from its original location on 11th Street. The setup is your classic small town hot dog lunch counter, grill in the front window, counter in the front, and diner-style booths in the back. The hot dog cooks still dress the dogs "up the arm" the same way you see in Rhode Island and a few other joints in Pennsylvania.
The franks themselves were rather bland but improved by a slow roast on the well seasoned grill and plenty of delicious slow-cooked Texas sauce, made in 80-pound batches a few times a week. Also yellow mustard and chopped onions.
Steamed buns are a bonus here, as well as Birch Beer from restored 1930s chilled wooden barrel and these bizarre "cheese balls"—sort of like cheese curds but with a much more processed American cheese flavor. Texas Hot Dogs is also known for their Steer Burger baked in steamed onion broth—this is apparently a Pennsylvania thing—and their Texas Macaroni which seemed more popular than the hot dogs: creamy home-made mac and cheese covered in Texas sauce.
Texas Hot Dogs #2
Texas Hot Dogs #2, on the outskirts of Altoona, is more of a drive-in / dairy bar situation, with a parking lot, picnic tables outside and a clean, newer-looking interior. Chocolate milk and iced tea from Vale Wood Farms is the beverage of choice; drinks from local dairy farms taking the place of beer or soda is a common theme of old-school Pennsylvania hot dog stands.
58th Street's dogs are served wrapped in parchment and everything steams together. Sure looks like a hot mess but it tastes even better. This technique is popular in West Virginia, where flavors meld together in a neatly folded wax paper package with the well-steamed bun just barely holding it together. Great chili here too and super finely chopped onions—all together a terrific hot dog. Also awesome were these super crisp onion rings (also available buried under Texas chili, of course).
The verdict? Texas Hot Dogs #1 in downtown Altoona won for atmosphere with its old soda bottles on the wall, grill cooks lining dogs up the arm and the whole bit. But the dogs at the 58th St. Texas Hot Dogs were just a notch better, with more and tastier chili, finely chopped onions rather than big chunks, and extra points for awesome onion rings. If you're in the area, I would encourage you to try both. At both places the hot dog prices are around $1.20 a piece.
Texas Hot Dogs (Downtown)
1122 12th Avenue, Altoona PA (map); 814-942-6381
Texas Hot Dogs #2
101 58th Street, Altoona PA 16602 (map); 814-942-9992