Hot diggity: Philly's great hot dogs

Hot dog delights: from left, the Voodoo from Lucky's Last Chance offers Cajun spiced chicken with melted cheese, fried onions, and a secret sauce. Underdogs pairs a dog with fish cake and onions laced with mustard. Alla Spina serves a haute dog: Mortadella with pickled cabbage, cucumber slices, and dark spicy mustard.
Hot dog delights: from left, the Voodoo from Lucky's Last Chance offers Cajun spiced chicken with melted cheese, fried onions, and a secret sauce. Underdogs pairs a dog with fish cake and onions laced with mustard. Alla Spina serves a haute dog: Mortadella with pickled cabbage, cucumber slices, and dark spicy mustard.
Posted: June 29, 2012

Philadelphia has always been a cheesesteak city. Hoagie mecca, completely. Burger town, yes, and getting better all the time. Now, finally, with a wave of trendy and upscale offerings, building on a foundation of old-school staples, Philly can finally claim another point of pride: great hot dogs.

We've got the city's most lauded chefs making their own links, multiple new hot dog stands experimenting with flavor combinations, and a proud representation of the "Texas Weiner" lineage. We even have our own local signature, a long-running custom of franks topped with fish cake. It's time to claim our title as a respectable Hot Dog Hub.

Since the Philadelphia frankfurter experience involves the individual freedom to choose pork or beef, to select meat texture and casing, to decide on bun size and fluff factor, and to debate just how far toppings can and should rightfully go, what better time than this coming Independence Day to offer readers a guide to the local dog deluge — to be enjoyed in the pursuit of hot dog happiness.

Tops in Toppings

Lucky's Last Chance 4421 Main Street, Manayunk, (215) 509-6005,

This Manayunk bar trades exclusively in hot dogs and hamburgers with fun topping combos. The appealingly snappy, Dietz and Watson natural-casing dogs, served on buttered and split New England style buns come draped in Cajun spiced chicken with melted cheese, fried onions and tangy-sweet secret sauce (Voodoo); bacon, melted American cheese, raw onion and barbecue sauce (Deadwood); or mac and cheese and diced jalapeños (Scorpion), among other topping combos.

Shake Shack , 2000 Sansom Street, (215) 809-1742,

There are only two dogs on the menu at the Philly branch of Danny Meyer's newly opened fast foodery, and both are excellent, making the most of split, griddled Vienna beef dogs and well proportioned, faintly sweet potato buns. The Shack-ago is laden with Rick's Picks house relish, a pickle wedge, onion, tomato, hot pepper, celery salt and mustard. The Frisky is embellished with a savory-spicy spoonful of tomato-simmered onions and a delicate tangle of sauerkraut.

Moe's Hot Dog House 2601 Washington Avenue, (215) 465-6637,

Standing proud in Gray's Ferry, Moe's Hot Dog House piles its extra-long, extra-smoky Dietz and Watson quarter pounders (available steamed or deep-fried) on crusty buns in a range of preparations with Phillycentric names. Of note are the South Street (spicy chili and creamy coleslaw), the Connie Mac (mac and cheese) and the PGW (with baked beans and onions). Build your own style cost 30 cents a topping, but either way, with all but the Big Bambino (two dogs) coming in at under three dollars, Moe's is one of the best values in city dog eating.

Underdogs 132 S. 17th Street, (215) 665-8080,

The revolution is probably not going to be frankfurterized, but the tender all-beef dogs at this subterranean hideout are reason alone to celebrate. There are plenty of standbys here like the Texas Tommy (wrapped in bacon, fried and topped with cheese), the Coney (sauerkraut, mustard) and the Philly-style Back in the Day, with a delightfully crispy homemade fish cake and chopped onions. The menu is rounded out with more creative concoctions (The Pero Caliente includes pico de gallo, mole, jalapeños and sour cream) as well as some sausage sandwiches. Anyone who tries all twenty-three gets their name on the wall of fame: a righteous goal.

Hot Diggity 630 South Street, (267) 886-9253,

All regional styles (Seattle, Chicago, Texas, Cincinnati) are equally represented in South Street's nouveau doggery, decorated with local hot dog enthusiast Hawk Krall's artwork. But HD's extra-long grilled Sabrett beef frank and ample Liscio roll really shines in the Big Kahuna, with guava mustard, grilled red onion rings, pineapple salsa and spicy habanero aioli. Excellent Belgian fries and craft sodas are the intended accompaniments.

