If you thought you did your patriotic duty vis-a-vis hot dogs on the Fourth of July, nope, the celebrating isn’t over yet. Today is National Hot Dog Day and whether you go the classic route or choose an amped-up fusion version, the Bay Area is full of great options. (And if we missed your favorite, please chime in under article commenting.)
Caspers Famous Hot Dogs is the undisputed king of Bay Area classic dogs, dating back to 1934. These are the old-fashioned ones whose casings snap when you bite into them. Founded in Oakland by two families of Armenian immigrants, the eight-store chain is now run by their grandchildren. For the most nostalgic experience, head to the Hayward location at 951 C St., where the dogs are served up in a vintage diner that still boasts the original sign. Other locations: Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, Richmond, Oakland, Dublin, Albany and a second Hayward spot.
A roadside Americana gem, Mark’s Hot Dogs in northeast San Jose (48 S. Capitol Ave.), is nearly as old as Caspers. This circa 1936 stand moved in 2000 from Alum Rock Avenue to its current location, but the owners wisely kept the landmark Giant Orange. Yes, the classic hot dogs with mustard, relish, onions and tomatoes are served out of a huge orange-shaped building. Grab a picnic bench, or if you’re in a hurry, turn on your headlights for carhop service.
Want to check out the newest dogs? “Hot dogs for grownups” dominate the menu at Diamond Dogs, which just opened in June near Jack London Square in Oakland (468 Third St., between Broadway and Washington). Here, beef frankfurters from Evergood come with made-from-scratch toppings like bacon jam, bechamel (!!!), garlic confit and jalapeno relish. The maple-glazed Breakfast Dog is tarted up with a fried egg, hollandaise, peppers and hash browns.
Ben Franks may be the only drive-thru hot dog joint around, and they do a brisk business at the busy Redwood City corner of El Camino Real and Whipple Avenue. (As one customer says, the ambiance is you and your car, so what could be better?) Besides classic foot-long hot dogs and variations (Chicago, chili, kraut, hot link), they also make Philly cheesesteaks, burgers and sweet potato fries. Fans rave about the milkshakes here; get the mango one if it’s available.
Head to Doggy Style in Alameda (1234 Park St.) for a wild fusion menu of Asian-style dogs. There’s the Umai (Japanese mayo, teriyaki sauce, pickled radish and seaweed); the Pyro (a hot link with kimchi, cucumbers and spicy red-hot mayor); and the Banh Mi (pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro, jalapenos). Or you can go old-school with a Chicago dog that comes with the requisite celery salt or a Dirty South topped with chili. Wash them down with craft beer, wine or a patio cocktail.
How about SoCal style? The Pasadena-born Dog Haus opened its first NorCal location last year in Fremont (43456 Boscell Road). Here the all-beef skinless dog comes as the Sooo Cali (avocado, tomato, arugula, spicy basil aioli, crispy onions); the Old Town Dog (smoked bacon, caramelized onions, roasted jalapenos, chipotle aioli); the Little Leaguer (chile, cheddar, onions, Fritos); and other variations. All are served on toasted three-wide Hawaiian sweet rolls.
While Mark’s rules the north side of the Santa Clara Valley, the Happy Hound dominates the hot dog world in the southern end — and has for 46 years. This Los Gatos landmark (15899 Los Gatos Blvd.) founded by the Dresslar family is beloved by generations of locals for its Happy Hound (relish, red onion, mustard and tomato) and the myriad variations (cheese, chili, kraut, Polish and the tortilla-wrapped Mexi Hound). Burgers were added to the menu in 1987.
Spanky’s Dog House in downtown Livermore (174 South K St.) may look like a no-frills joint, but hot dog and sausage lovers know it’s anything but. This eatery offers a wide-ranging menu of Saag’s sausages, including two kinds of bratwurst (Bavarian and smoked), Cajun hot link and smoked chicken sausage. And their old-fashioned is an uncured frankfurter, free of added added nitrate, nitrites, MSG, fillers and artificial flavors.They’ll double-dog-dare-you to try to finish the Atomic Chili Dog.
Near San Jose State University is Happy Dog, a hole in the wall that serves a United Nations-size menu of sausages — all from high-quality purveyors — and locally baked sesame rolls (284 S. 11th St.). There’s German bockwurst, Portuguese linguica, Louisiana hot link, Polish kielbasa and a Hawaiian-style pineapple pork. Their German frankfurter is three-fourths beef, one-fourth pork with garlic, paprika and spices. Eat on the shaded patio or take your dog to go.
In Berkeley, Top Dog is the top dog when it comes to frankfurters, and has been for decades. These two locations (2534 Durant Ave. and 2160 Center St.) boast a global menu of sausages: old-world German bratwurst seasoned with marjoram, vinegar-cured Portuguese linguica, semi-hot Italian Calabrese with paprika, chili and fennel, plus popular chicken sausages (lemon, apple and mango habanero). The top dog itself is an all-beef kosher frankfurter. Bonus: The Durant location is open until 2 a.m. daily.