Chili Cheese Dog ($3.70)
To kick things off in style, the group was handed a tray full of Pink's signature chili cheese dogs. The all-beef Hoffy dogs are well portioned here, with a decent snap to them. As a simple chili cheese, it's not bad - although the 'signature' chili doesn't offer much depth. Instead, let the diced white onions and sharp yellow mustard do the talking.
Chili Dog ($3.45)
This is the same dog as before, but without cheese. Frankly, there's not much of a difference; the thick and greasy chili offers more than enough fat to hide the fact that this dog is missing a slice or two of good ol' American singles.
10" Stretch Chili Cheese Dog ($3.90)
The 10" stretch version of the regular chili cheese dog is the much that same as its stumpier cousin. If anything, the real gripe comes from the fact that it's been elongated; the dog-only inches at either end have a hard time providing enough seasoned beef flavor on their own to justify the length.
Nacho Cheese Chili Dog ($3.95)
This 10" stretch dog actually seems to benefit some from the overwhelmingly saucy nacho cheese sauce, if only because it runs a little closer to the edges of the full dog. However, there is so much undeniably fatty, oily nacho cheese that it puddles quickly and overwhelms the other flavors. The chili and the dog don't just play background; they're hardly even in the picture.
Coleslaw Dog ($3.90)
As the first foray into interesting toppings, the 10" stretch coleslaw dog isn't exactly a mind-bender. Instead of a more suitable chopped slaw that skimped on the liquids in favor of a more balanced profile, this dog is all wet. The pale slaw mushed up the bun pretty quickly, and there wasn't enough vinegar flavor to undercut the bland pile on top of the dog. A shake of pepper might have helped this thing along.
Chili Dog with Sauerkraut ($4.00)
As predicted this dog was way too sloppy. Because the chili doesn't deliver enough on its own, it's quickly overpowered by the pile of sauerkraut, which makes for a big, messy frank with little in the way of salvageable flavors.
Bacon Chili Cheese Dog ($5.20)
In theory, the bacon chili cheese dog should work, since it's got so many layers of individual components that are used to success elsewhere on the menu. But this is a case of "too much of a salty thing," as the meat overload combines to practically turn you into a salt statue where you stand. Not even the nice pile of chopped tomatoes can help.
Guacamole Dog ($3.90)
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was Pink's guacamole. It's a more than decent option on top of a hot dog. The whole thing stays snappy and tastes fresh, with a clean flavor and the occasional larger chunk of avocado floating around in there.
Giant 12" Jalapeño Dog ($5.25)
Not recommended. The 12" giant jalapeño dog is a thick tube of bland beef pressed so tightly, it has all the texture of a flat sheet of paper and none of the spicy zip. Sadly, there are no toppings to save this letdown.
Pastrami Reuben Dog ($6.00)
You know you've officially leveled up at Pink's when the trays overflowing with pastrami start to arrive, and the reuben dog is a tasty place to start. The hot dog really is reminiscent of a traditional reuben, although it would have been nice to see some Thousand Island dressing on there for the full effect. Mind you, I wouldn't want to just have a big pastrami sandwich at Pink's, but as a topping on the dog, it's well-brined enough to still garner some attention.
Mushroom Swiss Dog ($4.55)
One of the big problems I usually have with mushroom toppings is they make whatever you're eating taste only like mushrooms. For the mushroom swiss dog, that's not the case because the mushrooms don't have an overwhelmingly mushroomy flavor. The only noticeable bites are those that have hit the griddle for any real amount of time. Otherwise, this is a regular Swiss dog with a smear of mayo and a bunch of rubbery 'shrooms on top.
Turkey Dog ($3.55)
Our turkey dog arrived with a wash of sauerkraut to hide the fowl underneath. The pressed tube of turkey bits would have certainly benefitted from more salt and more time on the griddle.