Memphis Taproom 2331 E. Cumberland Street, (215) 425-4460,

The turquoise hot dog truck permanently parked in the beer garden behind this Port Richmond Bar offers some of the most creative sandwiches around, with a strong base layer of Best Provision beef dogs. The rolls here are of the chewy, dense, hoagie-ish breed, which allow for more goodies, but could potentially be a turnoff to purists. Witness the Pølser, a Danish-style bacon-wrapped frank, capped with dill pickles, rémoulade, Dijon mustard and a sprinkling of crispy fried shallot. Or the Surf, a grilled frank with tangy pickled carrots and cucumbers, cilantro and a drizzle of peanut sauce.

Fancy New-School Franks

Alla Spina 1410 Mount Vernon Street, (215) 600-0017,

The house-made mortadella hot dog on the Panini menu at Vetri's Italian bar is hands down the city's prettiest. The tender, mildly flavored pistachio-studded sausage is dressed with a heap of pink pickled cabbage, green slices of cucumber and a dark, spicy mustard, and served on a grilled bun. At eight dollars, it's also one of the priciest in town, but where else can you pair a hot dog with an on-tap vermouth and soda?

Sampan 124 S. 13th Street, (215) 732-3501,

The fat Kobe beef dog served at Sampan's happy hour comes in a portion of three mini sandwiches on toasted brioche buns with a squirt of spicy mustard. While the dog is relatively straightforward for the Asian fusion kitchen (what, no kim chi? no pickled ginger? no hint of wasabi?) it's a winner, amply spiced and grilled to crisp-edged firmness.

Supper 926 South Street, (215) 592-8180,

Artisanal in spirit, fully decadent in practice, the hot dog at South Street bistro Supper goes above and beyond the call of grill duty. Wrapped in bacon, deep-fried and served on a house-made roll with kraut, barbecue sauced onions, beer mustard and a side of fried pickles, this hard core sandwich is a destination item, and it's available only at Sunday brunch and Thursday night happy hour.

Varga Bar 941 Spruce Street, (215) 627-5200,

This pinup themed bar in Washington Square West gives the chili cheese dog a new pedigree with a Kobe frankfurter, beer-braised homemade chili, melted white cheddar, shaved whole slices of pickles and a poppy seed and onion ficelle roll. In case there's any doubt about the haute-grub dynamic at work here, the accompanying onion rings drizzled with smoked paprika sauce serve as the delicious bridge between two worlds.

The Traditionalists

Franks A-Lot 1136 Arch Street, (215) 625-9991

In this era of Deep-Fried Everything With a Topping of Aioli, it can be refreshing to go back to the foundations of hot dog eating. There's a minimal beauty to the steamed, juicy links at Reading Terminal Market's stand, and the variations like chili and pizza dogs plus optional toppings (sauerkraut, bacon, cheese and onions) are basic but satisfying.

Texas Weiners 1426 Snyder Avenue, (215) 465-8635,

Do as the local celebrities do and settle in at this South Philly tiled luncheonette counter for a couple of sandwiches piled on the grill master's arm. The "Texas" style proffered here means onions, mustard and spicy Greek sauce. The split grilled beef frankfurters are mildly spiced, served on soft, extra wide Italian rolls and available by the six-pack. There's also a confusingly named Texan style with hash browned potatoes, onions and peppers.

Jimmy John's 1507 Wilmington Pike, West Chester, (610) 459-3083,

"Famous for Frankfurters" goes the tagline at West Chester's Jimmy Johns. Two years ago, this historic joint was tragically struck by a fire on the morning of its 70th anniversary, but later reopened to the immense relief of the hot dogeratti. Split-topped buns cushion the "old-fashioned" short and plump natural-casing dogs, which are in turn slathered with chili, cheese and/or bacon from the grill, but the cold condiments are serve-yourself.

Johnny's Hots 1234 Delaware Avenue, (215) 423-2280

Go early and go hungry to this Delaware Avenue standby which opens at 4:30 a.m. and closes by 3 p.m. Johnny's is famous for the split and griddled hot dog stuffed with smashed fish cake that originated at Levi's Hot Dogs back in the day. Topped with pepper hash kraut and hot mustard, and served on a Liscio roll, it's a Philly classic.

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