New York City — Tropical Fruit Drinks
One of the oldest and strangest hot dog drink pairings would be the "tropical fruit beverages" that you find all over New York City at Gray's Papaya, Papaya King, and the various copycats. The legend goes that Papaya King founder Gus Poulos traveled to Florida and was awed by the array of fresh fruit available, which were, at that time, pretty scarce in New York City.
For years Papaya King was mainly a juice and fruit stand, until adding frankfurter sandwiches for their German customers. Legend or not, washing down a awesomely garlicky snappy beef dog with a foamy cup of mango-papaya beverage is just one of those timeless, iconic New York food experiences and hits the spot every time I'm in the city.
Gray's Papaya: 2090 Broadway # 1, New York, NY (map) (212) 799-0243
Birmingham, Alabama — Grapico
Birmingham is known for their "Special Dog" covered in ground beef, saurkraut and a local "sauce." It was pioneered by places like the recently closed Pete's Famous, Gus's and Lyric Hot Dog & Grill. For locals, the special usually also includes Golden Flake chips and an ice cold bottle of Grapico. The grape-flavored purple soda originated in 1914 in New Orleans but the company crumbled when it was discovered that it contained no real fruit juice. The brand was revived in Birmingham in the 1930s and remains insanely popular there to this day.
Gus's Hot Dogs: 1915 4th Avenue North, Birmingham, AL 35203 (map) (205) 251-4540
Macon, Georgia — Flaky Ice
At Nu-Way in Georgia, the best thing to wash down bright red, grill-charred, salty and spicy chili cheese slaw dogs is with a giant cup of lemonade or Coca-Cola poured over their signature "Flaky Ice" as advertised all over the walls and even the employee's T-shirts. It's basically chipped and shaved ice that, after sitting for a minute, transforms your drink almost into a slushy. Awesome.
Cape Neddick, Maine — Moxie
Definitely one of the most perfect marriages of hot dog and soda. At Flo's in Cape Neddick, the special is a steamed natural casing hot dog dressed with mayonnaise, celery salt, and Flo's spicy sweet relish. The notes of tamarind, molasses and onion in the relish are paired perfectly with the slightly medicinal Moxie that exists somewhere in the gray area between Angostura Bitters, medicine, and cola.
Flo's Hot Dogs: 1359 Route 1, Cape Neddick, ME(map)
Philadelphia — Levis' Champ Cherry
Philadelphia's major contribution to hot dog history, Levis' Hot Dogs, were not only the originator of the fish cake and hot dog "Philly Combo", but also created Champ Cherry soda, Philadelphia's sweet, bright red signature hot dog beverage.
Champ Cherry disappeared along with Levis' in the mid-90s but has recently been revived (and is available all over the city) by Elliot Hirsh who opened the first new Levis' Hot Dog stand in almost 20 years. Other places to wash down a "Combo" with Champ Cherry are Moe's and Hot Diggity (pictured).
Moe's Hot Dogs: 2601 Washington Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19146 (map) (215) 465-6637
North Carolina — Cheerwine
Another cherry flavored signature hot dog soda, Cheerwine is also the official soft drink of Kenny Powers, extra sweet with a little bit of a spicy Dr. Pepper or cola-esque edge to it. Perfect with a grill-charred dog covered in meaty chili and sweet creamy slaw on a toasted bun from Pulliams BBQ in Winston Salem. Zack's and Hap's Grill are two more incredible North Carolina spots to wash a dog down with an ice cold glass bottle of Cheerwine.
Pulliams Toasted Hot Dogs: 4400 Old Walkertown Road, Winston-Salem, NC (map) (336) 767-2211
Hap's Grill: 116 1/2 N Main St, Salisbury, NC 28144 (map) (704) 633-5872
Tuscon — Jarritos
Nothing goes better with a Sonoran Dog—that's a bacon-wrapped, pinto bean, tomato, creamy mayonesa and jalapeño topped salty and spicy hot dog—than an ice cold bottle of Jarritos Mexican soda. Or maybe a can of Tecate.
Aqui Con El Nene: W Wetmore Rd & Flowing Wells Rd
Tucson, AZ 85707 (map)
Detroit — Vernor's Ginger Ale and the Boston Cooler
One of the country's top hot dog cities, Detroit is known for Detroit Coneys, which are sold not from carts or tiny stands, but instead from Greek-owned all-night diners simply known as "Coney Islands."
Here the beverage of choice is Vernor's Ginger Ale, invented in a Detroit Pharmacy in 1866 and stronger, sweeter, and more carbonated than your average ginger ale. For something really unique, most Coney Islands also offer the "Boston Cooler," a float made with Vernors and vanilla ice cream. The drink has absolutely no connection to the city of Boston, which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone familiar with the bizarre world of regionally incorrect hot dog marketing.
New Jersey and Virginia — Buttermilk
Washing down my delicious chile dog at the Texas Tavern in Roanoke, Virginia, with ice cold buttermilk got me going on this whole signature hot dog-beverage pairing concept. Buttermilk is definitely a strange choice but back in the 1930s and 40s—especially in the South—it was a common beverage choice, prized for it's Viagra-esque health benefits.
Hot Dog Johnny's in New Jersey is another place where you can wash a dog down with a tall glass of ice cold buttermilk. Personally I thought it tasted god-awful, but at the same time appreciated it as one of my most hot dog unique experiences to date.
Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Massachusetts — Chocolate Milk
One of the more curious picks, chocolate milk is an almost mandatory hot dog accompaniment at Yocco's in Allentown, but also in West Virginia and parts of Massachusetts. It makes sense at roadside dairy bars—in some areas the best place to get a hot dog—and may have roots in local dairy industry pride, or people just drank it as a kid and forever associate hot dogs with chocolate milk.
At Yann's in Fairmont, West Virginia, where you'll be banned for asking for ketchup or even slaw, the chocolate milk's real purpose is much needed relief from the mouth-searingly hot chili.
Yann's Hot Dog Stand 300 Washington Street, Fairmont, WV 26554 (map) (304) 366-8660
Rhode Island — Coffee Milk
Exactly what it sounds like, Coffee Milk is a Rhode Island specialty made with coffee syrup and ice cold milk. You'll find it at every New York System-style restaurant, best for washing down several tiny, grilled "gaggers" topped with meat sauce, fresh chopped onions and celery salt.
Original New York System: 424 Smith St
Providence, RI 02908 (map) (401) 331-5349
Johnstown, Pennsylvania — Black Coffee
Chili dogs washed down with.. piping hot coffee? Sounds good to me. Johnstown Coney Island is known for their Coney sauce topped dogs and "best coffee". Open until 4 a.m., the bright orange dining room has a sort of David Lynch-meets college drunk food vibe. And honestly there's that certain style of thin, dark, slightly bitter tomato-less "hot dog meat sauce" that goes perfectly with a fresh black cup of cheap coffee.
New Jersey — Beer
Sugar-choked soft drinks might go well with Southern dogs covered in sweet slaw but with a deep-fried dog from Rutt's Hut or Hiram's, you really want to wash it down with an ice cold beer. Or five.
It's not always easy to find hot dog places that serve beer but it's always a bonus. Southern joints that double as pool halls or video poker parlors normally serve dirt cheap ice cold beer. And all those newer gourmet hot doggeries are usually good for a selection of local craft brews.
Rutt's Hut: 417 River Road, Clifton, NJ (map) (973) 779-8615
Hiram's: 1345 Palisade Avenue, Fort Lee, NJ (map) (201) 592-9602
Rough House Hot Dogs: 116 Court Square, Abbeville, SC (map) (864) 366-1932