Spicy Polish Dog ($4.50)
This one is a whopper. Thick and meaty with a surprising kick, this could easily make for an everyday eater. The best part was the fresh-chopped veggies which helped to round out some of the dog's inherent heat, and just enough mustard to give your tongue something to think about.
Mild Polish Dog ($4.50)
If you're not a fan of big spice in your food, the mild version of the Polish dog is for you. It's a toned-down version of his all-beef brother, although (speaking as someone who doesn't mind needing a sip of water every now and then) something is lost in the heat downgrade. There's still a decent snap and a more pronounced casing due to the size of the Polish, but the dog itself is less interesting without the kick.
Chicago Polish Dog ($4.50)
The Chicago isn't bad but also doesn't live up to the Windy City's vaunted dogs. The snappy, spicy Polish was a fan favorite but the shredded lettuce, relish and tomatoes felt like poor imitators. Note: yellow banana 'sport' peppers can be found at the condiments table, if desired.
Polish Pastrami Swiss Cheese Dog ($6.25)
The Polish pastrami swiss cheese dog takes the well-seasoned spicy link and smooths it out with not-too-biting Swiss cheese, then layers on a pile of warm, griddled pastrami. And.. it works, largely because the pastrami is able to hold its own. This is still one salty dog, but it's a satisfying one.
Brooklyn Pastrami Swiss Cheese Dog ($5.20)
Another hit from the Pink's team. This dog certainly isn't subtle (it comes loaded with pastrami, after all) but it doesn't overwhelm you with flavors, either. The Swiss is a nice, slightly tangier backdrop to the salty pastrami, and the simple choice to only add mustard to the rest shows a degree of restraint that's largely missing from the menu board.
New York Dog ($4.00)
This one is sure to anger the folks back East. Granted, I'm no New York City dirty water dog lover, but even I know that this wiener doesn't hold up. Instead of being fragrant and warm from the orange onion sauce, the whole thing tastes like a bad pour from an old Spaghetti-O's can. Not recommended.
Philly Cheesesteak Dog ($6.25)
The Philly Cheesesteak Dog (their spelling) is a winner, with a nice dose of well-salted and thinly chopped steak that spends a bit of time on the griddle. The sautéed peppers and onions are also a hit, offering up a nice touch of caramelization, while the rest of the dog lays on a bed of Swiss and American cheese slices.
Guadalajara Dog ($4.00)
The Guadalajara dog was one of the biggest winners of the day. Piled on with relish, chopped onions, tomato and sour cream, this is admittedly a poor man's American reproduction of the popular South American hot dog style, but it's done with a freshness that can't be overlooked. The cool sour cream, the warm salty dog, the light tomatoes and the zippy onions, all on a spongy white bun. This is a dog that works.
Martha Stewart Dog ($5.90)
The Martha Stewart dog should work in theory, because it's got the chopped onions, tomatoes, relish and sour cream from the Guadalajara dog (which I liked), plus bacon! Except there's also sauerkraut, and that's the same death knell as the coleslaw dog. Things get wet in a hurry, and the overwhelming zap of 'kraut tramples all over everything, even the bacon.
Gustavo Dudamel Dog (aka The Dude Dog) ($7.40)
A big hit! Laced with onions, peppers, two kinds of cheese and watery slices of jalapeño, the frank is then topped with vibrant guacamole. The final standing tortilla chips are supposed to represent the sails of the ship that brought L.A. Philharmonic composer Gustavo Dudamel to the United States. Good thing for us, they also supply some crunch. All combined, the mild jalapeño heat, the cool guacamole, the tasty sautéed veggies and the crisp tortilla chips make for one of the day's favorite dogs.
Giada DeLaurentiis Dog ($5.65)
Obviously named after the TV cooking maven, the Giada dog is basically pizza on a hot dog. The 10" stretch dog gets piled with sautéed peppers, onions, mushrooms, chopped tomatoes and a mound of shredded mozzarella, because why not? While it's definitely cheese overload, you could find a pretty serviceable dog underneath the dairy blanket if you took the time and had a few napkins nearby.
