The Dirty O (Pittsburgh, PA)
I finally made it to Pittsburgh's legendary Old Original Hot Dog Shop (aka the "Dirty O") and was blown away. One of the few old-school hot dog shops in Pennsylvania serving natural casing franks, theirs are from nearby Silver Star meats, and they're delicious. Don't miss the massive mounds of hand-cut ultra-crisp fries that were definitely the best I had in the last year. Read more here.
Original Hot Dog Shop: 3901 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15213 (map) 412-621-7388
Jimmy John's Piping Hot Sandwiches (West Chester, PA)
After living in Philadelphia for years, it was sort of embarrassing that I'd never been to Jimmy John's in West Chester, arguably our area's most important still-standing old-school hot dog stand. Then last year the restaurant was gutted by fire and I thought I'd never taste their signature "special frankfurter." Thankfully they re-opened soon after. I finally tried these short, stout, insanely snappy natural casing dogs, served Philadelphia-style on fresh club rolls. Read more here.
The Froman from Gilbert's Craft Sausage (WI)
A new hot dog and sausage maker out of Wisconsin, Gilbert's sent me a case of their product to mess around with. We especially loved the Froman, their nitrate-free, collagen casing, all-beef sirloin homage to the great Chicago red hot. We tried them steamed, grilled (pictured here) and even deep-fried. All were fantastic. They're available in retail stores in the Midwest or online.
Order at gilbertssausages.com
Hot Diggity (Philadelphia, PA)
In 2011, Philadelphia really stepped up its hot dog game with the opening of several new hot dog restaurants and carts including Hot Diggity, an awesome place featuring hot dogs inspired by regional variations from around the world. My favorite of the bunch (other than chef Kieth Garabedian's mind-blowing monthly specials) is the Saigon Fusion, which is pretty much just a straight-up hot dog banh mi made with a grilled natural casing Sabrett's dog. Also be sure not to miss the hand-cut fries, dipping sauces, and giant collection of craft sodas. Read more here.
Scott Dogs (Philadelphia, PA)
Philly's new hot dog cart from South Philly Taproom chef Scott Schroeder premiered at a handful of events last year. If you can find the thing when it's open, these are hands down some of the best dogs in Philadelphia. The fat, natural casing, traditionally spiced dogs are similar to nearby Jimmy John's "special frankfurter" but hand-made by Scott himself with local, grass-fed beef and pork. Warmed in beer, finished on a grill and served simply on potato rolls with cucumber-mustard relish, these high-end dogs that maintain the lowbrow spirit of hot dog culture. Look to see a lot more from Scott Dogs this summer. Read more here.
Scott Dogs: Follow them on Twitter @scott_dogs
Memphis Taproom's Pølser (Philadelphia, PA)
Opened last summer in Memphis Taproom's beer garden in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, this newish hot dog truck surprised the hell out of me. The real clincher is that they serve Best Provisions all-beef, natural casing dogs from Newark, practically legendary in the hot dog world. Paired with unique homemade toppings like this Denmark-inspired Pølser covered in remoulade, pickles and crispy shallots, the only thing holding these back are the slightly bready vegan hoagie rolls—but everything else is so good you barely notice. Read more here.
Street Dogs (Guayaquil, Ecuador)
Like much of Central and South America, Ecuador has a thriving street dog culture that's remarkably different from the more well-known dogs from Colombia, Chile, and Mexico. The dogs are cooked in a water bath that can contain anything from garlic, parsley, and onions to ketchup and mustard, then topped with aji (an Ecuadorian hot sauce made with tamarillos), mustard, mayonnaise, and creamy salsa verde. Many carts also offer chuzos, a deep-fried hot dog and plaintain skewers. Read more here.
Corner of Machala and Luis Urdaneta; Guayaquil, Ecuador (map); Open 4 to 11 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday
Pete's Famous Hot Dogs (Birmingham, AL)
I was lucky enough to visit this absolutely legendary hot dog stand in Birmingham, Alabama, before owner Gus Koutroulakis passed away last April. Pete's was known for, and probably the originator of, the "Birmingham Style Hot Dog" or the "special," which consists of a cheap grilled dog topped with sauerkraut, mustard, seasoned ground beef, and a sauce that might be best described as a cousin of New York red onion sauce. You can still get a "special" at nearby Gus's, owned by longtime friendly rival George Nasiakos, but the experience of Pete's and Gus himself is sadly gone forever. Read more here.
Pete's Famous Hot Dogs: Closed :(
Pulliams Toasted Hot Dogs (Winston Salem, NC)
Serious hot doggers may frown on Southern wieners for their lack of natural casing or high-quality meat, but I've fallen in love with the no-frills, rough-around-the-edges world of Southern hot dogs. And Pulliams is one of my favorites. A crazy standing-room-only general store / BBQ stand / chrome Nascar shrine, Pulliams cooks neon red dogs until they're well-done on a flat griddle also used to toast the buns face down in butter. The dogs are topped with freshly made chili and magically white creamy slaw, along with a bit of mustard, a few fresh onions, and a dash of owner Big Ed's signature hot sauce. Read more here.
Pulliams Toasted Hot Dogs & BBQ: 4358 Old Walkertown Road, Winston Salem NC 27105 (map) 336-767-2211
Rolf's Pork Store (Albany, NY)
An amazing German butcher shop and deli, Rolf's has been making all sorts of hot dogs and encased meats in this hidden Albany storefront since 1968. Besides the standard natural casing frankfurter (which was delicious) they also make their own version of the mini-dogs popular in the Capitol region, along with awesome Weisswurst (not too different from a Syracuse "white hot"), smoked kielbasa, and an overwhelming array of fresh, smoked and cured meats, many of which I'd never heard of and all of which were mind-blowingly delicious. Read more here.
Yesterdog (Grand Rapids, MI)
A crazy hot dog joint in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that breaks all the hot dog rules, Yesterdog serves cheap boiled dogs (in the heart of Coney country) messily topped with mustard, ketchup, chopped pickles, and lots of chili. No fries, no burgers, just hot dogs. And homemade chicken soup in the winter. Eccentric and stubbornly lowbrow, Yesterdog has a huge local following and has been cranking out dogs since the 1970s. Read more here.
Hot-Chee Dog (Carlisle, PA)
The hot-chee dog is the off-menu specialty of the Hamilton Restaurant, a small town family-owned luncheonette in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Local Kessler brand franks are slow-cooked on a griddle in the front of the restaurant, then wrapped in a slice of cheese, covered in mild, delicious housemade chili, brown mustard, and topped with a handful of finely shaved fresh onions. The elements aren't that different from a lot of Pennsylvania's "Texas Weiner" style dogs but it's the care that goes into the "Hot Chee" dog (and the rest of the menu) that really sets Hamilton apart. Read more here.
Hamilton Restaurant: 55 West High Street, Carlisle, PA (map) 717-249-4410