Pat Morrison Baja Veggie Dog ($3.85)
The Pat Morrison tofu dog is designed to appeal to... I don't know who. If you're waiting in line at Pink's and you don't eat meat, you're already doing it wrong. That being said, this was easily the lightest dog we tried, mostly because the barely-there tofu tube served as a backdrop to the chopped onions, tomatoes and guacamole smear.
Royal Dog ($6.00)
While there's nothing particularly regal about The Royal, this double-dog monstrosity does come with a pretty cute backstory: two franks to represent Kate and Will. Overflowing with mustard, relish, American cheese, onions, bacon and a "spot" of chili, it's a big and messy monstrosity that hits on a lot of what makes a good dog.
Huell Howser Dog ($5.80)
This dog isn't bad, if it weren't for that infernal chili. The diced white onions offer a bit of a crunch to the top of the sloppy brown chili, and the dual dogs underneath help the backend with a good amount of snap, but could use some help in the right flavor direction.
The Today Show Dog ($6.90)
The Today Show has everything you could want in an over-the-top dog: chili, guacamole, onions, mustard, American cheese and two dogs! It all blends together rather seamlessly, since the guac is able to help along the chili. The only real complaint is the cheese - you can't even really tell it's there. Not that the additional calories matter much when you're ordering this thing anyway.
Hollywood Walk of Fame Dog ($4.80)
This simple stretch dog was a big hit for its lightness, something you won't find much of on the Pink's menu. While the coleslaw still isn't up to much on its own, the fresh diced tomatoes really help out with a touch of acidity. Also, since it's not just a coleslaw dog, they go a little lighter with the slaw slathering, which means you can actually taste the dog underneath, which is a good thing.
Mulllholland Drive Dog ($6.10)
This stretch dog gets a few nice additions in the griddled onions and bacon department, but it all goes downhill from there. The mushrooms are still too rubbery and bland, and that blanketing nacho cheese can't get out of its own way. Leave those two off and maybe add some mustard for a more subdued (and surely better) hot dog experience.
The Ozzy Spicy Dog ($6.50)
The Ozzy dog is of the spicy Polish variety, which we already know means success at Pink's. Beyond that, the chopped tomatoes and translucent onions are a nice touch, but, even for a cheese lover, there might be too much cheese going on here. First, the bubbly pool of bright yellow nacho, then the wide slice of American on top.
Rosie O'Donnell Long Island Dog ($4.55)
Despite the earlier misgivings about the pale sauerkraut, the popular Rosie Long Island dog seems to work rather well. The stretch frank is hosed down with mustard and loaded up with chili and white onions, all of which help the sauerkraut achieve mediocre heights it never thought possible. There's also a chili-absorbancy thing going on here, where the wet 'kraut actually seems to get some of its dampness leeched off by the greasy chili monster beneath it.
Planet Hollywood Dog ($6.60)
Hoo boy, this thing is a slippery monster. From above you almost can't tell where the nacho cheese ends and the bun begins, let alone the Polish dog, bacon, griddled onions, mushrooms and jalapeños begin. And while the nacho cheese did take over pretty much every bite, ordering this bad boy up as a spicy Polish will help to cut through some of the fatty noise.
Lord of the Rings Dog ($5.00)
Tackling the Lord of the Rings dog requires a love of carbs, as that's mostly what you'll be getting. The stretch dog is pushed through very bready onion rings and slathered in a sweet but surprisingly zippy BBQ sauce. Since there are no other condiments, the sauce is certainly applied liberally, but that won't stop you from over-starching and giving yourself a breadache* (*not a real thing).
This super-dog is loaded up with lettuce, griddled onions, tomatoes, guacamole and chili, all atop a 12-inch jalapeño frank. One of the day's eaters put it perfectly: "Basically, it's what the food pyramid wants to taste like."
America the Beautiful Dog ($7.10)
Billed as a not-so-subtle nod to America's indulgence, this 12" jalapeño dog comes loaded with both bacon and pastrami, plus lettuce and tomatoes. It should come as no surprise that this beast is a salty meat overload that could benefit from at least a little yellow mustard. The heat from the dog is nice at least, but don't anticipate doing much for a few hours after eating one of these.
Marlon Brando Dog ($5.35)
Despite reports to the contrary, the Brando dog will not make you a better actor. It will help you balloon up for later acting roles, however, so there's something to be said for that. What's nice about this quarter-pound dog with mustard, onions and chili is that it comes standard with shredded cheddar cheese. No American slices, no nacho drizzle, just bright orange cheddar. Brando always did things a little different.
Mayor Villaraigosa Dog ($6.95)
As before, it's the frank that ruins this dog. The rest of the toppings (chopped lettuce and tomatoes, griddled onions, guacamole) certainly work in their own right, but that big, unspicy dog is such a bummer. Oh, and there's chili on here for some reason. Because... it's Pinks, I suppose.
This was certainly a surprise hit with the group, as the ingredients (onion, jalapeño, mustard, bacon, American cheese, coleslaw) don't seem to fit together that well, but the whole thing ends up tasting like a mashed-up plate of 4th of July food... in a good way. The dog, while a bit withered in the photo, still had a decent snap to it.
This is another double dog, but it's actually not too overwhelming. The slaw gives a nice contrast to the dueling franks, and the Swiss cheese offers a very slight change up from the usual cheese trotted out by Pink's. Maybe the pastrami here is unnecessary, but it's not as used and abused as it is elsewhere on the menu.
Bacon Chili Dog Burrito ($6.10)
Only in the City of Angels could such a concoction as this come about. A large flour tortilla is stuffed with two regular dogs, a few slices of American cheese, three strips of bacon and then slathered with chili and onions. You've probably already guessed the result: this thing is messy. And, unfortunately, with all that chili, it's a big, soupy, greasy gut-bomb without much textural excitement. Good luck finding those snappy hotdogs inside this beast.
Polish Bacon Dog Burrito ($6.10)
As the hot dog burritos go, this was probably the most successful. The reason? Not too much chili, thanks to the larger size of the Polish dog and the encompassing strips of bacon. Instead, the chili acts in largely the same way beans would in a regular burrito (as a binder and filler) without getting in the way too much. This is a surprisingly approachable hot dog concoction that happens to be wrapped in a flour tortilla.
Pastrami Chili Dog Burrito ($6.25)
Opinions were largely split on the pastrami chili burrito. Everyone found it to be absolutely overwhelming in the meat department, but this one may come down to preference. It's still messy, there's still too much chili, but you either want the salty snap of crisp, low grade bacon, or the chewiness of a mount of better pastrami. The choice (and whatever fate befalls you should you actually finish an entire one) is yours.
Three Dog Night Burrito ($7.95)
This is basically a slightly beefed-up (see what I did there?) version of the bacon chili burrito dog. Instead of two dogs and two strips of bacon, this burrito beast gets three of each, plus the bacon chili and onions. Surprisingly, it helps. The extra dog means there's more to sink your teeth into than just a pool of bacon-y chili.
Poli-Bacon Chili Cheeseburger (aka Jaws) ($7.10)
Despite the unwieldy appearance, the Jaws burger was actually one of the day's highlights. Yes, it's a little overwhelming and certainly a bit of meat overload, but the textures and flavors actually play together much nicer than you might expect. The burger doesn't have much juice and on its own would be pretty bland, but the salty, crispy bacon is there to help. The sloppy bottom chili threatens to undermine the flavor and keep things from holding together, but the split spicy Polish dog firms the burger up in your hand and delivers a nice chew. It's a big bite, and you still have to work through the roughage and a griddled sesame seed bun, but this behemoth is one of the best things you can get at Pink's.
Pink's Loves Serious Eats
Thanks for everything (including the heartburn), Pink's!